The Best For Someone Else’s Money: Financial College Decisions

When it came to the decision on how to pay for college, Brandon Torrez made his early. Inspired by his father who served as a Marine, Torrez will serve eight years in the army to fund his mechanical engineering  degree at Virginia Tech.

Torrez is enrolled in the Corp of Cadets at Virginia Tech, the Reserve Officer Training Corps, or ROTC.

When attending college enrolled in an ROTC program, education is paid for by the military in exchange for service. Serving four years of active duty and four years on reserve is required.
Torrez knew that he wanted to go into the military when he was very young which allowed his decision making process to be cut short.

For high school students, including those at jCamp, the decision may not be as clear. Financial aid experts say that high school students should be making their choices early.

The Financial Aid Office at Virginia Tech recommends that students in their third or fourth year of high school should be thinking about how they will afford college if they have not previously set up a savings account.

Cameron Wood poses with money and debit card. Photo Illustration by Wil Friedman

For Ana Sirkanth, senior at James W. Robinson Secondary School and attendee of  jCamp, her family has made an active step toward her future by setting up a savings account approximately four years ago. Sirkanth believes the account is sufficient enough to send her to any public in-state university.

Others, like Kayla Sharpe, senior at Paul VI Catholic High School, have not yet started thinking about the financial aspects of planning for the college experience. Sharpe spoke of her family’s inability to pay for any college of her choice.

Sharpe says that she hopes to fill out applications that include walk-on scholarships for the Track and Field  teams at  William and Mary or University of Virginia. Sharpe is confident in her athletic abilities but worries that a merit scholarship might not be as accessible to her.

“I just have to make a smart economic decision first,” said Sharpe.

Scholarships, grants, waivers, loans, and Federal Work Study are all ways to help ease the student debt. The more money that you can save, the better off you are in the long run.

Money given through a scholarship, grant, or waiver does not need to be paid back. Scholarships are given based on student qualifications. If scholarships are available they are offered usually through an application process.

In contrast, grants and waivers are not completed through an application process. Waivers are not large sums of money like scholarships or grants, but can help you escape fees for applications or tuition to colleges. Grants give money to students who show a financial need for another source of income.

Federal Work Study programs offer part-time jobs at the specific college that they will attend in order to help pay for their education.

Lastly, loans of all types can be taken out of the bank for students wanting to go to college, but caution should be taken about the fine print because interest rates commonly increase over the years.

As a junior, Torrez is no longer bothered by college junk mail. Instead, he’s nervous for his Leadership Development Assessment Course, a test of everything he’s learned in army lab and class. He has to spend a month in Washington State, where he takes a written exam and a physical test of strategy.

But more important than being nervous, Torrez knows what he wants to be and is looking forward to his future.

“I was used to that kind of lifestyle and cannot see myself in anything else except military,” said Torrez.

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