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How to Help Your Kid Graduate College Debt Free

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Want to help your kid graduate college debt-free? Learn the strategy and tactics one mom used to snag her son $700,000 in scholarships! 

Securing $700,000 of Scholarship Money!

College is expensive.

I don't think that's news to you, but did you know that graduates in the class of 2017 are on average carrying student loan debt of just over $39,400? And that the student loan delinquency rate of 11.2%?

If you're a parent, you're probably worried about how that can affect your child's financial future.

You need to hunt down as many scholarships as you can.

That's why I'm grateful Pam Andrews is here on the show.

She's not only the College Admissions Coach and Scholarship Strategist behind The Scholarship Shark, she's a mom.

A mom who managed to help her son snag $700,000 in scholarships!


So if you are interested in helping you kid minimize or skip those student loans, you'll want to really pay attention to this episode.

Today Pam and I discuss:

Hope you enjoy!

Tips on Paying for College

If you two are looking to help your kid skip out on student loans, here are some resources to help you save up.

Helping Her Son Secure Six Figures in Scholarships for College!

Elle Martinez: You are an expert because you have been there. You're in the shoes of many parents today.

Do you mind kind of explaining how you got into searching for scholarships and how you helped your son with an amazing amount? I couldn't even believe it.

Pam Andrews: Sure, absolutely. So I had prior to helping my son get into college and secure scholarships to pay for it.

I have worked with other students, though so he's not my success, but I think he's definitely the biggest. You work hard for you, baby.

And so because we had a lot of time on our side. So that was one advantage. But he was able to secure over seven hundred thousand dollars in college scholarships that pay through graduate school.

And I'd like to share that, because this is a combination of everything. So this is everywhere. He applied. He won money and then on top of that, private money to fill in the gaps. And I think that's important to share. Yes. It's not like we're sitting on a big pile of money.

His college once said, Mrs. Andrews, where's all this extra money? Because I know how much tuition is and I know what they're on. So it's not like we have all this extra laying around.

I share that because there is kind of an overall strategy where families should, you know when choosing schools. Take a look at schools that are generous, but if they're not generous, then definitely fill it in with merit. So I don't have an either-or approach. I believe in all of it.

And, you know, choosing schools and working towards winning the most money at the institutional level, but then applying for private money from your Elks Club, you know, Coca-Cola, Ronald McDonald, you know, all those, you know, five hundred thousand, ten thousand.

You know, there's no dollar amount to be, you know, dollar amount too small supply. If you're eligible, go ahead and apply.

Elle Martinez: Gotcha. And I love how you say there's a strategy behind it, because I know from personal experience when I was applying for college, it wasn't as aimed as you're mentioning.

It was, OK, what's out there? And I went to the Web site, you know, fast Web and others, whatever, and it would be a huge amount. But then you also have so many people applying for that.

So how did you discover kind of first of your method of looking at the school first with that approach? Because that's different from a lot of people.

Working Together to Get College Scholarships

Pam Andrews: Yes. So I do this with all my students, the student I work with and my son's case. Now, we knew he was going to art school, which is a private college, and they are typically not very generous. So he knew that going into it, like going into his junior year, we narrowed down his list. He knew that if you know this, we're going to be an option that he needed to apply for a massive amount of outside private scholarships because art colleges just aren't very generous. They're just not. So they're very expensive and they're very expensive right there. And they're extremely expensive. So. But I did have him also apply to universities with colleges of art as a part of our strategy as well. Because I know to me that they're two yeses. There's a yes, you can get in and then, yes, you can pay for it. And so I told him, you have your dream school. This is the goal we have in our big poster board in the kitchen, because that's where we all hang out in the kitchen. So we like to eat. So we hang out in the kitchen. And that way he saw the goal constantly and he knew what he was working towards. But at the same time, you know, we sat down with him. I think it's important for families to have the money, talk with their kids and say, you know, this is what we've been able to say. This is what your grandparents would say. This is what we're willing to let you borrow, which is not much. And so, you know, we have to have a plan in place. And this is the plan. Are you on board? And so when it comes to schools, it's important to, you know, as you're building your list and there are some schools where you have flexibility if you're going to a nursing program or education or maybe biology, premed, you know, really focus on, you know, where can I earn the most merit aid? You know, are they looking for someone from a different geographic or regional different background experiences and take advantage of that? So I think it's really important to have that kind of that one, too. I call it in my book, I call it the layering technique, because, again, I like food. Right. I like a cake. I'm thinking food again. So you got the one layer and then the other layer, which is the private money.

Elle Martinez: And I love this because this is different. A lot of times with the scholarship approach, you'll say, OK, my kid wants to go to this school. This is how much it is. But you're talking about, OK, what are your interests? You're having these deeper conversations. How do you start that? I'm assuming your son was always gifted with art. Like around what age were you guessing as a mom and get like, OK, this is what he wants to do versus this is a hobby that he enjoys and pursuing a passion?

Pam Andrews: Yeah, well, we knew early on this was his hobby. I mean, I'm sorry, this was. This was his passion. This is something he was really interested in. And so we really tracked him early in terms of getting a mentor. There's a local to your art college not too far from us. So I reached out when he was probably eight, eight or nine to that department chair and said, hey, I have a son who loves drawing and he's interested in animation and so on. Is there a student there who's interested in, you know, kind of tutoring someone making a little bit extra money? Yeah. One student responded and he became his mentor and they met on Saturdays for about a year. That was a phenomenal gift to our son. So we always exposed him to art, into animation, into illustration, into just all kinds of art related activities. And then even using his gifts to serve, you know, tutoring through art and all that wonderful stuff. So we knew early on. I think you kind of know as parents where your kids are. It's kind of their natural bent and gift things. I have a 7 year old now. My youngest is seven. So at this point, we don't know what she wants. She likes to talk in my head. It's like she's going to be a lawyer, but she can definitely argue. Now she gets away with way too much. But I think I think a lot of times our kids give clues and to us to to act on those clues as parents and not be afraid. My background stem. It's engineering. Yeah. I came out, I had an offer my first semester of my last year of school. So I had to do was finish and I felt very secure in my mom's, a retired teacher. So that was very secure. She retired from education art. That was honestly, I was a little fearful and like, whoa, he's going to be standing on the corner like, you know, artists here, the image.

Elle Martinez: Yeah, absolutely.

Pam Andrews: But but I just wanna encourage parents to kind of embrace where your child is gifted and or because there are so many careers and opportunities. So tracking him early on, you know, as we begin to build this college list and we looked at schools throughout high school colleges throughout high school. You know, he he really wanted to go to an art school because, you know, he said, oh, there's no math. And, you know, I don't have to do biology and chemistry, all these, you know. So he was really excited, like he really looked forward to college. So, yeah. So I so that I just went went with in that direction early, although I did have to. Like I said, universities on his list because I said you're going to apply. They have colleges of art. They're generous because it's based on the strength of your portfolio. And you may change your mind. You may want a football team. You may want some other activities that you don't think you want right now. So you may change your mind. And it's better to get in and not, you know, say, OK, now I don't bend say, oh, yeah, I really do want all this others thoughts like a big university with different majors, so. Yeah.

Elle Martinez: Yeah. Gotcha. I love how you guys are having this conversation. You of course, want your kid to pursue and at the same time you're like, OK, what I see or perceive about art is, you know, starving artist. How important was it for you that your child go debt free or as close to debt free with college? Was that like the prime importance with your family?

Pam Andrews: It really was. And is that we you know, we do Dave Ramsey financial peace, which is really big on we understand debt and really how debt can be bondage. Now, I have to say, you know, I borrowed for my undergraduate degree and it was an investment. It was totally worth it. You know, I was able to graduate. I paid it off in a few years, landed a great job right out of college. So. But, you know, we told our kids we will not allow you to start your young lives off with massive amounts of debt. So we start those conversations very early. My next stop is 16. She just turned 16. So she's a high school sophomore going into her junior year. And I'm already thinking about, again, what can I do to serve? How can I use my gifts and abilities to gain recognition that can lead to scholarship dollars down the road? And you know where the best places for me to go that I'm going to reward me for that for my work. So I think I think if we have that approach as parents and we can minimize that, that shouldn't be a default. You know, I meet families who say, oh, we'll just borrow it or a student thinks, you know, a kid thinks, oh, well, my parents, I'll take care of it. No, no, no, no, no, not in not in our house.

Elle Martinez: Well, you also should have skin in the game, whether it's online for scholarships or, you know, paying for it themselves. Absolutely. That's also their investment time and money wise. I love your approach on that. So I guess I can kind of piggy back off. You mentioned your 16 year old. How are you preparing kids? I'm guessing it doesn't happen very easily. OK, I'm going to spend 15 minutes today and I'll be done for this week. How do you break it up so you can get your teenager involved in actually helping out with the scholarships?

Pam Andrews: Yeah. So, again, two things. Number one, I focus again on her entrance. And where her passions are and explore those. She loves kids. She's a great big sister. She babysits. She has a heart for young people. She loves dance. So she's explaining that as well. So she started a dance program for younger kids. So, you know, just going with that and saying, what do you want to go with that? She also wants to teach. So she's kind of back and forth between being like an elementary school teacher and a, you know, opening a dance program, things like that. But at the same time, she has learned how to search for national, regional, local scholarships. And that's something I teach all the students I work with like early on. So she knows how to do that. So she's actually has applied for a couple. She has one.

She hasn't won money because she either comes semifinalist or like runner up, whatever. Which is fine. I told her, you know, and I think I take it harder than she doesn't like it. Just getting a medallion. Is that it? It's a certificate, but it's a resume builder. It's a great boost of confidence.

And then she's gotten a couple of she's big on Instagram, so she's gotten a couple of other award committee members who have messaged her and said, hey, we saw you won this one. Consider applying for this one. So she's actually.

Elle Martinez: Wow. Through Instagram. Yes, through Instagram. Would you imagine that? Yes. I've kind of feel old now.

Why Your Social Media Matters When Pursuing Scholarships

Pam Andrews: Yeah. I thought that was different. Yeah. Which tells me I'll say this kind of detour. I told my students all the time, don't think college admissions officers and scholarship committees are not searching for you online. And you know, you've got to check out your social. I get all their Instagram names and handles and all that.

I'm all over their pages because they're doing an audit and kind of saying like, OK. So what do we like in clicking, sharing, posting? So, you know, that, again, speaks to the fact that they're looking and especially if you win a scholarship.

I mean, there have been a couple of stories recently and maybe a year or so ago where students have won or gotten into school and they shared something or did something that they shouldn't have and had their offer rescinded. So it's not worth it.

Yes. So keep it very professional and clean. I mean, you can be a kid. You have fun in a social life. But just think about how can this decision impact me later?

Elle Martinez: Make sense. I never would even consider how social media is affected scholarships.

Preparing Your High Schooler for Scholarships

And as a parent, what advice would you give for Navy parents now who have freshman and sophomore? What can they kind of start doing in, I guess, conversations or maybe some Web sites? They can start getting the ball rolling and practicing for this?

Pam Andrews: Yes, absolutely. So I'm going to answer it in two parts.

So freshman year, just start strong focus on strong academics, do really well. Most college is going to look at your freshman, sophomore and junior year.

Someone just really heavily consider your sophomore and junior year in terms of your grades. Really focus on your grades and focus on those the academic life skills such as time management getting organized and study skills because they'll go a long way. They'll carry you in the college and beyond.

Get involved in things that you enjoy and kind of explore. Do you want to do debate? Do you want to be a part of this student newspaper? Do you and be on student council? Do you want to participate in a sport which one group individual?

That's a great time to explore because it's a transition period. You're going from middle school to high school. You're the you're the little fish in the big pond so handle that transition well.

I love sophomore year. That's when I really love to hit the ground running for all kinds of reasons. It gives you two more big summers to really focus on building when you don't have all the rigors and the pressures of your schoolwork to focus on your extracurriculars and your leadership and your service.

That's when you really need to think even deeper in terms of academics, but also testing. If a family is able to take the either the Pre- ACT or the PSAT, go ahead and do that in the fall of the sophomore year.

You're getting them thinking there they're getting on a college bound track. You're thinking, what are some of the things that we need to do the steps?

At the same time, balance it out with some fun family things. The College Board has a great Web site, and that's most students are familiar with the College Board when it comes to, you know, paying for and taking the S.A.T. and that's how you submit and pay for it and then get your scores back. But they have big futures, which is on there. That's a fantastic resource to help families begin to think about this whole college process and what needs to be done.

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Music Credit

Like the music in this episode? Our theme song is by Gentle Regime. Additional music by Lee Rosevere and Logan from Music for Makers in this episode.

This episode was originally released on May 2018. Show notes have been updated in August 2022.

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