Life in Transition

Navigating Personal Finances During Life Transitions

Archive for the category “College”

Saving Money In College as a Resident Assistant

The tuition of a four-year university is already daunting, and the cost-of-attendence just keeps climbing.  Adding a bigger blow to the wallet is that many universities are requiring students to live in expensive campus housing and buy a meal plan.  One way to get around paying for the extra costs is getting a resident assistant (RA) position in one of the dormitories.

What is an RA?

An RA is a peer mentor who supervises students living in residence halls and dorms.  Responsibilities include conflict mediation between roommates, planning events for students, helping students transition to university life, helping with check-in and check-outs, submitting maintanance requests, and enforcing university rules.  RAs usually go through a rigorous training process.  Usually students cannot apply for an RA position until they are finish with their freshman year.

What are the benefits?

Compensation varies from institution to institution.  Usually, RAs will get free room and board.  Another perk is that RAs are not required to have a roommate, which is usually madatory in university housing.  Some universities will also pay an hourly wage on top of the room and board stipend.

What are the drawbacks?

The main drawback is having less freedom than the average student.  When my husband was an RA, he was required to be in the building by midnight during the week, and by 2 a.m. on weekends.  During holidays and breaks, he could not just go where ever he wanted whenever he wanted.  He had to divide holidays between the other RAs in his building.  For example, each year he had a two week Christmas break, but he had to either go home a week later or go back to school a week early.  He also spent one weekend a month on-call, which meant he could not leave the building the entire weekend, expect to take two hour-long breaks to get lunch and dinner. 

The second major draw back depends on what kind of students live on your assigned hall.  If the students are conciencious of others and well-behaved, then the RA will spend a lot of time having fun hanging out with their residents.  If the students are wild and immature, the RA will spend a lot time disciplining students and mediating conflicts.  One year, my husband was assigned to a floor of rowdy freshman boys.  He spent a lot of time busting residents for alcohol and drug violations and trying to clean inappropriate graffiti (use your imagination) off the walls. 

The Numbers

My husband spent two years of his undergraduate career as an RA, and just began a new RA position recently.  As an undergrad, he received a generous scholarship from the university that included full tuition and a $6700 annual stipend and an annual $2500 scholarship sponsored by the state (read about scholarships in Kentucky here and here).  So technically he did not need any extra money to pay for his living expenses while in school.  Since his RA position provided him free room and board, he pocketed stipend and stuck it in a bank account.  In two years, he saved $18400 from his stipends alone.  On top of that, he was paid an hourly wage of $6.90 for 13.25 hours a week for 37 weeks a year for a total of $3383 annually.  Assuming that he spent between $250-$300 a month on gas, entertainment, and eating out (this is a high estimate), he would not have needed to touch his stipend at all.  His biweekly paycheck was more than enough to cover his miscellaneous expenses.  Overall, my husband was able to pay a semester of dental school with his own savings.

Money saved in two years as an RA: $18400

Right my husband is starting his second gig as an RA in the graduate student housing complex.  Instead of trying to build his net worth (only to wipe it away paying for grad school), the goal of taking the position is to cut costs.  Right now, we get a free one-bedroom apartment that includes all utilities, internet, and cable.  The university charges $779 for the same room so in a year we will save $9348.  However, if he did not have the RA position, we would not live in campus housing and find someplace cheaper.  I estimate that an apartment, Internet, and utilites (we wouldn’t get cable) would be average $625/month or $7500 annually.  On top of that, he will get paid $7.50/hour for 15 hours/week for 52 weeks, which is a nice bonus since he would not be able to get a “regular” part time job.  So, his annual salary is $5850 which we will put directly into his tuition savings account.  With these savings combined with the money we had already saved, we may be able to delay taking out loans for another year.

Total Costs Cut: $13350/yr

Overall, a college student has the potential to either build a large savings account or greatly reduce the amount of loans needed.

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Kentucky: Where Education Pays–Part 2

Last week, I discussed the KEES scholarship, and how I used it to finance my education without taking any loans. Today I’ll talk about how I got scholarships from the universities themselves. Before I start, I want to state that I don’t think everyone should always choose the school offering the biggest scholarship. As with any financial commitment, you need to take other factors into consideration– such as location, student facilities, atmosphere, academic programs, class size, etc. I took all those factors into account when choosing a school.

My parent’s income was too high to for me to qualify for government aid packages. In fact, when it was younger sister turn to start college, they didn’t even bother to fill out the FAFSA forms. A lot of in-state public schools will offer merit scholarships, and I knew that those would be my best shot at a debt-free education. Like with any large endeavor, I broke the process down in several smaller steps (with some guidance from my awesome high school teachers).

First, I looked up what types of scholarships were available at each of the schools I planned on applying to, and whether an application was required. Then, I took note of which scholarship applications were due at the same time as the admissions applications, and which scholarship applications were due after being accepted. Generally, scholarships will require a minimum GPA and/or ACT/SAT score. So, I would set a reasonable ACT/SAT score to shoot for. For the school I ended up attending, the University of Louisville, any in-state student with a 30 or higher ACT score automatically receive a full tuition scholarship with a $3000/year stipend, and that was the scholarship I received upon getting accepted. Then, I found another scholarship that provided tuition AND a $6200/year stipend, which completely covered my room and board with some money left over, for ten students each year. To qualify, I needed to score one more point higher to reach the minimum ACT score requirement, and in addition, I would have to write an essay about a research proposal. So, I went for it, and long story short, I got the scholarship.

What surprised me was that a lot of my highly intelligent friends in high school and college didn’t take the extra time to study for the standardized tests to raise their scores by one or two points or take the time to apply for better scholarships. If you do a little math, the extra time translates to a lot of money. I don’t remember how much time I spent studying to take the ACT a second time, or how my time I spent writing my essay. Let’s estimate that I spent six hours each week for six weeks studying, and that the actual exam was four hours long, so I spent a total of forty hours on the test. And for the essay, let’s estimate that between researching a topic, and writing the essay, I spent five hours. So, in 45 hours, I made $12,800 (I took the difference between the four year total of the two scholarships) or $284.44 per hour! Now, I know that illustration a little simplistic, since I spent hours writing scholarship essays for other schools I applied to but ended up not attending. Still even totalling those hours or essay writing, I would be making a lot more money per hour than any job a high school student or college student would work. (My dad taught me that it was financially dumb to work a minimum wage job in high school to save up money for college when you could use that time to earn a scholarship). So, I ended up with a full tuition scholarship plus a $8700 stipend ($6200 with the university scholarship plus my $2500 KEES scholarship) each year.

I received varying amounts of scholarship money from the other schools that I applied to. Those other schools were good options, and I think I would be happy at any of those schools, but now that I am out of school, I am glad that I graduated without debt, and with enough savings to start an emergency fund.

Kentucky: Where Education Pays–Part I

If you drive down I-71 from Ohio down to Kentucky, you see a sign announcing your arrival to the bluegrass state, with the phrase “Where education pays” on the right hand corner.   Based on my own experience, there is some validity to that statement, if you plan ahead.   Not only was I able to get my tuition paid for, I was also able to  cover all my living expenses with scholarships.

KEES Scholarship

One of the major ways Kentuckians finance their education is through the Kentucky Educational Excellence Scholarship (KEES). To sum it up, it’s free money for good grades if you attend a  community college or four- year university in Kentucky.  Each year of high school you accumulate scholarship money based on your GPA, if it is at least a 2.5 (back when I was in high school, you began accumulating money with a 2.0 GPA, looks like they raised their standards during the recession).  Here is the GPA chart posted on the KEES website:

GPA Award Amount
2.50 $125
2.60 $150
2.70 $175
2.75 $187
2.80 $200
2.90 $225
3.00 $250
3.10 $275
3.20 $300
3.25 $312
3.30 $325
3.40 $350
3.50 $375
3.60 $400
3.70 $425
3.75 $437
3.80 $450
3.90 $475
4.00 $500

So, hypothetically, let’s say a student has a 3.00 GPA  his freshman year, a 3.75 his sophomore year, a 3.30 his junior year, and a 4.00 his senior year.  So, adding up the money he accumulates each year  he will receive a  $1512 KEES Scholarship each year of college for up to four years.   On top of that, students can receive an ACT bonus (those who take the SAT will get their scores converted to an ACT score) based on their score.  Here is the chart for the ACT bonus:

ACT Score Bonus Amount
15 $36
16 $71
17 $107
18 $143
19 $179
20 $214
21 $250
22 $286
23 $321
24 $357
25 $393
26 $428
27 $464
28+ $500

Let’s say the same hypothetical student got a 26 on his ACT.  He would receive a $428 bonus, which brings his annual total to  $1940.  So if he went to a  four-year university,  he would receive  a total of $7760 from the state of Kentucky without having to fill out a scholarship application.  I realized that  compared to how much the tuition bill is,  $7760 over four years seems like just a drop in the bucket.  But when you think about how much you can save on interest if you take out a  loan, or how many, hours you have to work at a minimum wage job to save up that amount a money,  $7760  is a nice sum of money.  I used an online loan calculator with the following parameters: Interest Rate: 6.8% Loan Fees: 1.0% Loan Term: 10 years Total Years in College: 4 years The total interest paid would be over $3000, which can be better spent elsewhere.    If you worked a part time minimum-wage job (which is $7.25 in Kentucky during college , you would have to work 1070 hours to make $7760 if you don’t take taxes into account.  Based on these calculations, I think it is important for high school students to keep their grades up; grades are worth money. I received the maximum KEES reward of $2500 a year during undergrad.  My high school didn’t have a plus/minus system for grades, which made it easier for me to get a 4.0 each year.  Also, for most of my high school classes, all I had to do was turn in my homework assignments on time, pay attention and take good notes in class, and  participate in class discussions to get A’s.  To me, I was getting free money for being a responsible student.

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