How students can overcome financial struggles to stay in school

By Allison Mawn

Avery Lowhorn, like many other students, has first-hand knowledge of how vital financial aid can be to accessing a college education. Lowhorn, a third-year art history major at the University of Georgia, initially struggled with scholarship and financial aid applications, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of asking for help, especially for money. But, eventually, she had to swallow that in order to pursue her degree.

A 2021 study by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association found that money is the number-one reason students drop out of college.

So what can students do if they find themselves on the verge of this situation? Many universities across the country have implemented programs to help students complete their degrees. UGA students like Lowhorn have access to a variety of financial aid options so they can complete their degree without significant financial struggle, and each university has their own specific forms of aid. 

Lowhorn has had to consider finances throughout her college education. Despite having the Zell Miller Scholarship to cover tuition, Lowhorn has still had to take out loans, something that looms over the lives of many college students and graduates.

“[My mom] didn’t finish paying off her student debts until a couple years ago, and she’s 53,” Lowhorn said. “So knowing that that’s something that I’ll probably have to carry for a lot of my life, student debt, it is scary. I’ve just kind of accepted the fact that I will have it.”

ASPIRE

UGA’s Financial Planning program in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences provides an opportunity for students, staff and community members to seek financial assistance through the ASPIRE Clinic, which also gives students an opportunity to apply classroom skills to real life. The services are low or no cost and cover a variety of topics, including loan or debt management, budgeting, tax planning, investment education, retirement plans and more.

The clinic takes a holistic approach, according to Clinic Director Megan Ford, going beyond financial planning to include services around mental health, legal problems and nutritional issues. Specific services are tailored to clients’ needs on a case-by-case basis.

“We really do believe that when there is an issue that someone faces in one area of their life, it’s likely to have spillover effects into other areas within their life,” Ford said.

Due to the limited size of the ASPIRE Clinic, services are offered on a semester basis and may have a waitlist. Students who are interested in seeking services from the clinic can learn more through their website.

UGA funds

UGA students struggling due to financial reasons can also access Emergency Support Funds. The funds are designed to help current UGA students with “unexpected, unforeseen, and unavoidable emergency expenses,” according to the UGA Office of Student Financial Aid. Award amounts vary and are based on Cost of Attendance,  and other federal, state and institutional awards. 

Another resource available to UGA students who are almost finished with their degree is the Completion Grant, which provides one-time financial aid support to undergraduates who have one semester remaining to graduate. The amount of the award varies, but is typically between $500-$2000, with a maximum of $2000, according to OSFA.

Priority is given to “students who have exhausted their Federal Direct Student Loan or Federal Pell Grant lifetime eligibility.” To qualify, students must fill out FAFSA, have remaining unmet financial need and be able to complete all remaining graduation requirements within one semester.

Other measures

Sheri Worthy is the associate dean for academic programs for the UGA College of Family and Consumer Sciences, which includes a financial planning major. Worthy believes that many students do not come into college with financial literacy, which can contribute to the trend identified by the University Professional and Continuing Education Association’s study. 

A 2022 Georgia law requires all high schools to incorporate financial literacy into their curriculum, starting in the 2024-2025 school year. Worth fully supports this law and is working with the UGA Mary Frances Early College of Education to create a curriculum to prepare future teachers to teach the subject.

“I’m all for it being required by the curriculum in high schools because, no, I don’t think people are ready for being an adult when they come to college,” Worthy said.

Students enrolled at UGA can take an Introduction to Personal Finance course to learn some of the most vital aspects of financial literacy. According to Worthy, the elective has almost 1,000 students each semester.

Worthy also encourages students to apply for scholarships within their major and college and from various student groups and organizations. Every semester, she sees several scholarships not applied for at all when that money is available for students to take.

“When you get into college and realize how much money you actually have to spend and have to look at, in terms of debt, I feel like it gets easier to realize that the resources are there to help you and not necessarily make you feel like you are necessarily asking for money,” Lowhorn said. “It’s more like they’re giving money away.”

Worthy recommends taking out only the necessary amount in student loans, not the maximum amount if it is avoidable, to make repaying them later on easier. But, regardless of financial issues during college, Worthy advises finishing your degree.

“I would definitely say the worst thing that you can do is go to a couple of years of college and get yourself deep into debt and then drop out because you’re going to have all this debt, but not even anything to show for it,” Worthy said. “College is definitely an opportunity cost, right? You’re putting in money now with the hopes that it’s going to pay off later.”

Allison Mawn is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.

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