I'm going to be a senior in high school this year. I'm an overachiever, and I always work my butt off to ace every class. I know I'll end up attending a local university, seeing as my dream school is out of my reach (try 40K out of reach). So, I'll be getting my education close to home. Which I don't really have a problem with because I love my darling mother way too much to leave her alone in her house.
But what I'm most scared of is paying for college.
My mom is a teacher, which means tight budget as most people know. My father is a bit unreliable on the job front, and sometimes it's rare we get money from him at all. I realize that there are scholarships, loans, and financial aid out there, but I just don't know if I'll be able to get enough out of those sources. It's gotten to the point where I'm so worried about money that whenever I look at scholarships online, I CRY (I was even crying when I wrote this letter to you). And I'm not talking about a couple teardrops, try a good hour long sob. I'm terrified of going into debt, and the idea of being jobless for a good chunk of my upcoming years is what really scares the *&%@ out of me. It's really hard to get a job where I live.
I'm also worried that I won't be successful. Because the field I want to go into (Communications/broadcasting/ film production) is SUPER hard to break into unless you have connections (thankfully I have some, but I'm still scared). That and the fact that my two older sisters aren't accomplished and they're both in their 20's. I don't want to be like them: educated, but broke and unable to get employed. They are both wonderful women, but as far as job experience, not so much.
Do you have any advice as to help me clear my mind?
I do! But first, please go easy on your poor sisters. The economy sucks, jobs are scarce, and there are legions of unfortunate 20-somethings out there who are educated, broke, and unemployed... all thanks to crappy circumstance and a tanking economy, and not remotely due to lack of trying. (Alas, not everyone can land a sweet gig as a SparkLife writer.)
And now, advice!
First, do this: catalog your sources of anxiety in chronological order, beginning with the current concern of finding money for college, and ending with the long-term panic over your possible unemployment at 25.
And then, gather up all the anxieties that have no immediate effect on your life, and put them aside. Seriously, ditch 'em, dismiss 'em, drop 'em like a hot potato. Because there are four long years, countless experiences, and a whole lot of self-knowledge between your high school self and your post-college self—and in all likelihood, your post-college self will have goals, priorities, and interests that you can't even fathom from here. And while the questions of employment, accomplishment, and breaking into broadcasting all seem insurmountable to Present You, Future You can totally handle 'em. Let her.
And now that you've left your future problems in the capable hands of Future You, your pile of anxieties should be pretty much limited to a) picking a college, and b) finding the money to go there. And while that's no small amount of stress, the best way to cope is through action. Namely: let your past three years of overachievment pay off. Your stellar record makes you a hot prospect for plenty of colleges. Colleges who may attempt to lure you in with giant piles of money! So make it a priority to find and apply for schools that offer academic scholarships, and when you're not doing that, set yourself a reasonable goal—say, three applications per week—for smaller scholarships that can chip away at the overall cost.
Does this mean that the application process will be stress- and debt-free? Probably not. But action is a surefire panic-neutralizer—and you'll be managing your stress, managing your debt, and feeling better with every school you identify as a possibility, every application you send, and every bit of good news that comes in. You'll be okay.
How do you cope with college-financial stress? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Money Talks