This is an article that Andrea Petersen wrote for the March 2013 issue of ARC Magazine. She was a Freshman at the University of Northwestern at St.Paul, when she wrote this. She is now a Senior at Northwestern, and is on track to graduate debt free with a double major in 4.5 years, after student teaching next fall. This article contains much valuable insight into the decision making process of choosing a college you can afford and creating a plan to fit your budget.This may seem like a no-brainer, but statistics from recent years have shown that over two-thirds of the class of 2011 graduated with student loans, the average of which equaled $26,600. Having that much debt, or any debt, is a huge hindrance to life after college. Many recent college graduates are discovering that they cannot work in the field they always wanted because they must pay the loan bills whether they have the money or not. Young people thinking about attending college need to care about the money now so that when they graduate, they are not in bondage to money and can do and be all who God called them to be in the future. This isn’t easy to do, and it isn’t what our culture is telling us to do, but this is my story, the story of a debt-free college student.
When I first started my college search, I began looking at Christian schools with high-quality music programs because that was the type of school in which I was interested. As I began narrowing down my options, I kept looking at the price tags that came with these schools, a bit overwhelmed with how much money this would cost me in the end. Considering that I am pursuing a Music Education degree, for which the number of credits is so high that it usually takes 4.5 to 5 years to complete, this particularly concerned me. I knew that I needed to apply for as many scholarships as possible, so I auditioned for music scholarships, applied for honors programs, and completed numerous scholarship applications for outside scholarships to put towards my college tuition. After a while I grew very weary of this, but it truly paid off in the end. By working hard in high school and keeping my GPA high, I already was eligible for the highest academic scholarships at all of the schools to which I applied. After receiving offers for music and honors scholarships from all seven schools to which I applied, I was then left to make the decision of which school to decide to attend.
This was not an easy process, and there were many discussions about money along the way with my parents. I remember one conversation in which I said, “I don’t care about the money, Dad. I just want to pursue music because this is what I know God has made me to do and I want to go here (referring to the most expensive education on my list).” I didn’t really mean that I don’t care about the money; what I meant was that I do not care that I may have a lower-paying salary by pursuing music education if I end up teaching in a public or private school. Teachers do not make a lot of money, and I was and am okay with this. What that conversation with my dad showed me, however, was that if I don’t care about the money and affordability of school now, then I will be forced to care about how much money I make when I graduate. If I had chosen a school that I could not afford through a combination of my contributions, my parents’ contributions, and scholarships, then I would have been forced to take out student loan(s). If I had taken out student loans, I would then be held accountable to whomever I owed money. Though I would be doing what I wanted and thought was right at the time, I would later be held in bondage to that money if I borrowed from someone else. This bondage could very well limit me to working a job that I didn’t want to do simply to pay the bills. Not only that, but it also might prevent me from doing what I believe God calls me to do because I am in bondage to a different master (money). This isn’t just my idea; this is truth from God. Proverbs 22:7 says that, “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.” Instead of being servants of God, we become servants of money by borrowing it from someone else. We become our lender’s slave, unable to follow God each step of the way because we did not make wise decisions in the first place. By being faithful with money in the beginning, God will be able to use me more effectively in the future and know me to be faithful with more.
You may be wondering, what did I decide? Well, my final decision was not to attend my top two choices of schools because the travel and tuition costs would have been way over my affordability. I decided to attend Northwestern College in St. Paul, MN and I am so glad I made this decision. Though I didn’t think so at the time, I now see that this is God’s best for me in regard to place, distance from home, affordability, and community. My contributions, my parents’ agreed contributions, and the scholarships I have received have provided me with enough money to attend for 4 years without taking out any student loans as long as I keep working each summer to make up the difference that still remains. I am also blessed to have a job on campus tutoring music theory students. Not only is this providing me with a little money with which to live so that I do not take out of my tuition savings, but it’s also something I love to do right in my field! I am blessed to start this as a freshman, which will give me much experience over the next 4 years in teaching and working with people who will be younger than I as I get older. You may remember that I had said that a Music Education degree takes over 4 years to complete. I also am planning on double majoring in Music Composition, adding another semester’s worth of credits into the mix. While this may look impossible (and feel impossible, too!), I did come into school with a few credits. I transferred 11 music theory credits from PSEO, brought 4 credits from AP testing and 4 credits from CLEP testing, tested out of 3 more credits of music, and was blessed to test out of a high-level music theory course (2 credits) that I had already taken but for which I had already received credit due to the overlap of music theory at NWC compared to my PSEO work. I also plan to take some summer courses online or at RCTC. Though my credit load is more than almost any other on campus, I plan to double major in two areas of music and still graduate in 4 or 4.5 years.
By God’s wisdom (through my parents and His Word) I chose a school affordable for me, by trusting Him I took the step to major in what He has made me to do and for which I have great passion, and by His grace I am making that happen, debt-free, as He created us to be. The only Person to whom I want to be indebted is Christ, and so far He is enabling me to make that happen. All glory be to Him!