Guest post by Asma Ahmad, a Clinical Supervisor at Victoria Transcultural Clinical Center in Fairfax, Virgnia. She received her Master’s in Social Work from George Mason University and currently provides services to children and adolescents who have mental, emotional, and behavioral health needs.
Allahu Akbar! It has been 6 months since I completed my Master’s degree and I am officially debt-free, not having paid a penny in interest!
As every college student knows, thinking of how to pay for school can be a challenge. For Muslim college students in particular who are looking to stay away from interest-bearing loans, the options suddenly start to seem limited when you compare costs to what you can reasonably pay out of pocket without taking a loan. As I was completing my last year of Undergraduate studies, I was fairly certain of which discipline I wanted to study in Grad School (that was the easy part!), but as the months progressed, the process of getting there required a lot more strategizing than I initially anticipated.
I didn’t have all the answers for how things were going to work out in the end, but the one thing I emphasized in my mind was that if I could not attain my degree without taking interest, I would either withdraw from my program or delay my studies altogether. Allah (swa) tested the sincerity of my intention just five days before my program began by making it so that I did not receive the final scholarship I was depending on, in response to which, I had drafted a letter to the program director stating my withdrawal.
Moments after I had written the letter, $5000 had been transferred to my account as an interest-free loan from people who Allah had chosen to support me in my time of need. This intention from day one was by far the most crucial step in the process, and while it did not require any physical effort, the intention is what made it so everything else fell into place the way it did.
We are reminded about the importance of du’a from many avenues, but for some of us, du’a can be lip service until we feel a sense of dire need. Throughout my summer break, I recall making a list of times when du’a is especially answered by Allah (swa) and made every effort not to miss those times. I started to get even more creative with my du’as by thoroughly taking time to explain to Allah (swa) how my educational goal was directly related to helping my community and ultimately being a stronger Muslim.
With people, I had developed enough relationships where friends and family understood the passion
I had for mental health and my future aspirations, which made it easier for me to be perceived as a reliable recipient of their financial support.
In addition to du’as, scholarship-hunting became a full-time job for about eight months prior to starting school. Although I searched far and wide for scholarships, I only applied for the ones that I knew I had an 80% of winning. The way I did this is I profiled myself by outlining my strengths, talents, aspirations, experiences, and then linking everything I had written to a specific example that demonstrated that trait. For example, my role as an MSA board member in college combined with my Social Work background and interest in working with family violence issues made a top candidate for a scholarship being advertised to Muslims in interested in community-based mental health practice. In this way, I then went on to apply for scholarships being offered by organizations that were aligned with my vision and goals. By the end, I had acquired a full semester’s worth of scholarships alhumdulillah. With each congratulatory letter, I made sujood wherever I was standing and tried to establish a routine of shukr.
Through my scholarship searches, I learned that to maximize my chance of success, academic merit, community service, extracurricular activities, and strong writing skills were paramount. With recommendation letters, I didn’t hesitate to tell my colleagues and mentors which aspects of my work to focus on based on the scholarship I was applying for, and they were more than happy to receive my guidance. Even if the scholarship amount appeared to be significantly low amount compared to the total cost of my education, I chose not to dismiss them, and applied anyway. Especially for more local and state scholarships, I felt more confident about winning the smaller sums of money.
Friends, Family, and a Loan
After I had exhausted the scholarship option, turning to friends and family was an unavoidable next step as I was still short a few thousand dollars. I made sure to request a reasonable amount from three people, and the three I had chosen were all people who I had built a relationship with and who understood my passion for mental health. Needless to say, they were also individuals who had been blessed with wealth. My last and final resort was signing up for a subsidized loan to cover the remaining amount I needed. The loan I signed up for had a grace period of exactly 6 months, after which the interest would begin to accrue. Realizing the clock would start ticking the second I graduated, I took steps to start saving to pay off every penny before the 6 month mark.
Cutting Down and Adding Up
Once my program finally began, I applied for a Graduate Research Assistanceship with a stipend I used to cover my costs while in school and started saving the rest. I downgraded from my iPhone to a cheaper pay as you go phone to cut down on the extra expenses. I continued to live at home and commute and landed an internship that was literally two minutes from my house, alhumdulillah. For food, I tried to minimize eating out but couldn’t give up on buying good coffee. I stuck to the basics for what I needed and cut out as many superfluous expenses as possible.
The Fruits of Labor
Two weeks prior to graduation, I accepted a job as a Clinical Supervisor for local mental health agency, providing services to children and adolescents identified as at-risk and supervising other counselors. I paid off my loan in full and repaid the friends and family who supported me.
All praise is due to Allah (swa), the giver and facilitator of all things and the One who answers the call of
His believers when they call upon Him.