Guest Post by Ziyad Dadabhoy
No debt. That’s all I repeated to myself as I searched for schools in high school. When I chose where to apply I looked at their Financial Aid Offices and what they gave the average student. How much the school cost and would I be able to go there without taking a loan. All I wanted was no loans and no debt. I applied to 8 schools. Out of the 3 I was accepted to I immediately disqualified one because the cost was too much. I was left between University of Texas in Austin and Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. As a Houston native UT would have been amazing to go to. UT is one of the top colleges for my major in Civil Engineering and only 2.5 hours from home. Illinois Tech was not as prestigious but it was located in Chicago, IL but in the end that didn’t even matter. What mattered was the first year I would have had to pay UT $2,000 to go there and instead I chose to go to Illinois Tech where I got paid $2,000 my first year. My 3rd year has been the first year I have had to pay Illinois Tech anything. This is because tuition goes up every year but it is still less than even a semester would have cost me at UT. The only way I was able to accomplish this was non-stop hard work. But let’s break it down.
Scholarships: These are very important. Scholarships are the only reason I was able to grab a full ride to Illinois Tech. The first scholarship I got was the Camras Scholarship from Illinois Tech. It is a merit based scholarship which covers tuition first year and then is capped for the next 3. The top 10% of the applicant pool can apply for this. Allhamdullilah I was able to get it and this covers the majority of my tuition every year. Alongside this I found local scholarships in Houston and applied for them. I was able to get the Jones Scholar Houston Endowment scholarship. This covered a good amount every year for 4 years. These 2 scholarships covered a majority of the cost of school for me. Scholarships are available at every level. Search local, state, federal, and at the schools you are applying to. There are scholarships for every single thing you can think of. Even being tall. Yup. Local tall societies will usually have a scholarship. Even if you find ones for $1,000 apply. Anything helps when you have books and food and lab fees on top of that tuition and living.
Federal Aid: Apply for FAFSA. Do it. Immediately. Right when it comes out apply for FAFSA. Doesn’t matter how much your family makes apply for it. I was able to get multiple grants from the Federal Government which helped cover the last portion of my college cost and actually had me overpay. This is what resulted in me getting money back. FAFSA is free and easy to fill out. You don’t even have to wait for your parents to do their taxes. Grab their last year return and fill the FAFSA out and then choose the option saying you will update it later. Fill it out as fast as you can and send it to every college you applied for. I can’t stress how much money the federal government gives away that students miss out on. Apply for it the week it comes out.
Work: Working during college and the summers between is an easy way to help those college costs come down. Especially freshman year. You have a lot of free time and your course load is at its easiest. It will only get harder so take advantage. First look for student jobs. Go to every department in the university and ask if they have openings. Look for any postings on student job sites for your school. Apply to as many as you can. Landing a student job your freshman year is amazing. You get a decent income to help with living and college costs. Alongside that you will learn time management and once you get into your harder years you will be able to balance everything more effectively. Plus if you get it early on as you take harder courses and your schedule gets weird your boss will be more lenient with a long time employee. If you cannot find a student job find one nearby campus. Retail is the easiest thing as a college student. Low barrier to entry and easy hours. Apply during the summer and before school. Retail stores are always looking workers when that transition between summer and school happens. I was able to find a student job my freshman year and am still working there. It has only helped me.
RA: Resident Advisor. This is what they are called at most schools. The student who lives in the dorms with you. Apply for this job starting your first year. It is the best on campus job. You get a room and meal plan and the university pays for it. That is thousands saved. This job is the most coveted on campus and will have the most appliants but still apply. Apply starting your freshman year and apply every year till you get it. This will help you save a lot of money. Don’t worry about living off campus as an upper-class man. What you need to worry about is how to save money and free living in the dorms and free eating is an amazing way.
Why am I hammering the point on saving money in every way? Because Student Loans are the worst thing you could do as a student. First there is no student loan without interest. Some have interest that only starts 6 months after you graduate but you will only be able to pay off that if it is a very low amount. We want to stay away with anything that has interest and student loans are the worst. College Costs are increasing alarmingly and student loan rates are too. Once you get in that hole it is very hard to get out and as Muslims we should strive to deal with as little interest as possible. That is why when I had the choice between UT and Illinois Tech I chose Illinois Tech no question. I have had to take 0 loans and inshallah I will graduate debt and interest free which would not have been the case at UT. That is why it is important to always be looking for scholarships, applying for FAFSA, looking for jobs, etc. It is only to help you.