Long before I filled out my FAFSA, I already knew I'd have to take out loans to pay for college. I knew I'd need to search for scholarships, too. And I was certain that I'd need to work—a lot.
For three years, I had watched my sister do all these things to finance her education. She still had one year of college left, and my family was already financially stretched. My parents told me that they could only manage to pay for a portion of my tuition. But I wasn't discouraged. I had my heart set on Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. And I was willing to work hard to go there.
I also knew Northwestern did a great job of helping students—almost all of its students receive some type of financial aid. So I started asking my financial aid counselor lots of questions. I found out that the school offered a bunch of scholarships, as well as "activity award" programs, where students could earn money by participating in a school activity such as a sports team or a performance group. I decided to apply for an activity award for choir.
My audition for choir went well. I was pretty sure I had a good shot, since I'd been involved in choir throughout high school. When my financial aid package arrived in the mail, I got some great news: I'd been selected for a choir activity award. I also qualified for an academic award for all four years of school. As long as I kept my grades up, I would continue to receive the academic award each semester. All together, my awards from the school would provide a good chunk of my tuition.
But I needed more money. My parents encouraged me to look for other scholarships, and I applied for some that were offered by my high school, as well as several from community organizations. My high school awarded me a couple of small scholarships: one from the music department and another for doing well in school. Unfortunately, I didn't win any of the community scholarships I'd applied for. And I still needed more money.
So, I took a job as a summer camp maintenance worker. I spent my last summer before college sweeping floors and dumping trash cans. Most mornings, I'd drag myself out of bed for work, longing to sleep for just a few more minutes. (Well, I really wanted to sleep for several more hours.) But I knew it was going to be worth it.
By the end of the summer, I'd managed to earn enough cash to pay for my first year of college. There was one problem: I didn't have any way to earn spending money while I was at school. I hadn't received work-study as part of my financial aid package, and I couldn't find a non-work-study job on campus. An off-campus job seemed impossible. Between classes and choir, there weren't many hours that I could work. And I couldn't quit choir, because my participation provided money for school.
As I continued my job search, I noticed that our dorm's hallways looked pretty dirty. There had been a student who cleaned the halls at the beginning of the semester. But I hadn't seen him for a while. An idea popped into my head: Maybe I could get paid to clean the dorm floors!
When I asked my dorm resident assistant about the job, he was really enthusiastic. (Our floors had gotten pretty gross by that point.) After making arrangements with the financial aid office, I started mopping the floors in my dorm for some extra cash.
It wasn't my dream job. At times, it was downright disgusting. Still, I was happy to have enough extra money to spend on snacks or an occasional movie. And I was thankful that God had provided for me, once again.
I got a much better job the following year as a student assistant to an art professor. I had changed my major to art, so that job was perfect for me. It mostly involved maintaining the school's art gallery. I must have done a pretty good job, because the art department gave me a scholarship for my last two years of school. I also applied for and received activity awards for theater and the student newspaper. Thanks to all that extra money, I was able to reduce the amount of my student loan. That meant less money I'd have to pay back later.