Natacha Torres always dreamed of going to a big secular school near her home in Houston, Texas, where she imagined herself majoring in biology. And after she took her PSAT, and began receiving brochures and applications from all the state's major public and private universities, that goal seemed like it would become a reality. She barely paid attention to another Texas school—a Christian one—that sent her information: LeTourneau University.
On paper, LeTourneau seemed like a long shot. Natacha had never heard of the college, situated in the northeast Texas town of Longview, about 200 miles away.
"I was like, Longview?" Natacha recalls. "I don't even know where that is."
None of her friends had mentioned LeTourneau. And with a price tag for tuition, room and board, and fees around $18,000 per year, the school seemed pretty expensive stacked against the relatively low costs she'd pay in-state at other Texas universities.
Nevertheless, the summer before her senior year of high school, Natacha's parents encouraged her to apply.
"Because LeTourneau said they would waive the application fee if I applied by August, I ended up applying weeks before I intended to apply to the other schools," Natacha says. "I actually received the acceptance letter in October, the weekend before I was going to fill out the other applications."
Along with her acceptance, LeTourneau awarded Natacha a dean's scholarship based on academic achievement and worth $2,000 per year. She was thrilled, and after a LeTourneau admissions counselor visited with her and her family at home in Houston, she decided to tour the campus on a preview weekend. The weekend made such a strong impression on her, she didn't even apply to her initial top-choice schools.
Having attended public schools her whole life, Natacha was especially swayed by the Christian atmosphere she discovered at LeTourneau.
"I absolutely loved my visit," Natacha says. "The students I stayed with were great, and the professors were amazing. They held devotionals before they started class, which really appealed to me. Everyone drew me in, and I felt God leading me there."
But even with the four-year dean's scholarship, Natacha knew her biggest hurdle would be paying for a Christian college education. Coming from a single-income household (her mom is a full-time stay-at-home mom) with three younger siblings still in elementary and junior high school, Natacha could see the writing on the wall: Without loans, grants and scholarships—and plenty of them—there was no way her family could foot the bill.
"Once we learned how much financial aid I'd be getting, it was clear I would need to take out loans," she says. "I was really concerned about that, because people had told me I would have to pay them back for years after college. But my family's mentality was, if help is available, take it. We moved to Texas from Chile when I was 10 years old. And in Chile, the possibility of going to college is much slimmer than it is here. So we thought, Why pass up this opportunity?"
As it turns out, Natacha, now a senior at LeTourneau, has relied on a variety of sources to pay for school. She has taken out Stafford and Perkins loans worth about $7,800 each year. Her financial aid package from LeTourneau totals $6,000 annually, plus a small scholarship from her church that she's re-applied for every year. Combined, her aid covers all but a couple thousand dollars.
Natacha says throughout the application and admission process, her parents never let her fret about where the money for college would come from. It would be there, they assured, and anything left uncovered by financial aid they would find a way to pay. In fact, Natacha says, when she told her parents she would get an on-campus job to ease the financial burden, her father wouldn't hear of it.
"My dad insisted I should concentrate completely on school, at least my freshman year," she says. "He really wanted me to get used to living by myself and studying."