Understand money and how financial aid works.

Many years ago when I was first beginning in college access work, a former colleague asked if I would help her student with money for college. I called the student and talked non-stop for about thirty minutes about how to find financing for college, including the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, and where to look for scholarships. When I was finished, she informed me that she was just getting donations from people in the community and didn’t want to do any of the things I had said. I asked how she intended to find funding for the other years of college; she said she would do the same thing—ask for donations—unless the university gave her money.

Since then, I get gofundme and other solicitations from students asking for people to help fund their needs through donations.

Here’s the thing: I am not necessarily against that system in principle. I am against the missed opportunity to understand money. I call it, “Rappers’ Syndrome.”

Not so long ago, my cousin and I were talking about how well our parents did in instilling the importance of education. But they didn’t do such a great job in teaching us about money. He is a medical doctor who finds himself ear hustling tips about mortgages and savings accounts from the other doctors in the break room. I admitted to researching investment banking and going through as many Suze Orman books as possible.

When I was in college, I borrowed more money than I should have. And I definitely got more credit cards than I should have. When I started working full-time, I didn’t have any goals for money so I didn’t know how to spend it. When we think about all the soft skills students learn when they are on their way to college, becoming money-wise has to be one of the first ones.

We have these dreams for our young people—buy a house, support a family—but we never teach them how. It’s as if we assume a mortgage is easy to come by. And when we talk about how a college degree can impact a family and community for generations, that really won’t be the case if we are not also money smart.

But this is about that application and how to get in. I truly believe that when students understand money, they approach their applications much differently.

I’ve had more to say on this topic. Check it out.

I began a series last year on financial aid for college. It will return this summer but catch up here. Have questions? Come to my workshop!