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Debt-Free Graduate Shares Financial Aid Strategy

In these tough economic times, one of the top questions on a college student’s mind is, “Will I be able to afford this school?” In fact, Stamats, Inc., an integrated marketing and communications company that provides services for university admissions, recently found that the new No. 1 factor for students deciding on a school is affordability over a school's reputation.

Many students and parents considering a school may automatically dismiss the possibility of attending private universities because of the higher tuition. But a closer look shows that the amount of financial aid options at the University of St. Thomas, where students receive $24 million in financial aid and more than $7 million in institutional aid, can make a quality, private liberal arts education both accessible and affordable to anyone.

“One of the big differences between private schools like UST and public universities is the availability of institutional aid,” said Lynda McKendree, dean of Scholarships and Financial Aid. “Many students will find that once they are accepted to UST, they are offered merit scholarships and grants that they may not qualify for at a larger public school.”

There are plenty of resources available to make a St. Thomas education affordable. Just ask UST graduate Tamarsha (Wilhite) Everhart. When Everhart graduated from the Cameron School of Business in 2001, she did so debt-free, and it was all thanks to scholarships, financial aid, work-study opportunities and internships. UST granted Everhart a St. Thomas Aquinas Scholarship.

Before entering her freshman year, Everhart really did her homework on how to pay for her college education. She kept up with her academics as a student at the former Forest Brook High School in northeast Houston, graduated as salutatorian and, after a vast search of available scholarships, she secured several that would help pay for her tuition and other college expenses.

Though she had opportunities to go to other universities around Houston, Everhart said she was adamant about going to St. Thomas because of its low student-teacher ratio and superior academic reputation.

“I knew I wanted to go to St. Thomas, but I also knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it alone, and my family wouldn’t be able to afford it,” she said. “The main thing was that I didn’t want loans, so I did what I had to do and looked everywhere for scholarships. Once I started school, I continued to pursue opportunities and got another couple scholarships while I was there. My goal was to graduate debt-free, and I was able to do that.”

As a freshman, she continued looking for ways to pay for school, including participating in the work-study program and later landing an internship with the IT department at El Paso Energy downtown.

“Working there served as a good start for me to make money and gain a lot of knowledge,” she said. “It was because of that internship that I also decided to go into the IT field.”

Soon after Everhart graduated, she had a promising job as an IT integrator with Marathon Oil, and she quickly advanced within the company to her current position as an IT business analyst.

Everhart’s story is proof that graduating debt-free is possible, even at a private university such as UST. Her advice to students is to take advantage of every opportunity available to apply for scholarships and look for internships. It’s a small task that pays dividends in the end.