Each month, Tuition.io offers a “Down with Debt” scholarship sweepstakes. Winners are drawn at random from entrants and win $500 to help them combat their student loans. One of our recent winners, Jeri Nichols-Park, is an adult learner who returned to college after years away from school. She shared her story with us and, today, we’d like to share it with you because it inspired us deeply.
Tuition.io: Tell us a bit about yourself.
Ms. Nichols-Park: Since I was a child, I have always envisioned myself as a successful, productive person, doing something creative, whether it be art, music, or designing a special garment. I have done all these things and more, but realized that I needed not only experience, but education to take it to the next level.
Tuition.io: Why didn’t you go to college earlier in life?
Ms. Nichols-Park: In my younger years I was far too busy being a working mother of seven children to consider going to school. For years I strived to better my circumstances, doing whatever I could to support my family and myself: office jobs, the “sample maker”/designer in a small clothing company in Los Angeles, jobs in the restaurant industry…. at dead-end jobs, or jobs that had no opportunity for advancement. The idea of going to school never really entered my mind due to the financial implications.
Tuition.io: What changed for you?
Ms. Nichols-Park: Two events impacted my life that would force me to make some life-changing decisions. First, my husband became seriously ill and spent several months in the hospital and a nursing home. His doctors said that he would never be able to work again and he was granted disability, which really isn’t enough to live on. Secondly, at the time I was working full time at a local restaurant that closed abruptly with no warning in December of 2009. This was a huge dilemma; at my age it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find another job waiting tables or tending bar….and even if I did, how much longer could I work in the restaurant industry with its physical demands?
Tuition.io: What then?
Ms. Nichols-Park: A co-worker who was attending CSU suggested that I look into going back to school, even if it meant taking out a loan. I decided at that moment to complete what I had aspired to do so many years ago: earn my degree in art and design and pursue my dream of becoming a professional designer.
Tuition.io: How long have you been back to school and how is it going?
Ms. Nichols-Park: It has been over four years since I went back and became a full time student at Colorado State University. I am now a senior in the art department, working on a BFA with a Fibers concentration, and a senior in the Design department, seeking a BS in Apparel design and marketing. I am an excellent student, and have earned high grades for the most part.
Tuition.io: How have your finances been a challenge since going back to college?
Ms. Nichols-Park: It has been financially very challenging; I have a small income from Social Security, and I have a part time job waiting tables in a small local diner, and we just manage to “squeak” by. But continuing and completing my education has become the most important goal in my life, and I am due to graduate in December of 2014.
Tuition.io: How has winning our Down with Debt scholarship helped you?
Ms. Nichols-Park: I still have many obstacles to overcome. I must take a few courses that will not be covered by my current loan, as they have to be completed at another institution this summer. This scholarship will help defray the costs of these courses. I had no idea how I was going to pay this additional expense, so this scholarship comes at a perfect time.
We congratulate Ms. Nichols-Park on winning the Down with Debt sweepstakes and, if you’re in college and can use some financial assistance, be sure to enter by clicking here. And if you haven’t already signed up for Tuition.io’s free student loan tool to manage and optimize your debt, do so now – knowing how much you owe and tracking your progress toward your payoff date is important. And be sure to read our blog often for tips on affording college and handling your loans.