“Mom, I’m just not proud of our life. Our house is run down and I’m ashamed to bring my friends over. I just wish our family was normal.” Driving home in our beat-up minivan, Mom looked at me with sad eyes. I was breaking her heart.

I’m sure you’re thinking, “Who would say that to their mother?” Well, you’re right; that is an awful thing to say to the person who gave life to you. But from that conversation, I learned a valuable lesson about humility, and it goes something like this: God still provides, even if what He provides isn’t quite what you wanted.

I felt a unique draw to Ouachita when I visited campus in October of my senior year of high school, but I just knew there was no way I could afford it. Sound like a familiar thought? I had a decent ACT and GPA and received an academic scholarship, but we didn’t have any college savings, and I was on my own when it came to paying for college. I went through the process of being admitted but made the decision after Christmas that I would attend somewhere else. Even then, God continued to gently pull me toward Ouachita.

During the summer following graduation, Ouachita sent me my final financial aid award letter. After applying for a handful of scholarships and completing what seemed like mountains of financial paperwork for the government, my dream school was finally within reach. The only question was if I would be willing to take out a few loans to make it happen.

“God doesn’t want you to be in debt” were the words of my oldest sister. She had given me a number of books on financial stability for graduation and scolded me for even considering loans. There may be an amount that is too much for someone but my loan debt was going to be fairly minimal – perhaps even cheaper than buying a car after graduation. So, what was I to do? All I could do was pray for wisdom and a whole lot of faith. I felt God was calling me to take a leap, and I was almost ready.

I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong to take out loans; everyone’s situation is different. Some students have family or friends who are helping them pay for college while others have worked hard to receive academic and athletic awards. What a blessing! But others, like myself, are relying on true grit to navigate these financial waters.

Here are a few practical tips:

  • When it comes to loans, make sure you know your interest rate.
  • Getting an idea of what your monthly payment may be can help alleviate some of the stress of taking on loans.
  • In order to keep loans to a minimum, spend your senior year applying for private scholarships. Do your research early and enlist the help of older friends and high school counselors. You also can utilize free scholarship search tools.
  • When searching for scholarships, create a new email to alleviate inbox clutter and start with narrow search fields (i.e. related to major, location, personal traits).

Do everything you can but just remember that your education is worth investing in and God may be calling you to take a leap of faith. Nothing ever came about to close the gap to cover the rest of my tuition, but over that summer it became very evident that God wanted me at Ouachita. I couldn’t say no. What was like a financial challenge at first turned into a chance to trust Him with my life like never before.

I’m thankful God used something like loans to humble me toward obedience, even when it was less than desirable. When my friends were getting lost in the mix at bigger schools, I found a home that invested in me and challenged me to grow in the faith. God honored that faith, and I even saw my loan debt go down as I received other scholarships along the way. Even now as I repay those loans, I think back to that conversation with my mother while counting my blessings and seeing God’s provisions all around.

By Matthew Cook, a 2014 Ouachita graduate, who serves as an OBU admissions counselor.

 


 

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