By Sumiko Martinez on November 12, 2015

November is College Application Month, and that means that high school seniors all around the state are participating in Utah College Application Week! But there’s another side to preparing for college – the financial side. Despite a lot of persistent myths about scholarships and federal student aid, college students are finding ways to pay for college every day. This month, StepUpUtah will be posting a three-part blog series to investigate the way that real students make it work. Here’s the first installment!

The basic formula is this: first, save as much as you can. Apply for (and hopefully win) as many scholarships as you can. File the FAFSA by your college’s priority financial aid deadline to see if you qualify for grants. Apply for a work-study job on campus. If you don’t have enough money to cover your anticipated college costs at that point, consider attending a less expensive college or borrowing a student loan to make up the difference.

That basic formula changes a little bit for every student. Let’s break it down and look at some college students to see what ways they are using to pay for college.

Thea Holcomb, senior at West High School
Future College: applying to the University of Utah
Cost of Attendance: $23,478/year (for a full-time in state resident living on campus)

Thea is Paying for College…

  • Using money from her own and parents’ college savings accounts
  • Applying for need-based and departmental scholarships as a senior, and throughout college
  • Going to apply to be an resident assistant for on-campus housing
  • Planning on filing the FAFSA when it becomes available this January
  • Will work part-time during college and full time during the summers
  • When I mention student loans, Thea grimaces uncomfortably and says, “I feel like my peers aren’t going to borrow.” She also mentions that both of her parents have graduate degrees and that it’s very frustrating watching them pay back student loans. She feels like repayment is a “distant, nebulous, adulthood thing.”

Thea’s key strategies to  paying for college:

  • Choose an in-state college to save on tuition
  • Learn from older brother, who is already in college, and plan accordingly
  • Even if you don’t feel like you know what you’re doing with scholarships, fake it until you make it!

Cristobal Villegas, senior at Utah Valley University
Degree Sought: Bachelor’s degree in Political Science
Cost of Attendance: approximately $10,000/year, $40,000 total

Cristobal is paying for college with a combination of…

  • Scholarships:
    • 1st year: Sterling Scholar + Woodbury Business Scholarship
    • 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year: member of Student Council (part of UVU’s student government), which gives a full tuition waiver
  • Grants (applied for through the FAFSA)
  • Working for family business
  • Student loans to pay for a study abroad trip to Cuba ($3000)

Cristobal’s key strategies to paying for college:

  • Focus on your grades; being an honors student may result in a partial housing scholarship
  • Organizations & departments are there to help, you just have to meet the requirements
  • Being involved & engaged on campus – “You go to school to get a degree, but you also go to school to make connections and network.”
  • File the FAFSA and help others to get it done as well

So there you have it! Two real students on very different educational paths, both paying for college in different ways. Part II of this series will be posted on November 19th, so check back to see new profiles of students dealing with education financing in even more ways.

Sumiko Martinez is a Community Outreach Officer with the Utah Higher Education Assistance Authority (UHEAA). Learn more about Sumiko at, and connect with her on Twitter @SumikoMartinez.