LocationAlhambra , CA
According to a recent Forbes magazine article, 40 percent of the student population will go into default on their college loans by 2023. Tiffany Aleman has a simple plan to avoid that scenario: avoid student loans. As a straight A student, the recent Alhambra High School graduate is taking a hard line on student debt as she prepares to start her freshman year at Cal State Los Angeles and major in Psychology.
Her college prep work this summer involves working three jobs. As a sales associate at Alhambra Furniture, a server at Ultrazone in Alhambra and a cashier on the Cal State LA campus bookstore, Aleman will keep these three jobs to avoid borrowing money from loan providers in the Fall. She hopes to continue that practice throughout her undergraduate experience. Juggling school and work is a common challenge among students, and as a first generation college student, it can be daunting.
Growing up, Aleman had no immediate family member she could turn to for guidance on funding her education or even applying for financial aid. That’s not to say she wasn’t supported at home. Aleman lives with her mother and sister in Alhambra and will live there while she attains her undergraduate degree. When they opened Aleman’s financial aid letter from the Federal Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) together, her mother immediately offered to help pay for a portion of her education with a Direct Plus Loan (also known as “Parent Plus Loan”), a federal loan type taken out by parents to help pay for college costs not covered by grants or subsidized loans. Though she knows she can count on her mother to help in a pinch, Aleman is doing all she can to avoid that scenario because of concerns that her mother might face large interest payments over time.
Applying to scholarships was one method Aleman pursued to refrain from taking on student debt. In her senior year of high school Aleman received six scholarships from a number of sources in Alhambra. Among them were the Rotary Club of Alhambra Scholarship, the Gateway Church Scholarship, the Alhambra Nursery Foundation Scholarship, the “How Not To Be Broke” Alhambra Source Scholarship and more. Looking back today, she wishes that she had applied for more and hopes future students apply early and often. “The biggest mistake would be to not try, not apply to that scholarship, not dream… Students must realize that nothing will simply be handed to them and they must put the work in to reach their goals.”
Her sister is a freshman at Alhambra High School and Aleman is looking to be a positive role model on the financial front. “Being first generation is hard but I feel like it helps me to pave the way…especially for my sister,” said Aleman.
The path is indeed full of challenges. Though she was accepted into a number of California universities she chose Cal State LA because it had the best financial aid package. Aleman has already made a difficult decision in choosing a school but there are more challenges ahead. Some of those challenges are managing school time and job time. But that’s something she’s already been working on in high school.
While working two part-time jobs, Aleman graduated AHS with straight A’s her senior year. On top of this, she participated in a long list of extracurricular activities at Alhambra High School. Those activities include being President of the service club Interact (one of the clubs that helped found the Tzu Chi Food Bank) to being a Web Editor the AHS newspaper, The Moor Weekly. She also participated in LASO (Latin American Student Organization) fundraisers and was active in Cross Country and on the Soccer team. This collection of activities shows that Aleman has had some good practice when it comes to managing school time, work time, and making time for extracurricular activities. And she is going to repeat this habit in college.
To keep track of time, Aleman recommends that students use Google Calendars to help manage their schedules because that’s what she did. The structural visual component of the calendar pushed her to fill in the days and adequately plan in order to keep track of her busy schedule. “This enabled me to hold myself accountable toward reaching my goals,” she said.
With this tool, she is preparing to juggle three jobs, her full time student schedule at Cal State LA, and any other volunteer opportunities that fit in between.
In June, Aleman attended the “How Not To Be Broke” financial literacy workshop sponsored by Alhambra Source and Royal Business Bank. The workshop covered issues including banking, establishing and using credit, understanding student loans and time management exercises. But what resonated with Aleman most was the lesson on budgeting.
One of the budgeting activities challenged the students to create a 10 -year- student debt repayment plan. With debt payments no less than $400 a month, students had to estimate their monthly plan to cover other expenses including rent, utilities, transportation, food and entertainment. According to Aleman, this exercise was a wakeup call to her on the real-life costs that students paying off their debt can’t escape. “I didn’t think about how much [my expenses] would cost and heavily impact my where my money is going,” she said.
The budgeting lesson plus the real life job, school and time management situation Aleman has been facing since she was a high school student has led her to think seriously about her future. So much so that she is currently working on a budget that will take her through her undergraduate years and beyond.“I’m trying to make a budget on how to get my Master’s degree because I don’t want to walk away with any debt,” she said.
Aleman is aiming to get into medical school and be engaged in her community. Specifically, she wants to help provide free mental health services to underprivileged clients. She aspires to one day start a scholarship fund and help students who are in her situation
Aleman’s motto is budget, work hard, give back, and pave the way for future generations. With this in mind, she plans not to be another student debt statistic.
Our Leah Chang talks with Aleman and gets her thoughts on student debt and being a first generation college student.