SOU Student Interview: Paying for College

Name: Rhianna Ullom

Year in School: Senior

Area of Study: Mathematics


When did you start planning how to pay for college?

Unfortunately, I didn’t enter college with a plan for how I was going to finance my education and support myself throughout my years in school. I initially tried to work full-time and take night classes, but this limited the types of classes I could take and wouldn’t have worked long-term. I later applied for financial aid and accepted everything I was offered, both grants and loans. My tuition, fees, and books were partially covered by the Pell Grant and the rest by student loans. I used some of the loans for personal expenses and was able to work part-time. If I had known better, I could have significantly reduced the amount of loans I took out and budgeted my personal expenses more carefully. However, I didn’t fully understand how my financial aid worked or what options I had. This definitely had consequences.

Did you have a discussion with your parents/guardians about paying for college? What did you talk about?

I was on my own as a teenager, so I didn’t really have any guidance on how to fund my education. I think mentorship could have made all the difference for me, and I would highly recommend reaching out to someone for advice.

What did you do in high school to prepare to pay for college?

I didn’t feel confident that I would make it to college when I was a teenager, so I wasn’t preparing for it in high school. However, I was a dedicated student and involved in my community, so I (unintentionally) set myself up to receive scholarships and grants for my academic performance and volunteer hours. This made a huge difference. I highly recommend dedicating yourself to something you’re passionate about while you’re in high school, whether that be academics, sports, clubs, or giving back to your community. There are scholarships and grants available for involvement in all kinds of activities, so it could really pay off to devote yourself to pursuing your talents and interests!

Did you apply for financial aid? Did a counselor help you with your application?

I stumbled through my first financial aid application on my own. I had it sent back a few times due to errors which slowed the process down considerably, but I eventually got the hang of it! I think it would be incredibly beneficial to have someone experienced walk you through it the first time. Most financial aid advisors on campus are willing to answer questions around filling out the FAFSA.

Did finances impact your decision on where to go?

They did. I spent my first two years at a community college to save on tuition, which is a decision I’m glad I made. It made a considerable difference, and I don’t feel that the quality of my education was compromised in any way. Southern Oregon University (SOU) and Rogue Community College (RCC) actually share quite a few of the same teachers.

How did you go about getting scholarships? How did you find them?

Some scholarship applications are more involved than others. Most of them require that you meet some kind of profile, such as age, GPA, major, etc. Some have additional writing requirements. Writing skills pay off big time! You can be matched to a variety of scholarship options by using Southern Oregon Scholarship Application (SOSA) or Oregon Student Access and Completion(OSAC)).

Do you have a credit card? If you do, how do you use it wisely? If not, why did you decide against it?

I think credit cards can be a useful tool but can also be extremely damaging. Rather than saving my money to prepare for emergency expenses or to make large purchases, I frequently utilized credit in my early twenties. It’s astounding how quickly the debt piles up. I rapidly found myself in severe credit card debt, and it took me six years to pay it all off.

I am extremely careful with my credit card now. I only utilize a small amount of the balance and make regular payments. I also have savings to utilize in case of emergencies rather than putting myself in the position of having to max out a credit card.

Do you have any cost cutting tips for future college students?

Keep your cost of living as low as possible. I’ve never once owned a car that wasn’t ugly and twenty years old, but I also have never had to worry about a car payment. Look for student discounts, buy used textbooks, and learn to budget your money. Never take out more student loans than you absolutely need. If you accept the average amount of student loans offered every term, you will graduate with over $50,000 in debt! Make the sacrifices now to set yourself up for success later.   

What piece of advice would you give to a high school student preparing to go to college?

Pursue your talents and interests, and apply yourself to the things you’re good at! Get involved in your school or community. Join clubs or volunteer. Your academic achievements and involvement can set you up for many valuable scholarship opportunities.. Also, seek a mentorship! Don’t go into college trying to figure everything out on your own. Get advice and education on how to navigate the financial side of college. It will make all the difference!

For more information on paying for college, visit