Mike Brown Updated on November 6, 2017

When it comes to paying for college, sacrifice can go a long way. Sherill Farrell, the latest winner of our $5,000 Nitro Parental Scholarship, still drives a 2001 car, and she and her spouse built their Valrico, Florida home in order to avoid a mortgage. "My husband and I began saving for both our children's college at their birth. We felt it was our responsibility to provide whatever we could by the time graduation rolled around. Saving cost us, as well, but on our terms. We decided what we chose to give up in order to save--all in our control."

Sherill's daughter Beth is a first-semester freshman at South Carolina's North Greenville University, where she plays lacrosse and has an interest in business; her son Barrett will be a high school freshman next year. Along with their forward-thinking and planning, these parents made sure to educate their children as to why they'd saved so diligently.

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The reality

"We felt lost when explaining to Beth that choosing a school was more than just where she could play her sport of choice.  All the schools she was looking at were way beyond our savings. She had no concept of the financial responsibility that loomed with her statement 'we can just get a loan.' We explained that all loans were debt even before the money was spent."

Some good old-fashioned, eye-opening number crunching followed. "Showing her how much more a loan for a certain amount would actually be at the time of graduation was mind-blowing. We had to make it concrete for her. The lure of not having to pay while in school had her thinking of the short-term benefit, not the long-term reality. As parents, we continue to stress that her future is impacted by the decisions she makes now." And even though both children have worked summers at their father's business, the family made a decision to have them focus on schoolwork, delaying part-time work commitments as long as possible.

The goal

"We do not intend to have to get a student loan," emphasizes Sherill, a teacher by profession. "We can't say that we won't down the road, but Nitro has sparked me to continue looking at what I can do. Our goal is to have Beth graduate debt-free. Hopefully even save some money if she decides to get a Master's degree, and not have to pay for that herself."

For the Farrells, the conversation about cost, debt, and being realistic about college choice began in earnest the summer between Beth's freshman and sophomore year. "We, as a family, really had no concept of how much a school was going to cost," shares Sherill. "Once we started looking, we showed Beth her 529 summary and said 'this is how much you have. If you divide all this among four years, how much is this going to give you per year? Look and see online how much each school is going to cost.'"

Beth's Role

While she continued to apply herself at school and in athletics, her parents made sure Beth was invested in the process. "Our focus for her was on what she could contribute in applying for scholarships, including local scholarships, those available at the schools she was interested in, and various specialty group scholarships." Beth began working in February of her senior year--two days per week--and she ended up saving close to $2,000. "She doesn't have a car, she doesn't have those kind of expenses. So she is contributing with that."

Today, Beth is a couple of months into her college experience. "All her personal expenses (at college) are hers," notes Sherill. "The learning is still going on. We were talking about how much books cost, did you see how much this is, how much that is, about what debt is, and what spending does to the amount of money she's saved already."

Lessons learned

As college planning turns to her son's future, Sherill notes his interest in the process has increased. "He's seen the benefit. He's sat in and listened to all the discussions, and we'll follow that same route with him. We'll be talking to him about what's an affordable school--he's looking at something medical even though he's only 14--so his may be an extended time at school. He will get the benefit of starting super-early."

The work for Beth continues, too. "We had thought the scholarship hunt ended and that after you got into school you were done. As we started looking and talking to more people at schools, that just wasn't true." Sherill's current co-ed has at least one more task mom needs her to complete: "Beth hasn't even applied for any of the Nitro scholarships for students yet, so that's gonna come next for her!"

Sherill's ongoing diligence continues to pay dividends with this Nitro Parental Scholarship, which might have an unforeseen ripple effect. "The $5,000 that Nitro gave us means I don't have to touch some of Beth's 529 plan because it will cover almost all of the next semester that we have left to pay as a family. So that's $5,000 more that's also Barrett's, because if we don't have to use money out of her 529 account we can transfer it to him, and it can be for his college fees. So, you know, it benefits all of us!"

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Nitro cares about helping parents fund their children’s college education. That’s why we’re offering PARENTS the opportunity to earn a $5,000 scholarship from Nitro. We know that as parents, we do not want to burden our kids with unmanageable loans when they graduate. This scholarship is one of the many tools Nitro offers to help pay for college.

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