Not an academic superstar? College still an option

Dymanh Chhoun
Dymanh Chhoun will graduate this spring from the University of Minnesota with a degree in broadcast journalism, accomplishing his dream. Photo courtesy of Dymanh Chhoun
Don’t worry about your family not having any money for college. Worry instead about getting a good grade point average in high school.

Education is the power to succeed in this country, especially for students from low-income families. I am one of those students and will graduate in May with a broadcast journalism degree from the University of Minnesota. I hope to work as a videographer for a television station in the Twin Cities.

I am a good example of how low-income students can graduate from college without being superstars in high school or borrowing a lot of money. Don’t worry about your family not having any money for college. Worry instead about getting a good grade point average in high school. A good GPA means a lot of excellent grants and scholarship money for college.

But even average students like me, who had a 2.4 GPA in high school, should not worry too much about college costs. As long as people are willing to work hard and are trying to create their own bright future, higher education in America is possible.

College and Money

Right after I graduated from high school, I went to Normandale Community College, which is cheaper than attending a four-year college. I stayed at Normandale to take all the general courses that are required for most majors and transferred those credits to the U of M. Many Minnesota universities will accept students’ community college credits as long the students followed the rules. The U accepted all of my credits from Normandale, so all I needed was another two years at the U to complete my major.

THINKSPOT: Dymanh Chhoun was a C+ student in high school, and his family didn’t have money to help him pay for college. Yet he’ll graduate this spring with a degree from the University of Minnesota.

How has he done it? Would the same strategies work for you? Click here to join the debate!

All together, I have borrowed about $12,000 for college. The rest was paid with federal and state grants I received after filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. Because my family’s income is so low, I automatically qualified for the grants so long as I filled out the FAFSA every year. The grants paid about $23,000 to the colleges I attended and were generous enough that I always had money left over to use for food, gas and other bills.

Living at home is not a bad idea

I was proud to stay home during college, living with my family and having a part-time job. I know many college students who move out after they turn 18 and have to work full-time just to pay for their apartment. I think that is not a good idea.

One of the main reasons I didn’t want to move out is because of my Cambodian culture. My parents told me if I moved out, I had to have enough money for everything — clothes, food, gas, apartment, cell phone bill, Internet, car, etc. I didn’t have that kind of money working part-time at Subway; I barely had enough for my cell-phone bill.
I knew I had to stay home if I wanted to only worry about school. Plus, if I live to be a 100-year-old man, I can say that I only lived with my parents about 25 percent of my life.

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