"I still got the same education, the same degree, but at a more affordable price"

   
  
    
  
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     Can you speak a little bit about your educational journey?   I figured out that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school, so I knew that in order to do that I would have to go to college and eventually get a master’s degree. In high school I took a lot of   AP   and honors courses and I also enrolled in   dual enrollment   courses at University of Massachusetts Lowell.  In high school I was very proactive in order to make sure that I was prepared to go to college. I knew that by taking AP and honors courses I would have less courses to take in college, and ultimately it would save me money.  My parents are divorced and I was raised by my dad. My dad talked a lot about me and my younger brother going to college. He is a truck driver and he loves his job, but he always talks about how he has a very different lifestyle from someone who has gone to college. He could theoretically make a lot of money, but he would also have to work a lot harder and it would require a different kind of effort—often physically intensive labor. He was very much of the opinion that I should go to college. Even though he would’ve supported me either way, I could see that it was something that was important to him.  I’m a perfectionist and I take pride in my work and I’m often hard on myself. I think my dad saw that and he actually didn’t bring up my schoolwork because he didn’t want to add any more stress. He knew that I would take care of it on my own.   How did you decide where to go for college? How would you advise students to figure this out?   For me, it was a mix of looking at financial aid packages and trying to make sure that the college I ended up going to accepted my AP and dual enrollment credits. The private school financial aid packages looked nice, but when I looked more closely I realized I wasn’t getting scholarships, but rather loans. I graduated high school ranked 8th in my class, I had a really high GPA, and I felt that I could have gotten a merit scholarship for that. UMass Lowell gave me the best tuition fees and I couldn’t pass it up. It was also way cheaper than a private school and it wasn’t too far from my house, so I was able to commute and save money.  I didn’t have a very straightforward college journey. I had to take some time off of UMass Lowell because of a family emergency and ended up going to Middlesex Community College for a while because they were also very affordable. After that, I went to another state school, Westfield, to finish up my bachelor’s degree. Westfield was also very affordable and because I was working and going to school, I was able to take most of my classes online. So really, my decisions were all based on affordability, credit transferability, and picking what made the most sense for me.  The whole time, the money aspect was huge for me. I still got the same education, the same degree, but at a more affordable price. As long as you put in the hard work, it pays off.  
  
   
  
    
  
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     It seems like you were very aware of what you needed from a financial aid package. What would you recommend students who feel lost in the financial jargon do to make it more accessible to them and to their families?      A lot of it is looking things up yourself, but also making sure you’re taking to the right people, like your guidance counselor. There are also advisors in college that you can reach out to, so don’t discount them either. They can definitely help you decipher what your financial aid actually says.      What advice do you have for students who are hoping to graduate debt free?   It’s very beneficial to look into scholarships  
  
   
  
    
  
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  —whether it’s just Googling to see what’s out there, or looking at what kinds of scholarships your high school might offer to graduating seniors, or even seeing if your college has any opportunities for current students to apply to. It’s also helpful to have some sort of job throughout college, even if it’s just a part-time job. Working gives you some pocket money and a way to start paying off your loans while you’re still in school.  For me it was a mixture of figuring things out in advance and also planning it out as I went along. I saved a lot of money by living at home. I made sure that I tapped into a wide variety of scholarships and I worked full time. In addition to all that, at the time, my job was working at Headstart in Lowell as a preschool teacher. My employer considered the degree that I was pursuing to be in a related field so I was able to get tuition reimbursement for that.

Can you speak a little bit about your educational journey?

I figured out that I wanted to be a teacher when I was in middle school, so I knew that in order to do that I would have to go to college and eventually get a master’s degree. In high school I took a lot of AP and honors courses and I also enrolled in dual enrollment courses at University of Massachusetts Lowell.

In high school I was very proactive in order to make sure that I was prepared to go to college. I knew that by taking AP and honors courses I would have less courses to take in college, and ultimately it would save me money.

My parents are divorced and I was raised by my dad. My dad talked a lot about me and my younger brother going to college. He is a truck driver and he loves his job, but he always talks about how he has a very different lifestyle from someone who has gone to college. He could theoretically make a lot of money, but he would also have to work a lot harder and it would require a different kind of effort—often physically intensive labor. He was very much of the opinion that I should go to college. Even though he would’ve supported me either way, I could see that it was something that was important to him.

I’m a perfectionist and I take pride in my work and I’m often hard on myself. I think my dad saw that and he actually didn’t bring up my schoolwork because he didn’t want to add any more stress. He knew that I would take care of it on my own.

How did you decide where to go for college? How would you advise students to figure this out?

For me, it was a mix of looking at financial aid packages and trying to make sure that the college I ended up going to accepted my AP and dual enrollment credits. The private school financial aid packages looked nice, but when I looked more closely I realized I wasn’t getting scholarships, but rather loans. I graduated high school ranked 8th in my class, I had a really high GPA, and I felt that I could have gotten a merit scholarship for that. UMass Lowell gave me the best tuition fees and I couldn’t pass it up. It was also way cheaper than a private school and it wasn’t too far from my house, so I was able to commute and save money.

I didn’t have a very straightforward college journey. I had to take some time off of UMass Lowell because of a family emergency and ended up going to Middlesex Community College for a while because they were also very affordable. After that, I went to another state school, Westfield, to finish up my bachelor’s degree. Westfield was also very affordable and because I was working and going to school, I was able to take most of my classes online. So really, my decisions were all based on affordability, credit transferability, and picking what made the most sense for me.

The whole time, the money aspect was huge for me. I still got the same education, the same degree, but at a more affordable price. As long as you put in the hard work, it pays off.

It seems like you were very aware of what you needed from a financial aid package. What would you recommend students who feel lost in the financial jargon do to make it more accessible to them and to their families?

 A lot of it is looking things up yourself, but also making sure you’re taking to the right people, like your guidance counselor. There are also advisors in college that you can reach out to, so don’t discount them either. They can definitely help you decipher what your financial aid actually says. 

What advice do you have for students who are hoping to graduate debt free?

It’s very beneficial to look into scholarships—whether it’s just Googling to see what’s out there, or looking at what kinds of scholarships your high school might offer to graduating seniors, or even seeing if your college has any opportunities for current students to apply to. It’s also helpful to have some sort of job throughout college, even if it’s just a part-time job. Working gives you some pocket money and a way to start paying off your loans while you’re still in school.

For me it was a mixture of figuring things out in advance and also planning it out as I went along. I saved a lot of money by living at home. I made sure that I tapped into a wide variety of scholarships and I worked full time. In addition to all that, at the time, my job was working at Headstart in Lowell as a preschool teacher. My employer considered the degree that I was pursuing to be in a related field so I was able to get tuition reimbursement for that.

Katti on a field trip with her students.   
  
   
  
    
  
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     So I have to ask, you were working full time and going to school…did you sleep? How did you manage your time?    I used a lot of calendars and to-do lists to keep myself on track. I have to admit, I didn’t have much of a social life. I brought homework with me everywhere I went. I’d do homework in the car, during breaks at work, and on the bus. I also figured out effective study strategies and learned to adapt to how different professors taught. For example, I was in a class where we were assigned to read the entire chapter for class, but it wasn’t really helpful for the exam—I had to learn what I actually needed to know for my courses.  I did have pretty good time management skills in high school, but throughout college I revamped my strategies here and there. Currently, I make some big picture to-do lists for the month, but before I go to sleep I also make a to-do list for the next day. I make these to-do lists super specific, so that I have very concrete tasks. Instead of writing “work on a paper” I write, “finish the introductory paragraph for my paper” so I can very clearly see whether I've met my goals for the day.  For a while I was using the   task feature on Google calendar,   but as I started to take on more that got really overwhelming to look at, so then I moved to a paper calendar. Writing things down also helps me remember things better.    What would you say were the pros and cons of working through school?   I think the biggest benefit is that I don’t have any debt from my undergrad. Growing up, my family wasn’t very well off, my dad had a lot of debt and he talked a lot how stressful that was. I grew up not wanting that stressor in my life.  The biggest downside is I didn’t really make a ton of friends in college. I didn't have much of a social life as I mentioned and it got very stressful at times. But I also learned good stress management techniques, like drinking hot tea, taking a 10-15 minute break, and trying to take one or two nights off a month. I’d watch a movie, or paint my nails. I like to read a lot so I would also use that to take my mind off of things—even  taking a quiz to find out what kind of cheese you are helped . To be honest though, not having the stress of debt makes the sacrifices worth it.      You mentioned taking a night or two off to do nothing and take care of yourself. What would you say to someone who might have a hard time making time for themselves?   Self care is so important because if you’re having an anxiety attack or a mental breakdown because of this, it’s not worth it. Years from now, you’re not going to remember that paper or that issue at work. It’s way more important to take a night to focus on yourself and get yourself back to where you need to be, rather than stressing out over all these little things.

Katti on a field trip with her students.

So I have to ask, you were working full time and going to school…did you sleep? How did you manage your time?

I used a lot of calendars and to-do lists to keep myself on track. I have to admit, I didn’t have much of a social life. I brought homework with me everywhere I went. I’d do homework in the car, during breaks at work, and on the bus. I also figured out effective study strategies and learned to adapt to how different professors taught. For example, I was in a class where we were assigned to read the entire chapter for class, but it wasn’t really helpful for the exam—I had to learn what I actually needed to know for my courses.

I did have pretty good time management skills in high school, but throughout college I revamped my strategies here and there. Currently, I make some big picture to-do lists for the month, but before I go to sleep I also make a to-do list for the next day. I make these to-do lists super specific, so that I have very concrete tasks. Instead of writing “work on a paper” I write, “finish the introductory paragraph for my paper” so I can very clearly see whether I've met my goals for the day.

For a while I was using the task feature on Google calendar, but as I started to take on more that got really overwhelming to look at, so then I moved to a paper calendar. Writing things down also helps me remember things better.

 What would you say were the pros and cons of working through school?

I think the biggest benefit is that I don’t have any debt from my undergrad. Growing up, my family wasn’t very well off, my dad had a lot of debt and he talked a lot how stressful that was. I grew up not wanting that stressor in my life.

The biggest downside is I didn’t really make a ton of friends in college. I didn't have much of a social life as I mentioned and it got very stressful at times. But I also learned good stress management techniques, like drinking hot tea, taking a 10-15 minute break, and trying to take one or two nights off a month. I’d watch a movie, or paint my nails. I like to read a lot so I would also use that to take my mind off of things—even taking a quiz to find out what kind of cheese you are helped. To be honest though, not having the stress of debt makes the sacrifices worth it. 

You mentioned taking a night or two off to do nothing and take care of yourself. What would you say to someone who might have a hard time making time for themselves?

Self care is so important because if you’re having an anxiety attack or a mental breakdown because of this, it’s not worth it. Years from now, you’re not going to remember that paper or that issue at work. It’s way more important to take a night to focus on yourself and get yourself back to where you need to be, rather than stressing out over all these little things.

One of Katti's students made her this adorable drawing!      
  
   
  
    
  
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   You mentioned that your undergrad took a detour after a family emergency. It’s so hard to go back to school, what led you to continue and finish your degree?   I always knew that I was going to go back, but I needed to take that time off to refocus and figure out if teaching is what I really wanted to go into. I started working at a museum where I was getting the chance to teach, which confirmed that it was what I wanted to go into. Taking a couple of semesters off helped me get back into the mindset of finishing my degree.   Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?   I’m not sure, I definitely think that everything happens for a reason. Everything that’s happened has led me to the point I’m at today and I’m really happy with my life right now. All these experiences helped with major character building and I wouldn’t change that.   Anything you’d like to add?   When I was in high school I didn’t understand the value of choosing to go to a community college first and then heading to a four year college. Now, I realize it’s SO much cheaper and would’ve been a really great option. Definitely don’t discount that—you’re still getting a great education and it’s just a stepping stone. If you’re not sure what you want to do, a community college is a great way to take classes. It saves you from spending a ton of money on something you’re not one hundred percent committed to.   Rapid Fire Questions:    Binge-worthy TV show?  The Office

One of Katti's students made her this adorable drawing! 

You mentioned that your undergrad took a detour after a family emergency. It’s so hard to go back to school, what led you to continue and finish your degree?

I always knew that I was going to go back, but I needed to take that time off to refocus and figure out if teaching is what I really wanted to go into. I started working at a museum where I was getting the chance to teach, which confirmed that it was what I wanted to go into. Taking a couple of semesters off helped me get back into the mindset of finishing my degree.

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?

I’m not sure, I definitely think that everything happens for a reason. Everything that’s happened has led me to the point I’m at today and I’m really happy with my life right now. All these experiences helped with major character building and I wouldn’t change that.

Anything you’d like to add?

When I was in high school I didn’t understand the value of choosing to go to a community college first and then heading to a four year college. Now, I realize it’s SO much cheaper and would’ve been a really great option. Definitely don’t discount that—you’re still getting a great education and it’s just a stepping stone. If you’re not sure what you want to do, a community college is a great way to take classes. It saves you from spending a ton of money on something you’re not one hundred percent committed to.

Rapid Fire Questions:

Binge-worthy TV show? The Office

How do you turn a bad day into a good day? Usually I talk to my fiancé about it. Talking to someone I’m close to really helps me work things out.

Someone you admire? My dad, he grew up Azores, an archipelago of islands that are part of Portugal. He was raised in a very traditional environment with a lot of old-school ideas, but my dad wanted to break that cycle and not parent the way his parents had.

Something you can’t stop talking about? That’s a toss up between getting my master’s degree in May and getting married a few weeks later.

 

We're so impressed by all of Katti's hard work and are wishing her all the best as she heads off on this new chapter!