Scholarship fair aims to help students avoid debt

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - More adults are swimming in student loan debt and struggling to pay it off. But one VCU student who is graduating debt-free is sharing her secrets to winning scholarships and organizing a Scholarship Fair for students this week.

VCU Senior Lorraine Santalucia will graduate debt-free. She paid for her entire four year education by seeking out and winning scholarships.

"I started applying for scholarship programs from local foundations and applied for scholarships from my church," she explained.

Santalucia formed a student organization called Scholarship Sharing, seeing students racking up loans, or dropping out, while scholarships sat unnoticed.

"So many students don't know they're there," she told us.

The New York Federal Reserve reports that the amount of student loan debt in the US has tripled in the last eight years.

ClearPoint Credit Counselor Terrence Banks says the majority of people in debt that he counsels have student loans.

"I would say 80% of our calls," have student loans, said Banks.

The problem, he says, is students don't think about how much debt they're taking on. "They start off early, they take on certain loans in that case, and they're not really paying attention to them."

Banks says borrowers need to explore their repayment options.

"These loans are not usually dischargeable in terms of bankruptcy," explained Banks. "So the earlier you get started with it, even if it's a small payment, or finding out your options, the better off you become later on."

ClearPoint Credit Counseling offers student loan counseling and a Know Your Money Blog that can help borrowers struggling to repay student loans.

It's that mounting debt that inspired Santalucia and her group to host a scholarship fair where students can learn about available scholarships.

"My pile of acceptance letters versus my pile of rejection letters is astronomically different," said Santalucia. "But the amount of money I received, just in those first few scholarships, was well worth the effort."

The Scholarship Fair is taking place at the VCU Student Center at 907 Floyd Avenue in Richmond. It runs Wednesday, October 9 and Thursday, October 10, from noon to 5:00 p.m. Both days. The fair is free and open to students from any school.

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