Below you will find an interview with Chris Coppenbarger. I found his story via StumbleUpon and asked him if I could interview him because his story was quite unique. As a student trying to get through college with as little student debt as possible, Chris’ story is quite an amazing one!! If you are interested in talking about your story, email me and I’ll send some interview questions your way 🙂
Can you tell me a bit about yourself?
My name is Chris Coppenbarger. I grew up in various places around the South, ending up in a small town near Savannah, GA. We were always in church and I was raised that if you don’t have the money for something, either save up for it, or don’t buy it. I have B.A. in Cross-cultural studies from Toccoa Falls College, a Certificate in Information Technology from Clayton State University, and a M.A. in General Theological Studies from Columbia International University. I work full-time as a web developer. I am married with two children and one on the way.
On your blog, you mention getting through college debt free. How did you do it?
I went to a small 2-year school in my first year and received money from the state through their HOPE scholarship program funded by the Georgia Lottery. I also received federal Pell Grant money. I think there was some other small academic scholarship, but I don’t remember. In the end, I received enough money to even pay for books. A lot of states offer some kind of scholarship program funded by their lottery. I didn’t do well enough to keep my scholarships and came home for two years. During that time, my dad died. My mom took a job at Toccoa Falls College in Northeast Georgia, and we moved there. I have two sisters as well. I was able to get a discount for my mom working at the school, but I was also able to get a few random scholarships and worked. I also lived off-campus with my mom and sisters. That probably helped immensely. In the end, I never took out a loan. There were some early semesters, when I wasn’t sure that I was going to be able to pay for the whole thing, but it worked out. I worked hard, committed to not get in debt over college, and got my degree.
And, you made it through seminary with no debt. How in the world did you do that?
Going to seminary was a little different than going to college. It was three years later, my mom didn’t work for the school (so, no discounts there), and my work wouldn’t pay for school, as it wasn’t related to my work (I worked for Target catching shoplifters). I was also married and we had one child already. In the end, I took my time. I was in a one-year program, since I didn’t need the Bible classes, having a Bible degree already. I could only afford to take one or two classes a semester to begin with. The Winter and Summer programs are only one or two week courses. While at Seminary, I was able to get a job on campus. This helped immensely as the school would pay for 90% of my tuition now. Again, I was able to secure a scholarship here and there that also helped to pay for the rest and for books. As for books, they can get expensive, so I recommend Amazon.com for book searching. In the end, I took my time, working my way through school. It took my three years for a one-year program, but I was able to finish it, even finding out we were expecting our 2nd child near the end. Again, I had committed to no debt. The only debt I believe that we maintained was a vehicle. It was hard at times, trying to decide if I could afford even one class sometimes, since payment is due up front. But somehow, we always did it. In both cases, college and seminary, I recommend sitting down with financial aid and discussing what scholarships and grants are out there. There are VA benefits if one has been in the military. There are specialist scholarships if you’re in a particular program or study. Since I was in the Muslim Studies program, there was a special scholarship for that. There are scholarships out there that don’t have to be paid back, if one just looks for them. If one has to complete a program in 5 years, instead of 4, then so be it. One shouldn’t have to rush it. A lot of the college debt that people take out, they are still paying for it 20 years down the road, and they may not even be using their degree. I don’t recommend loans to anyone for that very reason, and the interest rates are extremely high once you graduate.
If you could do college or seminary over again, would you?
Sometimes I think I would, other times I know I wouldn’t. I wish I would’ve stayed on track with the Mechanical Engineering program I was in at one time, but other times, I know that God had other plans for me. I didn’t do well in my first year of college. That might be the only thing I would possibly do over, but then again, I have a wonderful family and would not want to do that over. I believe that everything has a purpose and that I had my experiences for a reason. Some people may have to take out loans to get through school, but others may not. I don’t recommend loans because it’ll take forever to pay off and the interest rates are exorbitant. Like I said earlier, there are random scholarships out there that nobody knows about. Look for them. I was in seminary and found scholarships. There’s not a whole lot for Graduate and Seminary, but they are out there. Thanks for the time to share my experiences.
Chris Coppenbarger is a Christian, a husband, a father and a web developer in Columbia, SC. He has a B.A. in Cross-cultural Studies from Toccoa Falls College, a Certificate in I.T. from Clayton State University, and a M.A. in General Theological Studies (emphasis in Muslim Studies) from Columbia International University. He serves in his local church on the Missions Team, as the leader of a Men’s Bible Study, and as a web developer. He also blogs at http://god-at-the-center.blogspot.com.