NOLA.COM: Derrius Quarles’ Big Idea: A better way to pay for college

Career College Central Summary:

  • Derrius Quarles is living proof that education is liberating. Paying for it on your own, however, takes strategy and sacrifice.
  • Quarles, a Chicago native, was 5 years old when he was taken from his mother's custody and put in state foster care. At 17, he was living on his own in a South Side apartment and finishing high school.
  • Quarles was a determined student. He was on the swim team, worked a part-time job and managed his own finances. Even so, going to college was not a certainty.
  • "When I thought about college, the first thing I thought was 'how am I going to pay for it?'" Quarles said. "I needed to find the money to pay or it wasn't going to happen."
  • He started looking into scholarships. What little free time he had was spent researching, applying and writing essays.
  • Before graduating high school, Quarles had secured more than $1 million in scholarships and financial aid. A local Chicago TV station coined him the "million dollar scholar."
  • Today, Quarles, who graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta, is using the Million Dollar Scholar brand to reshape the way students think about going to college. He moved to New Orleans last year, attracted by the existing network of education technology startups.
  • Nearly 70 percent of college graduates in 2013 had $28,400 in student debt on average, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
  • Thinking of a college financing strategy needs to be more than an afterthought, Quarles said.
  • "Right now students think about getting accepted to college before they think about how to pay," he said.

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