( ENSPIRE Community Spotlight ) Meet the 22-Year-Old Helping Students Earn a Debt-Free Education
ENSPIRE Contributor: Petra Wolf
On a mission to make free college the new normal, Victoria Lamar and Securing Degrees have secured over $15 million in scholarships and offers for students in the Atlanta area through their database and one-on-one coaching. Securing Degrees is a scholarship application system helping thousands of students nationwide find and win scholarships to obtain debt-free education. She’s been able to help over 4,000 families and partnered with organizations such as Girl Scouts, NFL Alumni, and KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools.
For Lamar, growing up in Atlanta, Georgia as the youngest of four girls raised by a single mother, she understood early on the importance of higher education. In 2018 Victoria accumulated over $3 million in scholarships and offers for her higher education. Since her success, Lamar has used the many opportunities scholarships have awarded her, even beyond their financial benefit, and founded Securing Degrees. She recognized that the ability to bypass the daunting effects of student loan debt is an opportunity many students who look like her do not benefit from.
ENSPIRE spoke with Victoria Lamar to learn more about Securing Degrees and how students can take control through financial literacy.
What was the first step in creating Securing Degrees? What obstacles did you face and overcome?
The first step in creating Securing Degrees was to establish a community where students and parents could access resources and guidance on obtaining a debt-free education. Our primary focus was to provide valuable information, strategies, and support throughout the scholarship and college application process. One of the biggest obstacles we faced was gaining visibility and reaching the right stakeholders who could benefit from our services. It was a challenge to connect with schools, organizations, and families who needed our help. However, since our inception in 2018, we have been able to overcome these obstacles and make a significant impact.
To address the visibility challenge, we utilized various marketing and outreach strategies, including targeted digital campaigns, partnerships with schools and community organizations, and leveraging social media platforms to reach our target audience. By consistently providing valuable content and showcasing the success stories of students who have benefited from our programs, we were able to establish credibility and build trust within the education community.
As a result, we have served over 4,000 students and helped them accumulate over $20 million in scholarships. This accomplishment is a testament to the effectiveness of our community and the dedication of our team to empower students on their educational journey. We remain committed to expanding our reach and making a positive impact on the lives of even more students and families. Through ongoing partnerships, innovative programs, and continuous improvement, we aim to provide even greater opportunities for students to achieve their academic dreams without the burden of debt.
Where did the initial funding come from? What was that process like in getting support for students’ education?
The initial funding for Securing Degrees came from a combination of personal savings and grants. It was a process of researching and applying for grants, building relationships with potential sponsors, and leveraging our network to secure financial support for students’ education.
How does the personalized debt coaching process work?
Our personalized debt coaching process begins with a comprehensive assessment of the student’s financial situation, including their student loans, expenses, and income. We then develop a customized plan to help them manage their debt effectively. This includes strategies for budgeting, loan repayment options, and exploring opportunities for debt reduction or forgiveness. Our coaches provide ongoing support and guidance to empower students in making informed financial decisions.
Do you wish you could reach more students and are there plans in the future to do so?
Absolutely! Our mission is to make quality education accessible to as many students as possible. We are continuously exploring ways to expand our reach and impact. This includes developing partnerships with schools, colleges, and community organizations, as well as leveraging technology to deliver our programs and resources to a wider audience.
What type of feedback have you received from students and parents?
We have received incredibly positive feedback from students and parents who have benefited from our programs. They have expressed gratitude for the personalized guidance, the transformative impact of securing scholarships, and the empowering nature of our debt coaching. Many have shared stories of how our support has opened doors to educational opportunities they thought were out of reach. You can check our testimonials here, www.securingdegrees.org/testimonials.
What steps do you recommend high school students take on first with thinking about scholarships and debt?
For high school students, it’s crucial to start early and be proactive in their scholarship and debt planning. We recommend the following steps:
- Research available scholarships and create a personalized scholarship search plan.
- Build a strong academic and extracurricular profile to increase scholarship opportunities.
- Develop effective essay writing and application skills.
- Explore financial aid options and understand the implications of student loans.
- Seek guidance from mentors, counselors, and organizations like Securing Degrees to navigate the process successfully.
The rising amount of student loan debt accumulated in minority communities further shows the need for positive financial solutions. According to EducationData, “Black bachelor’s degree holders have an average of $52,000 in student loan debt and over 50% of Black student borrowers report their net worth is less than they owe in student loan debt.” Empowering College students through special coaching gives them the tools not just for themselves but for the community and younger High School students. Securing Degrees is working to provide social benefit to the broader community and has impacted families for generations to come.