Attending university is by no means cheap, especially for international students.
While the cost of tuition varies depending on several factors such as the location or country, the programme of study and the choice of university (i.e. private, public), tuition fees for universities have been going up, including in countries like Canada and the US.
Coupled with the rising cost of textbooks, living and other expenses, students will be staring at a figure they may not be able to cough up, even while working part-time, without some form of financial support from their family or help from loans, scholarships and bursaries.
Typically, students who come from families who are unable to support them either have to apply for scholarships where, if they are unsuccessful, or if they only receive a partial scholarship, they will be forced to find other means to see them through university, such as taking out a student loan and spending years servicing it; or delaying their studies to work and save up for higher education.
One option that seems to be growing in popularity in recent years is the use of online fundraising platforms, such as GoFundMe, to raise money for university. GoFundMe even has a page dedicated to college fundraising, as well as tips to help students get started.
If a fundraising campaign is successful, students stand to graduate without debt. The platform does not demand a fee from users, but campaigns are subjected to a transaction fee of 2.9 percent plus US$0.30 fee per donation on GoFundMe, subject to no penalties should you fail to reach your goal.
While not all campaigns are successful, they can offer some relief to students looking for innovative ways to put themselves through university.
Crowdfunding – not as easy as it looks
— mei (@MeiliMooking) March 24, 2019
While many have turned to GoFundMe to finance their education, the journey isn’t always easy and can require lots of effort.
In an interview with Study International, student Mei Li Meagan Moo King, who was accepted to Meredith College’s Honors Program in North Carolina, US, decided to use the crowdfunding platform when she found that her two partial scholarships did not cover the full cost of her studies.
“I got the idea of crowdfunding through GoFundMe. However, I didn’t actually make the account until March when I saw another student, Stephen, in my home country, trying to do the same. He was close to reaching his [US]$4,000 goal at the time that I made my account and in April he actually passed his goal,” said the Trinidadian.
Feeling inspired, the 19-year-old started promoting her campaign on Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter, but found that she was not receiving as many donations as she wanted.
“I decided to reach out to Stephen for some advice. He told me to get a group of friends who were willing to consistently post my campaign on all of their social media platforms. He also said that studies show that making a video can attract more attention than a picture which can lead to an increase in donations.”
Following his advice, she created a group chat of 26 people who were willing to help her promote her campaign. She also made a video, which she shared across a range of social media platforms, along with her GoFundMe campaign link, in addition to reaching out to influencers, celebrities and crowdfunding pages.
It has been less than a month since she started her GoFundMe campaign and at the time of writing, she has made US$37.63 (after deductions) out of her US$25,000 goal.
Concerns about crowdfunding
Financing education through crowdfunding has divided opinions. Concerns include possible misuse of funds, while some lament that it is an easy way out of financing studies without putting in ‘hard work’.
Mei has included a simple outline as to how she plans to use the funds she receives on her GoFundMe page, but notes that she was not planning on posting any official documents.
“Earning a degree is a necessity, and the cost of higher education is very high and is increasing every year, so not everyone is able to earn a degree. I definitely think that you should try any option available to raise funds for university, regardless of what other people’s opinions are.
“Some people aren’t given the luxury of others [helping them to finance their education] and working for the money to pay for university can take a significant amount of time. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with crowdfunding; once you are determined and consistent, you’ll make it and whether you’re successful in reaching your goal or not, you can learn many things from the experience,” she said.
Lessons to impart
“I went into crowdfunding thinking that strangers would donate to my campaign, but I learned that that was not the case. I thought that commenting on celebrities’ and crowdfunding posts would increase my donations, but no matter how many times I commented, there were no donations from complete strangers.”
She had also expected close friends and family to support her because they know her and that she had somehow impacted their lives, but things transpired differently.
“None of my donors were close friends which actually amazed me because you would think that those would be the first people to support you. One of my donors was my cousin who I’m not very close with, but that was the only family [member] who donated so far. One was a girl that went to the same high school as me and the other two were people that were from my home country,” said Mei.
While still relatively early into her campaign, Mei has found some problems cropping up, including inconsistent posts by her friends who were supposed to share her videos daily, despite her constant reminders. “This was a problem that was totally out of my control, so I tried not to think about it too much,” she said.
“I also thought that I would be able to make $25,000 in a month, but I soon realised that crowdfunding can take some time and everyone’s experience is different. I think that if I [had] started in September 2018 there is a possibility that I would have achieved at least half of my goal [by now].
“Although my experience wasn’t the best, I have learnt to go after my dreams regardless of what other people say.”
“I’ve had family say that people wouldn’t donate to my cause because people only donate to medical causes. I was also told to apply to different schools because my 1380 SAT score would get me a full scholarship elsewhere.
“I was even told to re-do the SAT exam next year. Regardless of what people said, I still went ahead because I believed that it was still possible. Even though I didn’t reach my goal, I believe that I learnt organisational, communication and leadership skills because of my experience.”
Despite all of that, would she advise students to give crowdfunding a chance to finance their education?
“I would definitely recommend using GoFundMe to other students to finance their studies because you won’t lose anything if you don’t reach your goal. Every dollar adds up, and even if you only get $200 that’s $200 less that you’d have to worry about finding. Signing up on GoFundMe is free so if you don’t get any money at all, you haven’t lost anything. Once you’re determined and consistent you will get some support, so it’s definitely worth the shot.”