UChic Founder Christie Garton On Conquering College (And Debt!)

Christie Garton and girls

Christie Garton is the founder of UChic, a social enterprise that empowers young women through product sales. UChic uses a portion of proceeds to fund their 1000 Dreams Scholarship Fund, giving $1,000 micro-grants to girls pursuing things like study abroad trips, internships, conferences and other vital out-of-classroom experiences. Christie just released the 4th edition of her best-selling guidebook for college girls, UChic: The College Girl’s Guide To Everything. Garton shared some wisdom with us about everything from higher education to battling student debt:

What’s the first step a girl should take if she gets rejected from her first choice school?
Do NOT stress out. Easy to say, but harder to do – right? Take a walk or go to a kick boxing class. Give yourself some time to meditate on it, your feelings, and work to put what may feel like the ultimate rejection into better perspective. First big thing to recognize: This will not be the only time in life things won’t go the way you hoped. The best advice I’ve ever received is that when responding to these moments is that it’s 20% about what happened to you and 80% about how your respond. So how should you respond? Set up a meeting with your high school/college guidance counselor to decide what next steps you should take in order to find the school that is RIGHT FOR YOU.

How many schools do you recommend applying for?
Based on what I’ve heard from many of the girls we’ve working with over the years, there is never a perfect number. I think the College Board best summarizes how to approach the process: “There is no magic number, but five to eight applications are usually enough to ensure that a student is accepted into a suitable institution (depending, of course, on the individual student’s record and circumstances). This number should be made up of a combination of ‘safety,’ ‘probable’ and ‘reach’ colleges.”

I’d would like to add that from the number of women we’ve worked with over the years, the one consistent thing that we’ve heard when it comes to the college application process: students should research and apply to the schools that are best suited for you based on your unique skills and interests. This approach usually results in a successful application process and a happy future college student.

What are your money-saving tips for college students?
First: create a budget and work hard to stick to it. Limit your access to credit cards. This is the one piece of advice that applies during and after college. I can feel like it’s so easy to swipe that card to pay for things that aren’t really in the budget

How do you recommend battling mountains of student loan debt?
Try to limit how much you owe by sticking to that budget referenced in the last question! Now there are two kinds of debt –good and bad. Credit card debt is typically considered to be bad debt. Good debt is anything related to furthering your education, which includes student loan debt. Typically this debt has lower interest rates, so that helps manage how much you need to pay each month to stay on top of it.

Once you graduate, as a first step, I recommend talking with the folks in your life who you trust for financial advice, whether that be your parents, grandparents or even a family financial advisor. Consolidate all student loan debt at the lowest interest rate possible. If for some reason you need to delay payments because you haven’t found a job after graduation for instance, you’ll want to work with your loan company. The last thing you want to do is ignore the situation as you’ll get hit with penalties. Call them ASAP, and explain your situation. They want to work with you, and can offer something called a loan deferment or forbearance until you can find a job and start making enough income to being paying it off. I also recommend once you start paying your loan off each month to pay a little bit more than your monthly payments. That way you’ll pay you loan off faster, making it an overall less expensive loan.

Where did you get the idea for UChic grants? It’s awesome! (Wish it existed when I was a student–those unpaid internships are expensive!)
Thank you! We are very excited about the potential of this fund. I’m on the women’s center board at my alma mater – the University of Kansas – and they have a similar fund but only for KU female students and $500 grants. It’s been in existence for 10 years now, and hearing the stories from the young women who have received funding is inspiring. I heard one story about a young woman who got one of these grants, and was able to afford the trip to a conference in a foreign country. This opportunity then led to a successful application for a graduate degree program. It was stories like these that inspired me to make this funding model a national opportunity for all young women in high school or college who lack the funds to do these kind of activities that can change lives. We’ve funded 13 girls so far, and it’s exciting to follow up and see what they were able to do as a result of the funding.

What are the digital challenges young women face in college today? What are the best ways to deal?
Everything is so public these days thanks to social media, and young women navigating the college life stage have to be extremely cautious about their online presence. It’s so easy to post things without a second thought, making it extremely dangerous to your reputation and can quickly come back to haunt you. It’s absolutely critical for young women to take ownership of their online presence from day one, so there won’t be that time when a photo or statement will come back to haunt you (i.e., when you are on the job hunt). The best rule of thumb: if you wouldn’t want you grandmother or younger cousin to see it, then don’t post it!

What’s the most memorable micro-grant success story you’ve heard? The weirdest micro-grant request?
We just launched our official 1,000 Dreams Fund scholarship application late last fall, and our first funding round closed in February. We haven’t announced the recipients yet, but I can tell you all of the applicants had legitimate requests for funding. Through our successful crowdfunding campaign we completed last fall to help fund the production and our first set of grants, we funded 13 awesome young women. I love each and every one of the girl’s stories. Our brand ambassador Gracie Schram, a super-talented seventeen year-old singer/songwriter and the namesake for our first UChic pattern (we name our product patterns after real young women who inspire us), was one of the first 13 to receive a grant. She used hers to attend a music industry event in L.A. that is already helping proper her music career forward. We plan to continue sharing the stories of our fund recipients like Gracie to hopefully inspire other girls to go out there and make their dreams happen.

How can we donate to UChic?
You can support our mission by buying any of our products, whether our books or Gracie tech cases. That is our model. Every UChic product sold supports our 1,000 Dreams Fund. You can also directly donate money to our 1,000 Dreams Scholarship Fund to directly benefit amazing young women in need a small but mighty boost of support. You can donate here: uchicfoundation.org.

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