Westmont Magazine How I Graduated From Westmont

Four Years of Financial Hardship and Walking by Faith

by Jenna Nellis Justman ’17


Jenna Justman in graduation attire

I shouldn’t have been able to go to Westmont.

It was way too expensive — the dream of a 16-year-old kid who didn’t yet have a full grasp on reality.

I envisioned telling my story for four years. This moment got me through college: imagining my future self, married, with a college degree from Westmont in a frame on my desk.

The Decision to Go

I wanted to go to a private, faith-based liberal arts college for the smaller class sizes, the opportunity to meet all my classmates, the chance to have close relationships with professors and the ability to express my faith without judgment. I wanted freedom and intimacy because I viewed college as an experience.

I applied to five schools my senior year: University of Nevada, Reno, Regent University in Virginia, Corban University in Oregon, Pacific University in Washington, and Westmont. I was accepted to all five, but I had my heart set on Westmont.

Westmont wasn’t even on the list of schools I initially considered until my friend brought it up. We had a mutual friend attending there, and after visiting the website and the campus, I was hooked.

But I had very little money for college.

My parents weren’t financially able to provide as much as I needed. All I had was faith that it would work out and some funds.

But I felt a little nudge in my spirit say, “Go.” So I did. I committed to Westmont College for fall 2013.

Year One

Jenna Justman sits in her dorm

My first year cost $52,000, but my hopeless optimism saw a Dean’s Scholarship worth $10,000, a Westmont grant worth $13,000, and small loans. All I saw was what I got, not what I owed. Ultimately, I needed $20,000 for the year ($10,000 each semester).

Gifts from grandparents, a massive portion of my personal savings and a random scholarship from Best Buy covered semester one. But I used up my funds for the year on the first semester. Things looked bleak pretty quickly.

I sat in my dorm room in tears. Why on earth would I feel drawn to a school I could only attend for one semester? The thought of returning home, tail between my legs, was so horrible, it wasn’t even an option. I had to get the money from somewhere.

Then I got an idea. I hated it but decided to try: I created a GoFundMe account for my second semester. This embarrassing cry for help worked. The total reached $6,000, and I paid the rest with my personal savings.

Just like that, I finished a year of college. But I couldn’t enjoy the present for long as I wondered how I could afford a second year. I prayed and prayed and prayed that my financial aid would somehow be significantly more.

Jenna Justman with friends

Year Two

My financial aid was significantly more. The grant I received from Westmont nearly doubled. I worked long, hard days that summer hoping for the best, opened the financial portal mid-July, and determined I could make it for at least another semester. It was $6,000 a semester now, and I managed to save up $5,000 for the fall. All I needed was a better job during school, and I could make up the rest myself without asking any other favors from family.

I applied for work as soon as I got back to school and got a job at one of the most popular restaurants in Santa Barbara.

But I started off as a hostess, not a server. Days were long that semester: keeping up my grades meant a LOT of studying. My roommate thought I was crazy — I left the room for class before she woke up, and I got back from the restaurant late after she went to sleep. While other kids were dating and going to bonfires on the beach and taking long weekend trips, I was either smelling like seafood or losing my mind typing essay after essay. Being an English and communication studies double major meant that 80 percent of my work was written. I was grateful for the liberal arts curriculum, as other disciplines gave me a much-needed mental break.

After all that hard work and a bit more generosity from extended family, I came up with the money for both semesters. Things were finally looking up! I could continue junior and senior year just like this! I was comfortable, and I had hope.

Then the financial aid office called me in the last month of school.

“There was a mistake this year on your financial aid paperwork.”

“What kind of mistake?”

“We accidentally doubled your grant.”


“We’re not going to ask you for that money. It was our mistake; that money is yours. But we’ll adjust it back to normal next year.”

“Is there anything else I can apply for? Any scholarship or grant? I’m barely making it.”

“Well there is one thing.”

“What is it?”

“We don’t like our students to get into heavy debt, but we extend a Perkins Loan to students in desperate need. It’s small, but it’s directly through Westmont and accrues no interest while you’re in school.”

“Can I apply now?”
“Yes, let me print out the paperwork.”

Year 3

Jenna Justman outside Murchison Gym

I secured a paid, summer internship at the Nevada Department of Transportation for 40 hours a week. I also worked at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival for 20 hours.

With the adjusted grant, I needed a new miracle to stay in school.

It came in the form of a human angel. My best friend planned to move back into her home in Carpinteria, but living off campus was too expensive for me. I didn’t see how I could make it this time. My willpower tank reached an all-time low.

“Well, I could ask my mom if you could move in with us.”

That offer from my friend changed my life. I moved into their spare bedroom, and her mom charged me zero dollars in rent. Words could never express my gratitude. I could go back to Westmont. WHAT?!

If I’d applied to Westmont a year later, I couldn’t have lived in Carpinteria, as a new dormitory significantly limited off- campus housing requests.

Between the Perkins Loan, paying zero in rent, and making tips at the restaurant, I was living comfortably again. The semester cost around $4,000. For a couple of weeks I was breathing easy until I had a new dream: studying abroad. It almost felt like too much to ask.

A guy in my swim class said studying abroad was the defining experience of his education. Classmates told me about their experiences abroad, and so many were posting pictures traveling in Europe that fall. What if I could squeeze it in? I needed a program offering units in both English and communication studies to stay on track to graduate. I found that in Paris.

Jenna Justman in Paris


Paris changed my life and perspective. The fall semester of my junior year, I started working for a real estate team in Montecito as their marketing assistant, mostly updating their website and posting to social media. I convinced them to let me continue working remotely from Paris as I studied social media marketing at the American University of Paris. They said yes! That gave me about $300 of spending money every two weeks, just enough to survive.

A year before, I was on the brink of dropping out. But I finished my junior year — and I studied abroad. I discovered myself as a person in Paris, and only a small bit of school remained.

Jenna Justman with friends

Year Four

My fourth year was just a fourth semester. After submitting all my study-abroad units and looking at my class plan, I realized I could take an extra class at the University of Nevada, Reno, in the summer and graduate in December. WHAT?!

I worked this summer for the city at the Carson City Library and again at the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival: 40 hours + 20 hours = 60 hours of pure exhaustion.

All those summers working like crazy gave me a new appreciation for how much we can endure. With the right goal in mind, we can do anything. Whenever I hear that someone is “exhausted” after working six days a week instead of five, I think back to waking up at 6 a.m. and going to bed past midnight every day, and I’m grateful for the tears and the journey.

I only needed $3,500 for my last summer. One of my communication studies professors gave me a job as a research assistant, which provided spending money.

It was strange having time. I spent the weekends having fun (sometimes a little too much fun), making up for all the weekends I never had.

I finished school in December 2016, and I walked in my rainy graduation in May 2017. By that time, I had already paid off a fourth of my student debt, and I hoped to attack it even more aggressively after moving back home. I didn’t want to settle in Carson City, but moving back home for a season to save on living expenses was the most practical way to get out of debt quickly.

Fast Forward to September 5, 2019

Looking back, I have full confidence that Jesus orchestrated my journey. He used the little faith I had to work wonders. I tried to figure out a rough plan of action for each semester, and then I decided to GO in faith, using all my strength and creativity to make it happen. When I ran out of options, he opened new, unimaginable doors, like a mistake on my financial paperwork and an angel who let me live in her house for free.

He cleared a path, but I had to be willing to walk down it. Of course, I doubted. “Why does it have to be SO hard?” I would cry on my way to school from the weight of it all. I was standing at the edge of a cliff, wondering how I was going to make it to the other side. But Jesus was never far away — he was building a bridge around the corner for me to cross.

When I was 16, Jesus called me to Westmont and opened up doors to keep me there. He told me he would carry me through despite the overwhelming evidence that it was impossible. I believed him, and that belief was enough. He kept his promise. I graduated from Westmont College.

Jenna Justman and Paul Justman
Henri Justman, a baby

Jenna Nellis Justman works as the digital marketing manager for Reno Media Group, specializing in advertising and sales. She and her husband, Paul, live in Carson City and welcomed their first child, Henri Leo Justman, on October 17.