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Virginia Tech alumna develops business to help college students graduate debt-free
A senior in high school, Danielle Jeffers received staggering news that ignited her incredible journey of resilience and determination.
“My senior year of high school, my parents sat me down and told me they couldn’t afford to send me to college, but I still had to go,” said Jeffers, founder of Dough 4 Degrees, LLC. “My parents had always instilled the importance of education within me, but we had always somehow avoided talking about the money part.”
This distressing news took Jeffers through a process of trial-and-error to figure out how to acquire the money to pay for college without taking student loans. She decided to use her difficult circumstances to her advantage and applied for over 30 scholarships in the span of five months during her senior year of high school. Within the first two weeks of applying to scholarships, Jeffers received 6 out of 10 rejection letters, but she used these obstacles as an opportunity to show her persistence.
By the end of her senior year of high school, Jeffers had earned 14 scholarships totaling more than $100,000 and received a letter of acceptance to Virginia Tech as a multimedia journalism major. Less than a year later, Jeffers created her own scholarship coaching company and eventually graduated debt-free from Virginia Tech on May 17, 2019.
When Jeffers arrived at Virginia Tech in the fall of 2015 for the start of her freshman year, she began to develop relationships with students from around the world and engage in conversations with them about how they planned to pay for college. She soon realized that many students took out tens of thousands of dollars of loans each semester, and she wanted to address this problem. Students constantly asked her for advice on scholarships, and she realized she could make an impact on others’ lives.
“I was raised to help people; whether you have it or not, you just do it out of the kindness of your heart,” Jeffers said. “I used what I knew at the time — which was how to win scholarships — and committed to helping as many people as possible.”
Jeffers came into college as a freshman with 51 dual-enrollment credits, 49 of which transferred to Virginia Tech for course credit. She started college with sophomore standing and completed the coursework for her degree in 3.5 years, allowing her to engage in other experiential learning opportunities both inside and outside of the classroom.
Throughout college, Jeffers stayed involved within the Honors College, Innovate, LLC, the Entrepreneurship Club and Collegiate Women in Business, among others. She also completed a minor in entrepreneurship from the Pamplin College of Business, along with minors in African American studies and a self-designed minor, Diversity and Community Engagement. Jeffers also studied abroad in Switzerland in 2018 with the Virginia Tech Communication Department and earned credits through the Honors College for her trip.
During winter break of her freshman year, Jeffers completed an externship with Thomas Harrelson, the founder of TMH Global International, LLC. Harrelson soon became a mentor for Jeffers and told her that starting a company to share scholarship resources would be an ideal business opportunity. For the next two weeks, she shadowed under Harrelson to gain an understanding of how his business worked and he accelerated her personal and professional development. By the end of the externship, Jeffers had officially founded her own company, Dough 4 Degrees, LLC.
Dough 4 Degrees, LLC is a scholarship coaching company that teaches students how to earn scholarships to go to college and graduate debt-free. Not only does Dough 4 Degrees, LLC educate students, but also educates parents and administrators with techniques that will avoid the student debt crisis. According to Jeffers, Dough 4 Degrees, LLC stands for access and financial freedom.
Jeffers launched Dough 4 Degrees, LLC in January 2016 and took on 15 clients free of charge, helping her experiment with her business model. Approaching its 4-year anniversary this upcoming January, Dough 4 Degrees, LLC charges clients for either 30-minute or one-hour video chat calls. Jeffers’ company also provides webinars, speaking engagements, scholarship essay coaching and advice blogs among other features. She customizes her business offerings for each client’s specific situation and needs.
After graduating debt-free from Virginia Tech in 2019, Jeffers serves as the prototype for her company, with a goal to help 1 million students graduate debt-free by the time she is 30, eight years from now.
Her work focuses on providing solutions to the student debt crisis. According to the United States Chamber of Commerce, 60 percent of students have some form of debt after graduation; among black students, that number rises to 77 percent. Additionally, according to The Institute for College Access and Success, student debt loan is the highest ever; borrowers in the Class of 2018 on average owe $29,200, 2 percent higher than the 2017 average.
Jeffers stated that a big part of her company hinges on teaching students how to build a network of people that can serve as resources for scholarship searches. Throughout her scholarship search, Jeffers treated her application process as a part-time job. She spent about 20 hours a week researching, writing essays and submitting applications. By the end, she estimated that she received about $500 worth of scholarships per hour.
“Being from a small town like Danville [Virginia] is really big because some people don’t have those assets and her [Danielle’s] vision is all about access and making people more aware,” said Kevin Stephenson, 2019 Virginia Tech graduate and co-founder of the In My Bag Tour.
Since starting Dough 4 Degrees, LLC, Jeffers has been involved in multiple entrepreneurial endeavors. Founder of Danielle Jeffers Enterprises, LLC, she is also co-founder of Elite Entrepreneurs Inc., chief technology officer of Auchtoctones Assembly and co-founder of the In My Bag Tour.
The In My Bag Tour, co-founded by Jeffers and two other entrepreneurial Virginia Tech graduates, Stephenson and Corey-Hackett Greene, launched as a campaign to give back to their hometowns of Danville, Virginia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In August 2019, the trio prepared a back-to-school giveaway of 500 backpacks and 200 teacher appreciation gifts – resources the three view as crucial for teachers and students to continue their journey on a lifelong pursuit of excellence.
“Danielle is a tremendous leader, a phenomenal speaker and very detail-oriented,” said Hackett-Greene, a 2017 Virginia Tech graduate and co-founder of the In My Bag Tour. “She is very well-rounded, and her numerous achievements are only the beginning of the amazing person that she is.”
Since graduation, Jeffers has relocated to Woodbridge, Virginia to continue to develop Dough 4 Degrees, LLC and other business ventures.
“The day after my graduation in May, I drove my first U-Haul ever and relocated to Woodbridge, Virginia to build Dough 4 Degrees, LLC full time,” she said. “The plan since I started my company was to be able to do it full time after graduating.”
Jeffers communicates with people through her Dough 4 Degrees YouTube channel by posting videos each week and going live Sundays at 3 p.m. to answer questions.
As she continues to build her business, Jeffers plans to release her first book through her personal brand by 2020, dedicated to helping students choose a college that best fits them. Additionally, she devotes time to building The Dough 4 Degrees Online Academy, an educational resource for students who want to earn scholarships, write winning essays, successfully manage their time and more. The academy will officially open between the end of 2019 and the first month of 2020.
Jan. 14, 2020 marks the four-year anniversary of Dough 4 Degrees, LLC. The company has helped over 300 students and their families earn more than $300,000 in scholarships.
Life is crazy. Sometimes God will show you a vision of what your life could look like in the future without revealing the journey you’ll take to get there.
I said “could” because faith without works is dead (James 2:26). Any God-given vision requires extreme amounts of faith and work for it to come to pass.
As a young child, around the age of ten or eleven, I received a vision from God. I saw myself standing on a stage and speaking to millions of people. That spiritual moment felt so real that it was almost as if it was guaranteed to happen.
I’ve held onto that vision throughout my life and have always done my best to allow the Holy Spirit to guide me as I’ve made decisions.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not perfect. I’m a 22-year-old woman who has submitted to the will of God for my life and is committed to doing whatever it takes to help people graduate debt-free.
That’s why the opportunity to serve as a professor at the College of Southern Maryland is so surreal to me.
Twelve months ago, I was sitting at a desk as a student at Virginia Tech. Eight months ago, I graduated debt-free from Virginia Tech having earned more than $200,000 in scholarships. In less than one month, I’ll serve as an adjunct professor at the College of Southern Maryland where I’ll teach a course titled “College Without Student Loans.”
There aren’t any limits in life! Anything you can see, you can achieve!
Last, but not least, here are some scriptures that have been a pillar of support for me throughout my journey:
‘Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ‘ James 1:2-4 (NIV)
‘Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ‘ Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)
‘And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. ‘ Hebrews 11:6 (NIV)
‘Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.’ 1 Timothy 4:12-16 (NIV)