Everyone knows that college costs crazy money these days, right? I am so saddened whenever I hear in the media about how the cost of college is rising dramatically or how college grads cannot find jobs. Thankfully with the improving economy at least we are now hearing less about the poor job market, but I still hear an awful lot about the terrible burden of student loans that many college grads now face. I think this is truly sad; entering the work world with a massive burden of debt on your back is daunting and can impact many decisions such as buying a home, getting married, and having children.
I was fortunate enough to make it through college without loans. To this day I am very grateful for the fact that I did not accrue any student loan debt in undergraduate school (loans did not come along until grad school, but that’s another story).
How did I do it?
Well, first of all, the plan to complete college without student loans was years in the making. I knew for years leading up to college that my single mother would not be able to provide me any sort of substantial help in paying for college- after all, I knew she had her own debt, AND she had my younger sister to support. That fact alone was extremely motivating to me. I knew that I was going to be on my own in the payment department, and even as a relatively sheltered teenager I knew that student loan debt did not sound like fun.
What I did
I worked my butt off for my grades in high school. Throughout four years of high school I only got one B, in computer science (hilarious that I’m now a blogger, right?) All the rest of my grades were As. I don’t think that this is because I’m particularly smart. I work hard, period. Even in kindergarten I received the end-of-the-year kindergarten award for being “The Hardest Worker” (true story- I still have the award!)
What Good Grades Did For Me
Good grades opened some serious doors for me when it came time to apply for college scholarships, folks. And being such a hard worker, I applied for every scholarship that I heard of that sounded even remotely applicable to me. I must have applied for over 50 college scholarships throughout the course of my senior year of high school (and this was before the days when there were cool websites like Scholarship Owl to help you find and apply for scholarships in way less time). And guess what? I won a lot of them. There was even a community service organization whose award I won at the local level… and then my file went automatically to the state level and I won there too.
Scholarships helped me a LOT
The benefit of scholarships was huge for me. I did not have to pay a dime for my first year of college. Unfortunately many of my scholarships were only one time deals (well, I shouldn’t say “unfortunately” since I was very grateful to receive them, but it would have been nice if some of them would have been recurring), so I still had to do a lot of scholarship hunting in college. It’s just harder to get scholarships in college in my opinion. My college was a lot bigger than my hometown, so in order to win scholarships at the college level I had to compete with a lot more people. I therefore did not have as many scholarships in my last three years of college, although I did have some.
I should mention that I was able to “test out” of some college classes. I had taken four years of Spanish in high school, so at college I called up the Spanish department and they informed me that I could take a test to determine my placement in college Spanish classes. Whichever classes I could skip I could just “buy” the credits for in order to get them put on my transcript, but I would not have to take them. I tested straight into Spanish 202 and was able to simply buy the credits for Spanish 101, 102, and 201, which saved me a ton of time and money! I also managed to test out of an English class. In total I tested out of 17 credits worth of material my freshman year.
And then I worked some more…
As my second year of college approached, it was becoming clear to me that I was not going to have enough money from scholarships to cover my entire second year of college. I had a job working at a movie theater, which was a fun minimum wage pastime, but I knew it was not going to be enough to cover tuition for my sophomore year. I needed a higher-paying job.
Enter door-to-door sales
In the spring of my freshman year of college I was walking through campus and came across an intriguing sign posted in the library. It promised a lucrative job opportunity for those willing to work hard the coming summer. The sign was cryptic enough that I could not tell exactly what the job was, but I knew I was a hard worker so I made it a point to show up at the informational meeting for the job.
And within short order I found out that the job involved door-to-door sales. In a suburb of a large city 1000 miles away, no less. As a lifelong introvert and self-proclaimed “small town girl,” this did not even seem remotely the job for me.
And yet somehow I found myself driving to Nashville, TN for sales training a few short months later. I think that both the promise of potentially earning enough money to pay for my sophomore year as well as the promise of a new adventure did it for me.
My life as a door-to-door salesperson
I’ll spare you all the details (that’s another post entirely!), but suffice it to say that door-to-door sales is one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. I worked long hours in the hot sun that summer, walking from house to house six days a week for thirteen weeks. But my hard work paid off, and at the end of the summer I drove back to my college town with enough money in my pocket to pay for my second year of college.
And so another year of college was paid for. However, there again arose the problem of how to pay for my junior (third) year of college. While door-to-door sales were an experience I’m glad that I had, I knew I could never do it again. So in my junior year I decided that the movie theater alone was not going to cut it as my sole college job.
More jobs for me
I worked lots of different jobs in college. Starting my junior year, I worked several jobs at a time. In college alone, I worked as a receptionist at a high school, mascot at a radio station, nursing assistant at a hospital, lab assistant on campus, babysitter, and staff member at a group home. And of course I worked at the movie theater (who can give up free popcorn?) At one point in my senior year of college I had four jobs simultaneously.
Between the earnings from my various jobs and a few final scholarships (including some funds from a family friend who was impressed with my drive and wanted to help me), I managed to cover the costs of my third and fourth years of college, including all of my living expenses.
Maybe it’s not for everyone
I often hear people talk about the fact that for them college was the time in their life to really let loose and have fun before entering “the real world.” I have to admit, having fun was not usually my prime focus in college. But do I regret all my studying and all my crazy jobs? Nope. Not for one second. It was especially helpful for me to be able to enter grad school without any undergraduate student loan debt.
Would I do it again?
I would absolutely do college this way all over again. I did not go out to the bars much in college, but that was never really my scene anyway. I was very happy to work hard and make it out of college without a dime of student loan debt.
Do you think I’m crazy? Should I have partied more in college and succumbed to student loans? Looking back, which do you wish you would have done more of in college- party or work/study?
Suggested Reading: A great book to check out for more information and ideas on paying for college is How to REALLY Pay “Wholesale” for College: College cost-cutting tips and strategies for “Forgotten Middle Class” parents who think, Why Bother, I’ll never qualify for ANYTHING!.
Note: This post contains affiliate links.
Second Photo: chachar/Depositphotos.com