Going to college is almost mandatory in today’s society. We pay tens of thousands of dollar to get a shiny new diploma. Some of us are lucky enough to escape debt free while others graduate with a mountain of debt.
Fortunately, I was one of the lucky people to graduate college debt free. Here is how I was able to accomplish this!
I received a combination of academic and athletic scholarships that cut the total cost of college by roughly 80%. While some people may say that I was extremely lucky and fortunate I have to disagree. This was not the result of luck. It was the result of hard work and perseverance. To maintain my academic scholarship I had to average a cumulative GPA of 3.0, which was relatively easy for me. The athletic scholarship was the real challenge.
While most students were sleeping or stumbling home at 5:30am, I was waking up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to jump in a cold pool. Practice would usually last an hour and a half. If I had class at 8am I would not have time to eat anything besides a granola bar since I had to run to class. Some semesters I was lucky to only have one class that ended around nine while other semesters I class that ended at 1. From there I would eat lunch, go to mandatory gym workouts and then head back to my room for an hour before practice began again at 4pm.
So yes, I did receive a lot of scholarship assistance. However, I had to give up a lot of the college experience due to swimming. During my four years as a varsity athlete I saw multiple friends quit the team. Quite frankly, I cannot blame them as it was strenuous and at times the last thing you wanted to do. The satisfaction of enduring these four years was a truly rewarding feeling. Thanks to my leadership and reputation on the team, I was able to secure a graduate assistant job which severely reduced the cost of my MBA.
There are many limitations of being an international student. I was not able to work off campus and if I worked on campus it could not exceed 20 hours a week. Due to my crammed schedule with school and swimming I tried to find a job during the night or during any free time I had in the day.
The only job I could find that would fit into my schedule was being a tutor. Helping and teaching people is something I naturally enjoy. Perhaps this is why I started a blog? I tutored various classes during my four years of college which gave me a few hundred dollars to spend on entertainment, groceries and books each semester.
Additionally, I had a paid internship every summer. While the pay in the Caribbean is nowhere as luxurious as the US, it was still enough to help pay for some expenses.
There are many hidden costs to college that my parents and I were unaware of. Here were two ways I cut cost during college and one additional on campus job I should have taken advantage of.
- Text Books – I am convinced college textbooks are a money scam. Some course textbooks would cost $50 while others would cost over $250. After my first semester of college, I realized that I hardly touched my books. From here on out I would wait the first week of class to see if we actually needed the book and if we did I would ask a friend if they wanted to share a book. This technique saved me hundreds of dollars over the cost of four years.
- Meal Plan – I was on the college meal plan for the first three years. It was very convenient for swimming as I had no time to eat. During my senior year, I cut the meal plan and cooked or bought food. I estimate this decision saved over $1,500 a semester.
- Resident Assistant – RAs as we called them are the people in charge of dorms. They got free housing and meal plans. If I had to do college over again I definitely would have applied to become an RA to reduce my cost by almost $7,000 a semester!
The Real Reason I Am Debt Free
While I was fortunate enough to have my total cost reduced due to efforts mentioned earlier there was still a lot of bills left to pay. My parents generously paid the remainder of my university cost which is the real reason I am debt free.
This did not come without great sacrifice though. My parents are middle class. Salaries in the Caribbean are far lower than those of the US which made these out of pocket costs extremely hard. Before I went off to college, I remember we stopped taking family vacations to reduce costs. I am sure there were many other sacrifices they made to put me through college without deferring their retirement so for this I am truly grateful. In fact, in three weeks, my parents and my brother will be coming to the US and it will be our first family vacation in roughly 7 years. Without their help, I surely would have been like 70% of college students to graduate with thousands in student loans. Or worse, I would have never had the opportunity to study abroad.
These sacrifices aren’t things you realize until you mature and understand the true value of a dollar. I fully intend to put my future children through school debt free like my parents did as I know it lifted a major weight off my shoulders.
How do you view the cost of education?
How did you get through college?
What sacrifices did you make during college to reduce cost for you or your family?
Photo courtesy Flickr.