How did we do it? Simple, both of us have rich parents that paid all of our expenses.
Or not. Actually, the opposite is true. Both of us have parents who expected us to pay our own way and encouraged us to work hard to get the job done. We both knew that if college was important to us, we needed to take charge early on. Both of us began preparing for it years before we entered the classroom.
My first semester of school was actually at Francis Marion University in South Carolina as my family moved there for a year. I earned a music scholarship and my parents paid for the rest. I paid for my gas and books.
Back in Utah, my first year at USU I had a 4-H half tuition scholarship and again paid for my gas. My parents told me that they wanted to help each kid with the equivalent of one semester of college or a mission, so this year was it. From my second year on, I would be on my own. Well, not completely, they still were offering me free room and board as long as I was attending college, and this helped, although the commute and gas was the trade-off.
The 4-H scholarship was going to be a four-year thing, but the funds dried up. That summer I worked at a boy scout camp and applied for more scholarships. I won $1500 the local credit union and earned about $2000 for my work at the camp. This was enough to attend that fall and pay for part of the spring semester. I was also teaching piano lessons all through college.
That spring I needed a loan to pay for the rest. My parents couldn’t co-sign. While I try to keep my political beliefs out of this blog, it is relevant to say that I’m a Ron Paul kind of girl and had moral objections to financial aid. I never applied for it. But what surprised me was that none of the banks offered independent student loans. I tried and searched, and as far as I could tell, the ONLY way to get a student loan was through the federal government. My dad made getting a student loan sound so easy, and in his day, it really was. I tried getting a private loan, but I didn’t have enough credit, nor did my car have enough collateral. The banker felt for my situation and told me she would try to get me a high-risk private loan that would have a higher interest. I felt like it was my only hope and told her to try. Then I looked to my left and saw a poster for their credit card that was offering a much lower introductory rate and asked if I could obtain one. The teller said “Of course!” She was thrilled to get a commission on THAT, and the bank was more than willing to increase my limit so I would have the required funds. They even did a free transfer to my checking account so I could write out a check to the university. I don’t hate credit cards.
Over the course of the next few years, my good grades and performance at the school, as well as taking certain classes enabled me to earn a few music scholarships along the way. I took advantage of a “check” offer I got in the mail to pay the university with a credit card again. Now those checks have a balance transfer fee, but these ones didn’t. One year I didn’t have enough money to go full-time, so I went part time and worked part time at a thrift store. One semester I simply didn’t have enough money so I went full-time to the LDS Institute. I was still allowed to be in the Jazz band. Love that teacher! Between work in the summer, teaching piano lessons, and scholarships, as well as a tight belt and free room and board, my pattern seemed to be that I could pay fall tuition in full and go a little into debt for the spring. I had an account where I paid a yearly fee and didn’t have any fees for checks that dug into my credit card account. I kept a $0 balance and paid every cent I made towards the credit card. I also made necessary purchases from the same card. This really helped chunk down my debt. My husband and I have used a similar principle with a personal line of credit during our married life. I married him debt free with one year of college left. He was already finished with college and had a good job. He paid for my fall semester and I finished off my last semester with a music scholarship.
So there you have it, my husband and I both graduated debt free. I had bits of credit card debt during the process, but I never let it last more then a few months. Michael also put some of his expenses on a credit card, which he always paid off during the summer. He didn’t have to cinch his belt as tight as I did, but the principle was the same.
For our children, we haven’t saved a dime for their college expenses. Just as it pays to be a good student, we feel that our money would be better used investing in their education now. I could save $100 now which would be enough to pay for a book or two later when the need it, OR I could spend that money on their education now, giving them the skills they need to do well in college.
There are other options for youth as well. Consider youth like Grace Bush, who, through duel enrollment graduated from college and high school simultaneously. There are certification programs, apprenticeships, internships, and even the local library. I’m intrigued by The Great Courses as a resource for college-level material my whole family could enjoy, and I recommend Arthur Benjamin’s Mental Math when it’s on sale. I want all of my children to earn a degree. Our homeschool education and the curriculums we choose are part of a design for the college-bound student. We will prepare them for the ACT, search for scholarship programs, find community projects to round out their education, and after all we can do, cross our fingers for those scholarships. But if not, there are alternatives to the student debts that plague so many college graduates today.
P.S. Now I see I wrote a similar post in 2011.