Colleges are expensive in America and most people come out of them with a large debt. But it does not necessarily have to be that way. I went to college/university for 7 years of my life, obtained two engineering degrees, and came out with zero debt. How is that possible?
I did not have rich parents
No, I did not have rich parents, nor had big scholarships (for most years). I also did not have any sponsors who paid for it. Gosh, I am an immigrant from a poor country who came to America with not a lot of money. Believe it or not, I worked and paid my way through.
I did not go to Harvard or MIT, I went to an affordable 4-year university in the middle of nowhere for my undergrad. I deliberately searched and found a cheaper school and believe me there are many of these throughout the United States. They may not have the same aura as an IVY league school but if you graduate, you will still have a college degree. After that, it depends on you on how you can market yourself in the job market.
I researched for an affordable college
For me, college cost was around 6000-8000 a year in tuition. If you divide that in months, it is little over 500 a month. I also lived in shared apartments with roommates. This was in a town where rents were really cheap. My annual expense was around $15000 total including college fees.
I did not Have many bills to pay. The cell phone was the only personal bill. We had shared utilities and internet in the apartment, no cable TV. I also did not have a car at the beginning, so no car payment, maintenance cost, gas or insurance. Health insurance was through the university and I never saw that as a separate bill but part of tuition.
A glimpse of my expenses
I did not keep an accounting of my income and expenditure from that time. So I do not have exact figures of my expenditure or income. The numbers I put here are just my estimates. I think my take-home income at that time was around $20,000 and my regular expenses were around $15,000. I hardly saved anything during that time, so the extra $5,000 was used for other expenses like buying a laptop, road trips, vacations, and parties. I was also able to buy a used car for around $3,500 after two years.
If you are making $20,000 a year, taxes will be minimal. On top of that, you may be able to deduct the tuition and fees from your income. In addition, you may also receive tuition credits, if you qualify.
What does it take?
How much do you have to work to make $20,000 a year? If you make $10 an hour and if you work 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year, you will make $20,000 a year. That also leaves you with two weeks of vacation time.
Since you are also going to school, 40 hours a week might be too much to keep up with. But you also have about 4 months of summer off. You can work 60 or 70 hours during this time and work 20 to 30 hours during school. If you are lucky, you may be able to get an internship which may pay you $20 an hour or more in the summer.
An old advice from an unknown butcher
There are many ways to skin a cat and you can find what works for you.
Personally, I was not lucky enough to obtain an internship. I did not have any connections in the US. I was also introverted and was not very good at networking. I also had a quite distinct foreign accent and did not have the best command of local slangs and overall English language. Due to all of these, I was not an ideal candidate for an internship position. But the even more important reason was probably that I did not try hard enough.
Working smart is better, but working hard will still get the job done
Nevertheless, I worked hard, both in school and at work. I did not get paid $10 for most of my jobs, it was often less. But I worked more hours to make up for that. In the summer, I worked two jobs close to 80 hours a week in total. It was only for 4 months at a time, so it was never difficult. Plus, I knew this was needed to pay for my college.
After completing my undergraduate, I went for a master’s degree from a different University. But I did not have to pay for most of it. I received an assistantship for most of my time there, which meant I had to work for a professor doing his research or teaching labs and grading papers. My tuition was paid for and I was paid a little more which was enough to pay my bills and living expenses.
What can you take from this story?
Through my story, I wanted to show you that there is a way to graduate from college without a debt. If you are afraid of debt or you worry that you may not be able to pay it back, you can consider doing it this way. Some people may not even qualify to get tuition loans and if that is you, you do not need to worry, since I have shown you that you can still do it.
Is debt bad?
But debt is not necessarily bad. After all, college debts are known to have low interests and have a long time to pay it back making your monthly installments amount smaller. If you think the loan you are taking for college is worth the degree and you will be able to pay it back without a big dent in your income, you do not need to be afraid of the loan.
But debt does not have to be the only way to get a college degree. If you want and are willing to work for it, you can always come out of college with zero debt.
Finally, it is your turn now
What do you think about college loans? Is the debt worth the degree? What do you think about a zero-debt college degree?