Every time someone mentions student loans to me, I find myself taking a moment to carefully compose my response. Typically they say something like “I would love to get another degree, but I already owe so much in student loans” or “Well, you should keep going to school to avoid paying back your loans as long as you can Tabitha”.
These statements are completely understandable. For most young adults in my age group, student loans are just another part of daily (or monthly) life. College is an extremely expensive endeavor, so most young people these days look to financial aid and loans to help them cover the very high costs of higher education.
So, wait, why do I pause when the subject of education turns to student debt you ask? Well, because I’ve completed six years of college education (and graduated with a Bachelor’s and a Master’s degree) without ever calling up my bank, Sallie Mae or any other financial institution for a single loan. In some way, I always feel a little guilty admitting that to my friends who will be paying back their loans for years to come.
Of course, when I do admit to being student loan free, I sometimes get questions about how exactly I did it. Well, I’ve decided that I’m going to share that story. Keep in mind: Everyone has different circumstances going into college, but my hope is that something I say will be applicable to the situations of other students. And keep in mind, most of this stuff happened by trial and error, because I’m a first generation college student (meaning no one in my immediate family graduated college before me):
Now, of course, this story starts BEFORE I ever applied to a single college. Let’s meet elementary, middle school and high school Tabitha-R shall we?
As a kid, I liked books. I was that kid who liked my bedtime stories and my parents obliged me by buying me those books on tape (and my own kiddie cassette player too), a Teddy Ruxpin for my 4th birthday (and I still have it!) and tons of other books (my favorite book back then? The Little Critter series!) Long before I thought about coming to Korea, I was an excited kindergartner learning to read my first books. I’m not sure who got the idea, but at the end of my first year of school, I was tested for the Gifted and Talented (GT) program in my hometown. When I was accepted into this program, I had to leave my school to attend the only elementary school in our district that housed the program. I’m pretty sure by this point, my parents knew I was a capable student and began set quite high (and sometimes annoying strict) standards for my school performance. How high you ask? Well, let’s just say I’ve had approximately 4 C’s on a final grade report across my ENTIRE school career (yeah, that’s over 18 years people).
By the time I entered middle school, I was on the fast track for Pre-Advance Placement (or Pre-AP) classes. These classes are the ones that get you ahead and allow you to take the Advanced Placement (AP) courses in high school, leading you to earn college credit while in high school. My sixth grade year, I opted out of taking Pre-AP Math because, well, math and I have a bad relationship (and we still do, but only when I am forced to do it). My math teacher that year thought I was capable of Pre-AP work and the next year, I was signed up for Pre-AP math and English. While I loved Pre-AP English, I disliked the fast pace of the math class, but my parents insisted I stick with it.
By ninth grade, the pressure was really on for the “smart kids in the AP classes”. Every one of us had to decide which AP classes we would take. By this point, as a high school student, I felt that I should take as many AP classes as I could. This was because our teachers and parents had instilled the notion that taking AP classes led to being ahead in college and such. So I signed up for AP English (my personal favorite), Math (which I still struggled with) and Science and later History. I also had other things happening, such as orchestra (I played the cello starting in 6th grade) and theater and student organizations.
Of course, during my high school years, my parents still had very high expectations for my school performance and behavior. I didn’t have too many issues with school itself other than my Math class and normal teen girl problems. Eventually, at the start of my 11th grade year, I dropped the AP Math (thank GOD!), Science, History courses and stuck with only AP English. Because of my years toiling through those AP courses, I was technically a year ahead in Math , so I took an easier course my senior year and learned that I wasn’t actually bad at math! The high pressure and high stress plus the fast pace of the AP Math courses had tricked me into thinking I was terrible at math! Turns out I wasn’t bad at it and I even took two Math classes simultaneously my senior year for a, entire semester!
Now here’s my very first money saving tip for college: That second Math course I took my senior year was called “COLLEGE ALGEBRA” – that’s right, it was a college course, and it was offered for very cheap through the local community college in my hometown. And guess what? There were other classes like this offered at my school (I took Botany as well).
TIP #1 Seek out concurrent credit courses (these are courses where you earn high school AND college credit at the same time) OR check your local community colleges for courses that will easily transfer to the 4 year university of your choice! Why pay triple or quadruple the cost for a basic course such as Physical Science or Algebra when you can take it for cheap at the local community college (which probably has smaller classes if you need extra help) during your senior year or summer before you move off to college?
And what about AP classes you ask?
TIP #2– Seek out the AP classes that interest you (or at least you are willing to do the work in) and complete them! Then, take those AP End of Course Exams SERIOUSLY. The higher you score on those exams, the more college credits you can earn and the less student loans you’ll be taking out.
PART TWO- Choosing a college and keeping your wallet in mind! ACT scores, applications, college tours and such…