There is a lot of posts going around about how all these people graduated their undergrad debt-free. I am one of these people.
There is a level of privilege here that most people are not highlighting. Being able to attend college or university in the first place is due to privilege. Scholarship eligibility also plays a role, especially if your parents can afford to send you to private schools or live in a good school district. All of these factors play a role. However, this is not something that should negate this kind of achievement. Many factors, including, hard-work and sacrifice also make this possible.
Hacking the system
I began college at 16 due to a program called Dual-Enrollment that is offered to the public high schools in some counties. This is where a high school student is allowed to take college-level classes at a local community college. These credits count towards an Associates’s Degree and a high school diploma. This was the first instance of me ‘hacking’ the system. College courses and books are expensive out-of-pocket but since those in the program are in high school, the state pays for everything.
Going against the grain
After being in the program and earning enough credits for 1.5 years of college courses, I earned a scholarship that paid for all of my classes. I continued studying at the community college level because the scholarship paid more towards my credits than it would at the university-level. The great thing about a community college is the smaller class sizes, so you are not 1 out of 400 trying to get the teachers attention. The scholarship and attending a community college is what really helped me graduate debt-free since the bulk of my education was paid through this.
I also worked 35+ a week while at school at a restaurant. These hours were earned by doubles on weekends and at night during the week. The only time I did not work was when I was a senior when I actually got to experience college. Working ensured that I stayed debt-free since I did not need to get into debt to pay for expenses.
I was fortunate that I went to high school in the same town that had one of the best universities in the country. So, the entire time I was in school, I lived at home.
During this period I also drove an older car. I was not gifted a new car like many of my peers. I drove my parents’ car whenever they did not need it. Gas prices at this time was near $4.00 a gallon, so most of my money was actually going towards that.
What do I wish I could have done to save more money?
The main thing I wish I did was to bring my lunch to school more often. I barely remember making and bringing lunch to school, most of the time I went to a nearby fast-food place or ate at the cafeteria. Which is a money pit and it eats up (pun intended) all of your money.
I also wish I did not eat out as often. I was spending a lot of money and not really saving as much as I should have. Another thing is I should have begun saving for my retirement earlier, I learned all the tools but I did not apply them because it seemed impossible and too far into the future. This is an extremely problematic mindset. So if you are 18 and reading this, open up an IRA, this link is a referral code to Charles Schwab, go look into it. You can thank me when you are in your late 20’s. You do not need to be rich to start saving for retirement, you just need to begin.
Applying for more scholarships. I was one and done in terms of scholarships but I wish I applied for more.
If you are trying to graduate debt-free or at least accruing minimal student loans, see if you can apply any of these.