How To Afford A College Education: Don’t Be An Idiot

I grew up in a trailer and I am sitting here with a Master’s Degree right now.  And it only cost me $25,000.  So, why are so many people whining about the cost of college?  In my opinion, we as Americans have lost our ability to make intelligent, informed decisions.  I’m not saying that college tuition has not increased astronomically (without a real reason whatsoever) over the past few decades, what I’m saying is that one can still obtain a degree without damning their financial future to the gutter.

Newsflash:  College, like kids, is only as expensive as you want it to be.  True, you will be paying something for a college education.  But, that something does not need to leave you on the side of the road panhandling after four years.  The information is the same whether you receive it from a community college or an Ivy League school.

Let Me Tell You A Story 

If I were to examine our family income as a child, I could say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I grew up in poverty.  However, our outward appearance did not reflect our economic situation.  My parents were incredibly cognizant of perceptions and did a fantastic job of leading others to perceive us as a typical middle-class family, despite the trailer we lived in.  We were always clean, well-dressed, and our home was always meticulous…thank you, Mom!

My parents were also encouraging and would tell us that we could be whatever we wanted to be.  Okay, that probably isn’t exactly true, since I highly doubt I could succeed at being an aerospace engineer.  But, we were led to believe we could achieve so much more than our current status.

The one shortcoming that my parents had was their own lack of education.  They had no idea how to “send” us to college.  Because we knew they couldn’t send us to college, we didn’t know how to go about achieving higher education.  I can remember my mother telling me, on more than one occasion, “sorry we can’t afford to send you to college.”  I can also remember a friend of mine in high school telling me that, since I hadn’t applied to any college yet (we were in the middle of our senior year) that I probably couldn’t go, at this point.  And, despite attending a great school district, the counseling staff was spread too thin and I didn’t receive much “guidance” from my guidance counselor.  So, I left high school thinking I would find a “good” job and build my life.  I did just that.

I was quickly hired by an electronics company earning approximately $10/hr with great benefits.  After working side by side with educated engineers for a few months, I felt the need to pursue a college degree.  Eventually, I learned about a community college that was close and didn’t cost too much money.  See how sheltered I was to the whole higher education thing?

Note:  Obviously, college is far from necessary for someone to be successful or live a rich life.  It was just something that I always wanted to achieve.

Open Admission At The Local Community College – I MADE IT!

Finally, I decided to apply to our local community college.  I can’t tell you how excited I was to get my acceptance letter.  I showed it to everyone in my family.  My parents were beaming with pride.  This was, of course, before I understood anything about open admission policies.  No matter.  I was proud and I was going to go to college!  Over the next 4 years I worked full-time during the day and paid for my tuition out-of-pocket each semester.

Transferring To A REAL School

I graduated with my Associates Degree (paid in full, ahem) before transferring to a snooty, private 4-year college.  Because I was paying everything out of my own pocket, I studied, hard.  I graduated with a 3.8 GPA and was given an academic scholarship to finish my undergraduate degree at the snooty, private school!  I borrowed a total of $25,000 to complete the remainder of my degree in 2 years.

Commencement24Working Adult *Shriek*

Utopia!  I made it!  I was a full-fledged college graduate with a scientific degree.  In my mind, I hit it out of the park with my first professional job after college.  At 26 years old, I accepted a position for a company earning $43,000/year.  Oh yeah!

100% Tuition Reimbursement – Here I Come!

My employer is awesome enough to offer 100% tuition reimbursement for higher education.  Two years later, I’m sitting pretty with a graduate degree that cost only my time.  Not too shabby.  You should strongly consider taking advantage of any employer-sponsored educational programs.

So Yeah…Just Don’t Be Stupidjohn wayne

The moral of the story is, you CAN get an education without spending a ton of money.  You just can’t be stupid about it.  Don’t borrow $40,000/year to graduate with a degree in social work where you will earn $25,000/year.  Before anyone yells at me, I think Social Work is a wonderful field and is much needed.  If Social Work is your passion, go for it!  But, don’t be stupid.  Go to a community college or state university.  Apply for aid, grants, and work during school.  Apply for student loans only when absolutely necessary.  Fortunately, I was interested in a college degree that allowed me to enter a high-paying field.  However, this was not by design; it just kinda worked out for me.  So, listen up if you haven’t started college yet (or you’re going to be guiding a young person through this process soon)…choose your degree and school wisely.  CAREFULLY examine the cost-to-benefit ratio of any degree you pursue, in relation to the institution fees.  Because I can honestly tell you that some of the classes I took at the community college were more challenging than classes I took at the snooty school.

In Closing…

Dear Monster Minions,

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in the hype.  Remember, you’re getting that education to get a job to earn money to save enough so you don’t need the job anymore.  Early retirement comes through Intelligent Design.  Engage Brain.

Love,

Mrs. Money Monster 🙂

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Lisa is the creator and resident writer at Mad Money Monster. She's a mother, scientist, and financial guru on a mission to save Generation X from working until they die!

Mad Money Monster
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