The Logistics of Paying for Your Education Yourself (Mostly)

Yesterday, people whose parents had paid for their educations shared how exactly that worked. Today, we hear from people who financed at least some of their college expenses themselves. 

“‪I‬ had free tuition because my mom worked at the university where I went. But she wouldn’t pay for housing, so I took out loans to live on campus. I worked at a charter school in the extended day program all through school,Iit was fun and they paid really well—like $14 an hour. It was food money basically. I ate out all the time in college. I have a total of about $25K in loans. I know that’s not awful, but it’s more than half my salary.

“I took out way more loans than I needed. I have them deferred now. But when I check my credit report, it’s divided out into like 15 smaller amounts, half of which are closed and the other half have been transferred to Sallie Mae. So the initial loans I had have all been divided up and moved around.” —LC

“I got a half-tuition scholarship to a very expensive (but not very good) private school on the other side of the country. My college fund was pretty much wiped out in the dot-com crash. Between that and my savings, we had enough to pay my tuition, room, board, and a little spending money for my freshman year. My sophomore year, we got a monthly payment plan and my mom hit up relatives to buy me a “month” of college each, and I had a job for spending money. After that, everyone was pretty tapped out, so I had nothing but loans and 2-3 jobs. I graduated with $42k in debt, which will be paid off the day before I turn 45.” —GO

“My college tuition and dorm life was paid for through a combination of scholarships and student loans (mine). When my Staffords were maxed for the year and there was still a balance owed on the tuition bill, my not-so-well off father borrowed a parent PLUS loan (THANKS DAD!). I never got much in way of spending money for college, and I always had a job that paid for things like beer, clothes, and fun adventures. I did work study, ice cream parlors, waitressing, and bartending all through college.

“Once I moved out of the dorms, I was fully on my own financially.  I sometimes had to ask my dad to borrow money, of course, but I always paid him back, and with age those requests diminshed as I learned how to (sort of) budget. I also maxed out a credit card.

“I paid for law school and three years of living expenses (ouch! its too hard to work a job and make grades though, seriously.) with Federal Loans. I try not to look at the balances or the interest rates too often, since they make me woozy—I just keep my head down and make my monthly payments. As long as I’m lucky enough to keep my government job, those loans will be gone in 10 years. If I’m not so lucky, I’ll probably pay them off around retirement age.” —TY

“I paid for college with a cobbled-together combination of loans, help from my mom, and savings/monthly support from my dad—my mom got him to put away money for my brother and me for college instead of paying child support after their divorce. That $200/month sometimes made all the difference in the world. My first year wiped out all of my college savings (that’s what happens when you decide, at 17, to go to a private school that costs more than your mother makes per year) and the next two and a half years were touch-and-go about whether I’d be able to afford to finish or not. Through a lot of tears and two extremely regrettable private loans, I finished up.

“I lived in student housing the first two years, and was pretty okay working my 10-hour/week work-study job, but when I moved into an apartment I was 100% on my own. I had to rely on the kindness of my work-study boss (fudging my timesheets to say I was working when I was actually at my required internship), another job calling alumni asking for donations (it’s tough to extol the glories of a college that is putting you in crushing debt), and occasional help from my mom, who would sometimes psychically know that I was down to my last $3 and put $200 in my bank account.

“I know this situation was 100% of my own making—I could have attended a public university and lived at home. But I made a decision, at 17, that is going to impact me for the rest of my life.” —AB

“My mother died when I was 10, and as a result, I received monthly social security payments. My father used that money to invest in stocks and accrue interest, amounting to an incredibly large sum of cash which was basically handed to me upon turning 18. As my father was against helping any of his kids pay for college on principle, I put every cent of that money toward an expensive private school degree. However, I realized at the end of my first year that I wouldn’t have enough for four years, so I overloaded every semester and managed to graduate in three years. In retrospect, though I enjoyed private school, I really wish I had gone public so that, at the very least, I could have shared in the fun senior year that all my friends had or, better yet, have used the rest of it to help fund grad school.

“I’m not entirely certain who would qualify as the one paying for my education—my mother? my father? myself? taxpayers? To be honest, I felt like I HAD to use that money to pay for school, as doing anything else with it felt to me like dishonoring my mother’s memory. I would be interested to hear from other mother/father-less kids who received these benefits and how the money was used and how they feel about receiving that money (assuming it wasn’t used by their surviving parent to help pay for their expenses, as the payments are originally intended for).” —LO

“I didn’t get any money from my parents for college, because there was no money to be given. I was lucky, in that a) I was a Brit attending college in the UK before tuition fee hikes, and b) we were poor enough to qualify to have those fees waived. I took out loans to cover living costs (the UK system also has/had means-tested loans, so that while anyone could access the minimum, those under certain income thresholds could borrow up to 4,125 pounds per year on relatively low interest, which I did). My parents didn’t/couldn’t give me additional money, but before every term, my dad would drive me up and swing by the local supermarket, and I would max out on groceries on his dime to last as long as possible.

“I’ve worked part-time jobs since I was 16, but didn’t have much in way of savings, so I worked a summer job before college, which paid for a laptop, and new clothes. I also picked up shifts there during holidays in my first year. My college ‘frowned on’ us holding term-time work, and honestly, I was too busy attempting not to have a mental breakdown and drop out to manage that on top of school work. Second year, I filled my vacations with internships, which cost me a lot in terms of train fare to London, and expenses—hello overdraft! Oh, and in being poor, I also got a bursary from my college of 1,000 pounds the first year, and then 500 in subsequent years, which was applied directly against rent.

“I graduated with ‘only’ 13,000ish pounds of debt including overdrafts.” —KE

“I went to a state school in Maryland on full scholarship and worked on campus every semester, as well as taking retail and restaurant jobs during breaks, to pay for my books, clothes and spending money. Since my scholarship covered room and board, I stayed on campus for all four years and only ate non-dining-hall food when I could pay for it myself. Also included was a semester abroad: My (divorced) parents paid for my plane ticket and gave me some money for food. I paid the other expenses from savings. After college, I went to graduate school on a full assistantship, which covered tuition and paid me a small stipend for teaching a class each semester. My parents’ contribution during this time was to pay my car insurance (my mother gave me her Ford Escort during my senior year of college, after she bought a new car—this was the first car I had ever had).

“During graduate school, I was the only person I knew who didn’t take out loans for living expenses; my stipend was tiny, so I lived in essentially a studio apartment in a college town in Ohio and lived very frugally. After graduate school, I moved in with my boyfriend, who I then married.  I am the only person I know with a graduate degree and no student debt, but my husband is just finishing law school, so I didn’t escape the student debt machine altogether.  Now that I have my own children, I want them to feel more free in their college choices than I did, but I fully expect them to work while they are students, and don’t expect to fully subsidize them after school.” —JR

“One of the few things Georgia does right is the HOPE scholarship, which is basically if you graduate from high school with a 3.0 or better and maintain that GPA through college, you get 100% of tuition paid for. I qualified for this, so I did not have to pay tuition at my local state school. I have three younger sisters and my parents don’t make much, so I worked retail jobs throughout college to pay my for my own rent and utilities. My parents gave me about $40/week for gas money. In my senior year of college, I quit my retail job that I hated and took out a $5,000 student loan to pay my living expenses so that I could have the freedom to work an unpaid internship and do some volunteer ESL teaching at a local nonprofit. I feel really lucky that I only incurred $5,000 in debt and that Georgia paid for my schooling, although I sometimes regret making the tradeoff between a local school I could attend for free and a more prestigious out-of-state university.” —AT

“About half of my tuition was paid for in scholarship grants, my parents contributed a portion free and clear (they gave me and my brother about the same amount, about a year’s tuition), and the rest I paid for in a combination of federal and private loans which were cosigned by my parents. I had a job all through college, for spending money, groceries, etc. Now I pay a loan payment of about $600 every month.

“My parents also helped me big time very recently by refinancing my private loan by taking out a loan against a property they own. I’ll be saving about $100 per month and thousands and thousands of dollars over the life of the loan. I can’t say I paid for college ‘all on my own’ because my parents have gone above and beyond in helping me in direct and indirect ways. Their simply cosigning my loans is an amazing gift. When I think of my parents, I feel weak with adoration.” —LR



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