Graduate From College Debt Free in 2019
In April of this year, my niece, will graduate from one of the top ten accounting programs in the nation debt free. Not only will she be debt free, but she will have roughly $15,000 in her savings account which she earned. How did she do this you might wonder? Did she receive grants from the government? Did she take out loans? Did her family sacrifice their financial future to pay her way? Nope, she simply worked hard in high school to save money and earn scholarships and worked two jobs in college. Society today tells you that you are a victim and that college isn’t affordable anymore. My niece is proof that debt free college is still very much attainable.
When she graduated high school and had already been admitted to the university of her choice, I knew she could pay her own way. I’m not sure if she was fully convinced, but her mother and I gave her no other option (baring severe physical or mental health problems). As a family (her aunts, uncles, grandfather, and mother) we could have gotten together and paid for everything once she was at college. This would have seemed like a pretty sweet deal to my then 17-year-old niece and to many American parents & children today. However, my niece’s aunts and uncles all paid their way through their undergraduate schooling acquiring no debt. We knew what paying your own way meant to us and how it benefited our futures, and we wanted that for her.
In her early teen years, just a couple years after her father’s death, my sister and I, who were co-parenting, started to verbalize more to the kids that they would be on their own financially once they had graduated high school. Many Americans today draw that financial line in the sand when their kids graduate college. Even then, it’s hard for them to do so. I feel this is a huge disservice to their children.
We had a family business, and early on, my niece would come to the shop to work and earn money. When she got to high school age, she would ride a broken bike (no seat) the 1.5 miles to the shop so that she could work and earn money. I didn’t give her pointless jobs either. I had her scrubbing walls, carrying heavy boxes, vacuuming, and typing up the most boring, but necessary spreadsheets for the company and its clients.
I was lucky enough to be the one who drove her 3 states away to the university that she was going to now graduate from. We arrived a week before classes were to start. We set her up at her apartment. I took her one time to the grocery store and to Costco to fill her cupboards with food. We then went around applying for jobs. She got a job offer by the end of that week doing concessions for the sports events on campus. With a few small scholarships and money earned while working during the summer, my niece started her journey.
She did have about $5,000 which was a savings of her aunt’s birthday and Christmas gifts. My niece never received birthday or Christmas gifts from her aunt but instead would receive a statement of how much money was now in a savings account in her name for school.
When I drove away that day, seeing my niece standing on the sidewalk all alone, my heart was breaking. I had to keep telling myself that I went away to college and survived just fine. I wanted to turn around and give her a check for all the money she would need that first semester, but I stopped myself. If I had listened to my heart, I would have moved in with my niece and been her roommate during college cooking her healthy food each day and making sure no boys ever hurt her. But I knew she didn’t want or need me as her college roommate. She didn’t need me to protect her from the world. I needed to let her face the world and its realities on her own. Knowing that if things got too bad, she could always call upon her family for support.
These are the options she and many college freshmen have when it comes to financing college:
Take out massive loans and worry about paying for college later
Have my family sacrifice their financial futures to pay for my education
A combination of the above
Serving in the military using the GI bill
Work hard to earn scholarships and money during high school, and work through college to pay your bills and tuition. This usually means picking a college that you can afford.
If you asked my niece now if she could go back and choose how she was going to pay for college, I think she would still choose to work and pay her way through. I see the confidence in her. I know that wherever she lands, she will be able to support herself. She gained the most important thing that I had hoped she would gain in college. Grit.