News flash: College is expensive. Aside from a home, it’ll likely be the most expensive investment we make. Though its expensive, it doesn’t have to be unaffordable… But to afford college, we may have to make some compromises and use a combination of tactics. Again, if you’re wealthy, have a full ride scholarship or some other uncommon means of paying for college…this article isn’t for you. But if you’re wondering if you can afford college like I did…read on.
I think it’s important to share my college story so you know where I’m coming from. We all have different experiences, goals and opinions on value.
I was a solid high school student (3.5 GPA) but due to our financial situation I did not have any big college plans. I knew I’d stay local, live at home and begin at a community college because it was more affordable than a state college.
I began at the junior (community) college about 30 minutes from my home for the summer session which started two weeks after I graduated high school. After a year (the following fall) I transferred to my state college, about 45 minutes from my home. I transferred after only a year because I took most of my ‘two years’ of prerequisite classes within that year.
At my state college this is how tuition worked: There were two rates, a part-time rate and a full-time rate. If you crossed the full-time student threshold, you paid the same rate no matter how many classes (credits) you took.I completely took advantage of this and took as many classes as possible. In fact, I did the math and it made more sense for me to cut back on work and take more classes since I could shorten the years I spent at college and wasn’t making much anyway. This allowed me to earn my Bachelor’s degree the following Winter semester. Admittedly, I could have finished that fall, but I took that summer off to work full-time, make some money and have some fun. Even so, I finished my Bachelor’s degree in just two and a half years with honors (3.6 GPA).
As a warning, I did major in Psychology. If I had majored in Physics, Mathematics, Engineering, etc. it would have likely taken me longer to graduate, though some of the research based classes in my major were intense and relatively time-consuming. I had to take less classes those semesters.
The result is that my entire Bachelor’s degree education took less that two and a half-year and cost well under $10,000. This was in California between 2003 and 2006 before the major tuition hikes.
Even now (as of 2011) this strategy is still viable and will likely always be. I just looked at the tuition for my junior (community) college and it’s around $35 per unit, so a little over $100 per class. Assuming you take your two years of classes (60 credits) at the junior college, you’re paying a little over $2,000 in tuition for half of your Bachelor’s degree (or full Associate’s degree). Add in the cost of books, parking passes and any other fees and it’s still reasonable if you’re able to live at home.
That said, if y parents were wealthy and could afford to send me to a private school, spend a year studying abroad, and go right into grad school, would I? Hell yeah I would. But that wasn’t the case so i went the affordable route and went back to grad school later on.
My Take on Affording College
I look at college much like I look at weddings. You can blow a lot of money on it and be saddled with debt for a good part of your life or you can decide what’s really important to you and make some compromises.
Some people may feel they need to get away for that ‘college experience’ and to really have fun. If your parents suck, then maybe you do need to get away. Mine were great though so I didn’t mind staying at home. If you feel like you need to go to a big college to really have fun, then maybe you’re just not a fun person. There are great friends everywhere, not just in a frat or sorority. If you think you need an expensive education to break into ‘that field’ or get ‘that job’ whatever it may be, maybe you do. But if you’re talented enough to have the job, maybe you don’t. While you’re paying those tens of thousands of dollars at that expensive school, just remember that some of your esteemed professors are state college educated. Talent and dedication will get you where you need to go.
I’ll be honest with you, I never understood why people choose to go to expensive colleges away from home then complain about the excessive debt they’ll be paying off for the next decade or longer…especially when their major is in a low-income field. Great you have a degree in 16th Century Bodices and Sleeves Design from Harvard and it’ll take you until the 25th century to pay it off, what now? Some folks choose expensive schools knowing that they’ll incur a large debt, but it’s worth it to them. If they make that connection and accept the outcomes then great.
The most important thing to take away from this is that college can be affordable, but you may have to make some compromises just like anywhere in life. Be realistic