How I graduated with an Associate’s Degree Debt-Free.
Some quick notes before I start:
- My parents did not pay for any of my schooling whatsoever.
- I got 0 scholarships (I tried and applied every semester), I come from a middle-class white family.
- I was making $11.50-$15.00 an hour at the time of paying for my tuition.
- I was moved out and paying rent.
- If you do not feel like reading my rambling, I have everything broken down more simply in the last section of this page. 🙂
My First Semester:
I went to a two year technical school and received an AAS in Business Management without taking out any student loans. First of all, I took advantage of my high school’s PSEO (Post Secondary Enrollment Options) program. This program lets high school students with certain GPAs (it varies by school and state, but you do not need to have a 4.0) take college courses for free while in high school that also count towards your high school credits. I wish I would have taken way more PSEO courses than what I did though. I only took three courses (9 credits) during my senior year of high school (Jan-May 2017), better than nothing I guess. Doing this saved me about $1,400. While still in high school I was only working 20-25 hours.
My Second Semester:
The next fall, I enrolled in the same college. I was making $11.50 an hour as a manager at a sandwich shop working 40 hours a week and took 12 credits of classes (about $1,800). I paid for it all by saving up over the summer and did receive a $600 state grant, so I spent $1,200. I also moved out of my mom’s house in May of my senior year of high school, so I was paying rent ($325), my car payment ($300), utilities ($100), food ($100), etc. (I live in a very cheap town to live in.) while saving this money. Every two weeks, my paychecks were around $500-600 after taxes (I live in MN where the state income tax is very high). Even so, I was saving about $400 a month.
Explaining My Tuition Reimbursement:
While I was going to school, that fall I got a new job as a bank teller (Nov. 2017), where I started making $13.50 an hour and kept saving at about the same rate. At this new job I was also eligible for tuition reimbursement after being employed there for 6 months. Tuition reimbursement is where after the semester, you can send in your transcript and tuition bill to your employer, and they will pay you back the money you spent on school! With my employer, you had to have a certain GPA (something like only 2.0 or 2.5+) and you could not be on any sort of corrective action at work (along with a couple of other limitations/requirements, every employer is different). Once I received the tuition reimbursement I had to stay employed full-time for a year afterwards or would have to pay a portion or all of it back.
When I Didn’t Know What I Was Doing:
Then I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what direction I was going with my life, so I decided not to take any classes the following spring (2018) (I was originally majoring in Criminal Justice). This provided a 9 month gap where I did not take any classes, thought about what I wanted to do (for a job/career), and saved up. In March 2018, I got a raise to $15.00 and hour, so I started saving about $600 a month.
My Third Semester:
I enrolled and went to school again the following fall (Aug-Dec 2018) this time majoring in Business Management (During this time I also bought a home, got married, and was volunteering, so there was a lot going on). I ended up taking 21 credits (approx. $3,200), the maximum amount allowed. Because of the 9 month gap, I was a couple credits behind where I was hoping to be, so I overloaded myself with credits for my last two semesters of school. So after my fall semester ended, I applied and got fully reimbursed for the $3,200 I had spent, amazing.
My Final Semester:
As the months kept rolling on I became more stressed with school/work and discovered the teller life was not at all for me. I was miserable, I had to leave, but I didn’t want to have to pay the $3,200 back. So I kept working. I enrolled for the next semester (Jan-May 2019) with 21 credits and spent another $3,600 on school. I did not apply for tuition reimbursement for this final semester because I knew I was planning to leave my job. Finally, graduation came (May 2019) and I found a new employer! I started working for them in early September 2019. I did end up paying $1,600 (not the full $3,200) back to my previous employer because I did not meet the one year requirement, I had only met six months of it. I was not worried about paying this back though because at my new job I would make that money back very quickly.
My School Semesters Broken Down:
- Spring 2017 Semester: Spent $0 for 9 credits through PSEO.
- Fall 2017 Semester: Spent $1,200 for 12 credits, received one grant.
- Spring 2018 Semester: Did not take any courses.
- Fall 2018 Semester: Spent $1,600 (after Tuition Reimbursement) for 21 credits.
- Spring 2019 Semester: Spent $3,600 for 21 credits out of pocket.
- TOTAL SPENT: $6,400 for a two year degree.
I highly recommend starting your college education at a community or technical college. It will save you thousands. Also, the courses have way more flexibility so that you can work more hours. The majority of my classes were totally online, that’s how I was able to work 40 hours still. Take full advantage of any PSEO, scholarships, grants, tuition reimbursements, etc. It will all be worth it in the end. I’m not saying it was easy or fun, but it is doable. Over those two years, I basically did not have a life, but I’m okay with that because now I am way ahead.