Some day you’ll walk into a bar and there’ll be three guys sitting there, one is a doctor, one a lawyer, and the other a pilot. How do you know which one is the pilot? He’ll tell you, you don’t need to ask.
I’m a pilot (there I told you) and aircraft mechanic. I’m 24 and I have a Bachelor of Science from a four-year university. That’s all nice and dandy, but the ugly flip side of it is that my four-year degree cost a whole heap of very shiny pennies. If you know anything at all about airplanes, then you also know that they’re very expensive. When it was all said and done my college education totaled a staggering $151,544.13. Ugh. Even now it’s still a disgusting number.
While I was in college and beforehand I applied for numerous scholarships and grants and was awarded almost $83,000 over my four years. Surprisingly, the paperwork for it isn’t actually as bad as you would think it would be—remember I fly and fix airplanes this means a lot of paperwork. Despite the scholarship awards, working summer jobs, and various part-time jobs during semesters I still graduated with over $60,000 in debt. Another ugh.
If there’s anything you glean from this article, remember this: debt is miserable. It’s miserable for several reasons, the main one being that you now have to pay back the amount borrowed and pay the interest on top of that. A second reason is that the money you earn to pay debt could have been yours to do whatever you willed with, but instead it goes to the black hole of debt.
When you have debt it practically owns you, so the best thing to do if you have debt is pay it off as quickly as possible. Sometimes this means a bean’s and rice kind of lifestyle. Dave Ramsey, a financial advisor and host of The Dave Ramsey Show, often tells his listeners, “Live like no one else now, so you can live like no one else later.”
Working off debt is great when it’s done, but there is a much, much better option. Don’t get ANY debt in the first place!
I learned a number of things by going to a four-year university that could save you that large heap of very shiny pennies. I can speak most directly to the aviation industry because that’s what I am a part of, but a lot of it still applies to college in general.
First, pick the degree you can see yourself using for a job when you graduate. College degrees at their core are to assist you in qualifying for and obtaining a job. That’s it. They are not for the “experience” that so many people try to get. The fastest way from point A to point B is a straight line; if you don’t have a goal in mind, then don’t waste your money on college. Instead get a job and save until you’ve decided, then look at colleges, that way you’ll at least have some capital before you start. There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a year or two off after high school before going to college. In fact, I would argue it shows more financial shrewdness by taking a gap year(s) and saving your money if you haven’t decided on a profession.
Second, do your research, and cover all the bases. Know what you can afford, know the exact price tag for your degree at each college you are interested in, and know which colleges give you the best value for your hard earned money. One option for the best value is to complete all of your general courses at a local community college (which are often far cheaper) and then transfer to a school where you can complete the specialized courses.
If the degree you’re interested is a trade, then find out if there are other options rather than an expensive two or four-year university. As a pilot you don’t have to go to a university to do any of your training; you can do it all with a private instructor at a nearby airport. As an aircraft mechanic, you can be trained in the entire trade from an apprentice to a certified aircraft mechanic. These two options only speak to the aviation industry, but there are many other trades that are in the same boat. So do your research.
Third, apply for scholarships. The number of unclaimed scholarships each semester across the US is incalculable. I’m a white male, and about as average as you can get, but it didn’t stop me from applying for scholarships and grants. As a result, I didn’t pay for almost $83,000 of my education because it was given to me. If I had borrowed all the money for my B.S., and paid it back at $500/month with no interest, it would have taken me over 25 years to pay back that mighty sum. Scholarships can pay more towards your education than any summer job or part-time job you can get while in college. Scholarships are worth every minute of your time, and frankly, I could have spent more time applying for them than I did.
Fourth, find where you can save. Room and Board at a lot of universities is expensive, so find an apartment you can split with several roommates, or do what you can to keep those costs down. Eat cheaply, because food is expensive. I don’t mean eat badly, just cheaply. There are a number of grocery outlets that offer food at lower prices because they’re close to their expiration date. The food isn’t bad, just cheap. Another option instead of taking a job during school is to take more classes so that you can graduate in three years instead of four. Each year means more money out of your pocket.
When you graduate from college, and you’re about to take off into the world to use that new degree, the last thing you want to deal with is debt. So try a couple of these things, and learn from other’s experiences like mine. Graduate debt free, I dare you.