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Getting My Education — For Free (Almost) – Part One

14 Jun

I am one of those people who absolutely hates school but always find myself in school. I think it’s a sick form of mental masochism that I am always doing this to myself. Once again, I applied to school and I am starting to question my sanity.

But the point of this post is not only to allow readers delve deeper into my insanity—it is to tell you how I have received the majority of my education for free.  For this, we must go back in time to nearly ten years ago, when I first found myself applying to colleges.


I would consider my high school years as apathetic with a hint of care. I took honors and AP classes but I did the bare minimum required. I rarely ever studied and sometimes I would have to take days off from school because I was so massively behind on homework I needed to stay home just to catch-up. When I was growing up my parents never really pushed us—it was you either go to school or work. So since all of my friends were going to college I thought, “Hey, I don’t want to work. Everyone else is going to college. I might as well just go to college!”

Since I obviously didn’t put any thought into it, I only applied to the college system in my city. For one application fee, you can apply to numerous colleges within the city system. I figured I would live at home like most of the people in the city system and go to school from there. At the time, tuition was only $4,000 for the entire school year as a full-time student, which was a steal compared to other schools.


For whatever reason a last minute decision sent me to a particular school. I hated it there but because of my parents’ income, I was able to at least have my entire tuition covered. I also received a grant because I had maintained a B average or greater in high school. This allowed me to at least pay for additional costs such as books and transportation.

After my first year, I transferred to a different school within the city system and they offered a much better financial package. In fact, I was making money going to school. It was great.

For my third year, something stirred inside of me and I transferred up to a state school. I had practically the same financial package, lost the grant I had from the city schools but gained two other grants from the state school because of my grades. However, to stay in the dorm, I needed to take out a loan. I took out more than I needed, because I didn’t have a job at the time and had no idea how much things would cost me. This was the only loan I ever took out for school—something small like $5,500. I wouldn’t say I regret it but I definitely could have taken a loan for a smaller amount.

After that year, I transferred back to the second city school I was at. (Are you still with me?) I still had no idea what I wanted to major in and I was now in my fourth year of college! Eventually I just picked something I thought I could potentially get a job in and actually followed through with it. I spent two more years as an undergraduate which totals to six, yes six years as an undergraduate. That might not sound so bad except that I was a full-time student the entire time.

Now after my fifth year, I couldn’t receive money anymore from a particularly source of financial aid. Luckily, at the same time, my program told us about a grant we could receive for $3,000 if we wrote an essay. Unlike most people, I did it and ended up getting the grant. And finally, after six years I graduated with a degree—that I didn’t even want to use.


I ended up disliking my major and jumped into something else immediately after I graduated. I applied to a program that was very similar to the Teach for America that would essentially pay for your graduate degree. So yes, a month after I graduated I started a graduate program in something completely unrelated to my field.

The program was funded through AmeriCorps so each year I received approximately $4,750 to apply to my tuition. Since I was at a city school again, my tuition remained low even though I was in a graduate program. Two years later, I graduated with my M.S. and left the field. Aside from paying taxes on the over $9,000 I received to pay my tuition, I only had to pay for books and a registration fee at the beginning of the semester. Considering I was working full-time, this was not a problem. I actually had money leftover from my grant, over $1,000, that I was able to apply to my student loans.


I decided that I would return to the field I had received my undergraduate degree in and although it was difficult, it is far less stressful. I had to study for my exam in order to get state licensure two or three years after I graduated, I did it and became a licensed professional within my state.

Funnily enough, I am now in a place that is associated with a union so I am back in school as of Fall 2012—only I am working backwards and I’ll be pursuing my A.S. The union will pay for up to six credits a semester or twenty-four credits per year.  I am at the point in my life where I figure—why not? In fact, I can see myself pursuing another graduate degree in the future!

Tune in next time for some very specific ways to keep college-related expenses down.