During my senior year of high school, I never saw going to a four-year college as a real option. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the academic preparation, I took every AP class offered like a good little suburban white boy should (it was that or that fact that taking 3 AP classes my senior year meant I got to go home at lunch). I knew I could hold up against the papers and equations thrown at me by professors, my lack of confidence came from paying the thousands of dollars required to be eligible to write said papers.
Maybe it was because listened to too much Dave Ramsey or the fact that the majority of my high school teachers who were in their late 20’s/ early 30’s were still paying off their student loans. But financing a piece of paper at 5% APR just didn’t seem worth it. Especially when I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life, taking out a $50,000 loan to “find myself” was even less sexy. So, I did what any logical high school student would do and ignore the problem until I graduated. Well at least until I was so far checked out of high school that I had no choice but to figure out my next step or else find myself as a 45 year old in my mom’s basement eating Cheetos and owning 12 year old’s on Call of Duty (for this analogy let’s pretend there are basements in Texas k, thanks).
So, around October of my senior year I began to research and figure out what the heck I was going to do with my life just in case I didn’t make state officer, spoiler alert I didn’t(The Day I Didn’t Make State Officer). I weeded my options down to two choices. I could either start at a community college in the Fall to become a firefighter something that I was interested in but not as passionate about as used to be. Or do something in the Agricultural/ Trait Industries a career path that would have me getting paid for the hobbies I enjoyed. The things that kept me so busy in high school I had little time for high school itself. The choice seemed like a no brainer I was going to get a job that paid me to do what I loved.
I found an open position as an animal handler at one of the big three meat producers and applied for the job. Now that I had a direction, I did what any loyal follower of Dave Ramsey would do and made a budget. Which is where I quickly found out that 10 dollars an hour was just enough to get by and didn’t leave much room to save up for a new Ford truck, aka the root of happiness to 17-year-old Thomas.
Luckily while I was backing myself into a corner of not going to college because scholarships were for smart kids with good GPA’s, loans were scary, and FAFSA for most middle-class kids was a way to get a government endorsed loan. Other people in my life didn’t quit on me as easily as I quit on myself. My Mom made me reluctantly take those college entrance exams so I could be eligible to attend community college in the Fall. While my Ag Teachers were betting on me and forcing me to fill out scholarship applications that I felt unqualified to receive. Putting in the time and headache to set me up for success when all I saw was a sea of vanity. Applying the same work ethic to these applications as I did my homework, Due tomorrow therefore do tomorrow.
All in all, these pivotal high school influences made it so that come June I was not only eligible to start classes but I had a received a few thousand dollars in scholarships that I was “unqualified” for.
However, the scholarships alone didn’t ease my fear. I only had about 25% of my tuition covered, I did manage to stretch it to 35% because community college is hella cheap. But I still had to cover rent, books, ramen, ice cream, and football tickets. All the college essentials. Luckily ever since I was a young boy my mother convinced me that a savings account was the only way you could cash a check. And that you couldn’t pull money out of it until you were 16 and buying a car. So, every birthday and Christmas I put all my checks into the bank to buy a yellow F750. No not a typo 7-year-old Thomas dreamed of driving a semi to high school.
Anyways this myth was eventually debunked but the habit of putting money away and not touching it stayed throughout my time in high school. This was important because I was lucky enough to sell a few hogs for a few grand all because a seemingly random guy at the time sold me a pig for way too cheap. And then he was gracious enough to follow my hog’s development, helping me raise the best animal possible even though I was competing against his daughter. This combined with the savings I was able to put away from a summer job, gave me enough confidence to bet on myself. Despite the fact that I didn’t have anywhere near what I would need to get to my senior year.
Now trying to cram the next five years that lead me to a debt free graduation would be impossible, it’s as if it would take a whole website of essays or blogs as some people would call it to document the experiences of college. (see what I did there) But what I can say is that I am the greatest you should be jealous cause I got a degree without the crippling amounts of debt. Just kidding this post isn’t a pride ridden antidote of me tooting my own horn about how hard I worked.
No seriously, all of these high school influences from people that invested way more time than they needed to were crucial in my debt free college journey. They laid the ground work that gave me the confidence and ability to tackle a challenging degree program all the while working full time across multiple professions. So, thank you for what you have done, are doing, and will do for people just like me.
For those of you that are looking for actual help on how to graduate debt free follow <this link> and I have a list of things that I did while I was in college to help me graduate debt free.
As always, make good choices, share if you like what I said, comment if you have something to add, give that follow button a hit, and I will see you at sometime in the future because commitment is hard.