Beyond Studying- The Pride That Came From Paying For College

It was never a question of “if” I would go to college. It was expected of me, and I expected it of myself. I remember talking with friends in the first grade about attending the University of Hawaii together. As a Navy brat and Oahu resident at the time, it seemed only natural.

There was a lot of talk of scholarships, loans, and grants as I got older and began setting my eyes on the reality of a college education. I didn’t grow up in a middle-class household. My parents, 18 when they had me, did a fantastic job at the whole parenthood thing on a very tight budget. So while there was no college fund waiting for me upon graduation, the best gift they gave me was the confidence never to second guess that I could make it happen on my own.

I graduated from an out of state school in three-and-a-half years, earning a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the #1 journalism school in the country- the University of Missouri.


This is not to say that it was easy. Indeed, it was a struggle. This is also not to say that I didn’t have moments of resentment that I didn’t have any financial help. I sometimes fought back bitterness and resentment, especially every time I had to choose between buying a textbook or doing things like going out to dinner with friends who put their tab on their parent’s credit card.

The hardest struggle for me in college wasn’t the actual studying part, though my grades did suffer a bit from the time I put into working so that I could pay for everything. And yes: everything. From my rent, to my car, to my clothes, to my food- it was all on me, aside from help from my parents here and there when they could afford it.

I was lucky to attend school at a time when interest rates were low and grants weren’t as hard to acquire. I had a handful of scholarships to help out, too. I’ll still be paying off my college education until…. I die? I honestly don’t know. It’s pretty far off.

The work and the sacrifice involved led to one of my proudest accomplishments, however, and I think the fact that I made it work financially is a big part of the pride I take in having earned my college degree. I wish I could say that I made this happen by carefully planning out my budget every semester, and give you tangible takeaways that you could apply to real life. The truth is, though, that it was sheer stubbornness on my part. I decided that I would NOT fail. I would NOT give up. It was equal parts determination and hope that everything would work out, and many afternoons crying in my financial aid advisor’s office, begging for him to find just one more way for me to squeeze a little more money out of my next financial aid package.


That college education has been well worth the investment, and it’s something I’m hopeful I’ll be able to help my own children attain. Ideally, we’ll be fortunate enough to help them pay for at least part of it. My husband was financially responsible for his entire college experience, too, and we often talk about what we’ll do if we’re in a position to pay for our kids’ college educations.

While we never want them to endure the stress that we did while working our way through college if we can help it, we also don’t want them to take it for granted. We feel like it’s a great time in their life to learn how to take responsibility, and to learn some life skills to go with those fancy pieces of paper. We’ll see what that solution is when we get there, but I don’t think it will involve blindly writing a check every month for tuition and expenses. That would be taking away an incredible gift of pride and accomplishment away from my children that only they can give themselves, something we can’t help them attain with money.

This post is part of BlogHer’s Goal, Accomplished editorial series, made possible by P&G Always Infinity.

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  1. Crystal Barnes on

    I’ve had friends that received a large sum of money after they’d already found a way to pay for college. Their parents had left it a secret that the money existed so the child still had to figure it out on their own, but wouldn’t ultimately have to bear the burden. They received similar treatment when house hunting and planning weddings. I think it’s a neat idea.

  2. I love this post.

    My Dad got a job at a very good University when I was in high school, specifically so that my sister and I could benefit from the free tuition. The school was within commuting distance to my parents house, but it was my choice to move “away” to college. My parents were supportive, but that meant I was responsible for my own room & board. I worked two jobs throughout my time at college in order to live at school and buy my own groceries, but I am so proud that I did it. I’m one of the few people I know who graduated college with almost no no loan debt (I had a little from my freshman year, when I was still adjusting to college life) and it was paid off within 3 years of graduating. That is something that I will always think back on with affection for the experience and pride in myself and my parents.

  3. I earned my associates degree at the local community college and then transferred into a state school. It was the best decision I ever made. I paid for the associates in cash and the debt I have from the state school is comparable to a car loan.

    I was not happy about the situation when I was 18 and 19 and not living away from home and partying every weekend but I am now that I’m almost 30 and not up to my eyeballs in student loan debt.

    My husband has a set amount of money from the military that he can apply to schooling. He’s never going to use it (he already has a degree) so we can split it up and transfer it to our children. We’re still not sure if we’ll tell them about it until after they get into a college. It’s a long way off so we have time to decide.

  4. Beth Anne Ballance on

    I love reading these stories. I also grew up simply knowing that I would go to college. I knew my parents would pay for my schooling, as they did for my two older brothers…but I applied for a full academic scholarship instead.

    Taking the scholarship meant that I turned down my two top schools, but it also meant that I paid for my tuition & books & part of my housing all by myself. Turning down what I wanted for something that benefited everyone in the long run was my first real “adult decision” & the biggest lesson I learned through the entire process.

    Doug & I talk about what we’ll do – he put himself through school just like you, with financial aid & grants & scholarships & working on campus for his living expenses. I’m not sure how we’ll handle our kids, but I think we want them to take SOME responsibility for the cost of education, whether it is through loans or scholarships. We just feel there are bigger lessons learned in the process.

  5. Ruthy Taylor on

    I paid my way through college too…I got a summer job selling books door to door working 80 hours a week…I made enough money if 4 summers to actually graduate debt free from a private university. I honestly think it was so good for me, and I think my kids should take on that responsibility also. Hard work is a characteristic this generation seems to lack.

  6. As someone who didn’t finish college (and schlepped through several years of junior college and has nothing to show for it), I admire your tenacity. I sure wish I’d had it together when I was that age, but I was a slacker and I just didn’t care, to be honest. Of course…NOW I care….!!!! Oh well. Lesson learned. We’ve got college funds set up for the kids and they will be going to school, LIKE IT OR NOT. And if I can get it together, I’ll finish, too. And so will my husband (who dropped out when we got engaged).

  7. My parents offered to pay full Tuition, Room, and Board at the local State University/College. The catch was if we took the aid, we weren’t allowed to work, we had to go into a major they approved of, and we had to pull at least a B in every class. If we decided to go elsewhere, we would only receive aid in the amount of tuition of said local State Uni/College, and still had to go into a major they approved of. I was the only one dumb enough to go to a school on the other side of the country, for 3x the amount of the local college. Except for the wonderful husband I got out of the deal, I regret the decision. Although my parents definitely could have fully paid for my schooling, they held me responsible for my choices. I appreciate that more than anything, however I am now swimming in debt and can’t find a job in Chemical Engineering that pays more than working at Home Depot full time.

    Never listen to your 16 year old self, people! Teens make bad decisions. 😉

  8. I can almost relate to your experience, but I bet my college years were more like what your kids will experience. My parents had the ability (within reason) to pay for my tuition, books, living expenses, etc. through 4 years of college. However, my sophomore year of high school, I struck a deal with my dad. He would buy me a brand new car and in return, I would get a full ride to pay for college.

    My senior year as the acceptance letters and scholarship offers started rolling in, my dad reminded me that I might love the out of state school, but unless I had enough scholarships to cover it, I had 2 choices: get a loan for school, or pay him back for the car. Just as I was thinking about a loan, he explained that my annual student loan repayment would cost me some pretty sweet vacations after graduation. I chose a lovely state school with generous a generous scholarship office! Each year when he packed up my car for school, he gave me a check for $1,000. How I spent it was up to me, but it was all the money I got all year long. Books or booze, the choice was mine, but I knew that if I lost the scholarships, I had to pay for college myself. I worked 2 jobs every summer and 1 job during the school year to pay for the clothes, concerts, bar tabs, that my friends were charging to their parents’ cards.

  9. Neither of my parents went to college, so when it was my turn they forbade me from getting a job during the school year. They wanted me to focus solely on my courses. I worked my a$$ off during the summers to have money for food and, well, anything beyond tuition, the rest of the year. Unfortunately the tuition was all covered in loans. And while I went to a state college, I went to the most expensive one in the country. I lived very frugally then and still do now to pay off my loans. It is very frustrating to be 31 years old and still have loans the size of a mortgage. Our friends, who had their educations paid for, can buy new cars and go on vacations and have extensive savings for their childrens’ educations. It is hard to remember that everything we have, we have earned ourselves. And there is definitely a sense of pride in that. It is easy to be tempted to keep up with the Jonses, but we are far more appreciative of what we have than some of our friends.

  10. That is definitely something to be proud of! I was lucky enough to get some help from my parents for college. They covered most of my tuition, and I paid for books and all my living expenses. So while I did have to work while I went to school, it was a huge blessing to not have to worry about the bulk of my tuition. Every month when I make the payments on my husband’s college loans I’m so grateful that they were able to help me make it through without any debt of my own.

  11. First, wow, you should be really proud of yourself for all of that!

    I think by the time you get to college age, it’s too late for parents to teach you about respecting someone else’s money. My husband & I both had private college paid for by our parents and we had to earn our own spending money. We both were more diligent about school because it was someone else’s money. Our own $ and we would have felt entitled to blow off a class.

    Whose parents let their college kids put dinner on their credit card?!?!!? Sorry, got side-tracked there.

    I see friends struggling with school debt and I will do a lot to keep my kid from having that same financial handicap. We have agreed we will pay the equivalent of state school. She has a 529 plan (state sponsored investment fund that grows tax-free for education) that gets automatic monthly payments. I keep myself in check by imagining turning to her when she’s 18 and saying, “Sorry, not much in the college fund, but you sure did enjoy those vacations!”

    There is a lot more we could do to be more responsible, to save more, to spend less on luxuries, like eating out, for instance. It’s hard, in the moment, to make the “tough it out” decision, because I’m tired and feel overwhelmed and like a deserve a break. Thanks for getting me thinking about this again. I could use the booster.

  12. Amen! Same story here, always knew college would not be paid for but was always expected to go…did, paid my way, and paid my way through grad school too (which I will be paying off forever and a day).

  13. Holly CoVille Watson on

    I understand what you mean by watching college kids blow their parent’s money. I’m a non-traditional student seeking double bachelors degrees set to graduate next fall. I worked full-time and went to school full-time for the first 2 years. However, it caught up with me and I had to quit one or the other so I chose my job. Lucky for me, my husband and I are able to make it on a single income. Granted that’s because we go without what a lot of people consider normal expenses. No TV, no traditional cell phone plans, no car payments (we own 1 car) etc… I see these kids running around in brand new cars, wearing expensive clothing, eating out all the time, sporting the latest salon styles, using the latest technology and such. You know they’re not paying for that!

    I don’t receive many scholarships and that’s primarily due to the fact that as a non-traditional student I really don’t qualify for very many of them. If I do qualify, the competition is unreal. Grants are a joke and believe it or not, I even find it difficult to qualify for subsidized loans. This was especially true when I was working. I felt punished the entire time, it really wasn’t worth it. It’s ok, it doesn’t change how I feel about school or finishing for that matter.

    I grew up in an extremely poor household that ultimately deprived me of a high school education. I’ve had to work very hard to get where I’m at both academically and financially. I don’t regret it and wish that more parents would value the lessons that come with making your kids work hard, make sacrifices, ultimately having to make difficult decisions, living with consequences etc…

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