Higher education can be quite costly for some students; on average, a college student will graduate with $21,000 in student loan debt, according to The Project on Student Debt. That debt will be even higher if that student then goes on to graduate school.
However, not all college students accumulate student loans and debt. Some students even make money in the process. I am living proof that college spending can be kept to a minimum of one first plans out his or her course of study, and then applies to the schools that offer the greatest financial assistance for the degree pursued. I currently have a B.S. in microbiology from Western Illinois University and a Ph.D. in genetics from George Washington University.
I started my collegiate years at my local Oakton Community College, where I took the majority of my science courses. My tuition was $25 per credit hour at the time. Due to the generosity of my parents, who paid my tuition, I ended up owing nothing for those first two years of study. My room and board were at my parents’ home.
I transferred to Western Illinois University, getting in-state tuition, as well as room and board, for about $3,250 a semester (two semesters per year). Although I was earning some spending cash on the side at the school, the majority of my costs were covered by my parents. I also took a 7 and then an 8 month reprieve from classes at Western in order to complete 2 paid internships at Argonne National Laboratory. By living either on-site at the lab, or at my parents’ home, I saved money on room and board. I also earned 12 course credits for Western Illinois during that time.
After graduation, I applied to several schools in order to pursue my doctoral degree. Different schools accepted me and offered me stipends. Ironically, it was the most expensive school in the U.S., George Washington University, which offered me the best financial package: my tuition would be completely covered, and I would also receive a stipend of $15,000 per year. In exchange, all I had to do was show up and take classes. Other schools offered me a far lower stipend amount, and many required that I become a research or teaching assistant in order to “earn my keep.”
I spent my first two years as a fellow under George Washington University. Once I accepted a training award from the National Institutes of Health (where I finished my research and earned my degree), my stipend increased from $15,000 to $28,000 per year. At this point, I was not only not accumulating student loan debt, I was actually making and saving money. By the time I graduated and left George Washington University, I had amassed an additional $18,000 in personal savings. I later applied these savings towards the purchase of my first house.
In summary, it may not be possible for everyone to graduate college with no debt. However, there are steps that can be taken towards alleviating one’s financial burden post-graduation.
1. How much college debt is too much? http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/CutCollegeCosts/HowMuchCollegeDebtIsTooMuch.aspx
2. The Most Expensive U.S. Colleges http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/03/most-expensive-colleges-business-0203_colleges.html