I completed my undergraduate program in 2006. After four years of university schooling, I graduated with two degrees and no student loans to show for it. Scratch that, over $50,000 Net Worth to show for it. When most people were graduating with material debt and a certificate they hope will yield untapped earning potential, I was able to do something that seemed unthinkable.
Like most other things, I never felt as if I did anything special. But, my experience does highlight how attacking the problem of paying for college from several angles can lead you to a favorable outcome. The same driving forces for an accelerated timing to reach FI applies here (increasing your top-line income, while controlling your bottom-line expenses).
How I Went To College For Free – scholarships, living intentionally, etc.
- The scholarship – the state of Florida has a fantastic offer for in-state residents called Bright Futures. It’s largely funded by Florida lottery and provides scholarships to eligible students. Back in 2002 when I was graduating high school, there was basically a 75% or a 100% of tuition coverage award if you stay in-state and met the criteria. I was offered the 75% scholarship and The University of South Florida offered the remaining 25% if I went there. Graduating around the top 10% of my class in high-school was helpful here. USF was the only state school to offer me the 25% remaining scholarship, which took care of remainder of tuition. Boom, tuition covered.
- In-State University – I went to a state-university in Florida, shout-out to the University of South Florida, go Bulls! I had acceptance at all the major state universities, but a couple of the top ones are in locations without as many internships or part-time job opportunities at large companies. USF has several partnerships and programs with numerous companies located around the Tampa Bay area. This meant building experience with paid-internships through my last two years of university while attending classes. There is no question this was vital in receiving my full-time job offer before graduation.
- Live At Home – The campus was about 20 miles from my parent’s house. I was fortunate to stay rent-free at home. As money-minded parent’s, the offer was live there for free, or pay for everything yourself if you don’t. Fair offer! Needless to say, I took them up on that ☺
- Scheduling – Since I was commuting a bit, I grouped classes to minimize extra driving and maximize opportunities for part-time jobs/internships.
- Extra Credit – I took an AP in class in high-school and earned college credit. I probably should have taken more AP classes and gone into college with more credit. But with the scholarships received, the savings would have been marginal.
Work It – Jobs and Internships
- Part-time job 1 – I worked at a tennis club all throughout college. It was pretty ideal: I got to play tennis and get paid for it (does that make me a professional player?), hours were flexible, it was two miles from home, and I was able to study on the job. Well, the pay kinda sucked…
- I did this job in high-school as well so I had a positive Net Worth heading into college
The following jobs were all done in conjunction with the tennis club position. My time in college can be summed up in one word: “Hustle” NOTE: for those currently looking to go into college or in college and in search of some money, utilize the career center for opportunities and networking.
- Part-time job 2 – I sold cutlery. This lasted for all of six-months and was a challenge for me as an introvert, but that also made it a growth opportunity. This stint was with the (in)famous Cutco cutlery and their usage of college students to sell REALLY expensive cutlery. It was a pure commission sales job. I do feel a little bad selling such expensive cutlery now, but my one remaining Cutco knife I own is seriously legit- more than 10 years later! I also won a sword as an award for my sales, so there is that ☺
- Internship 1 – I utilized the school’s resources to earn a paid internship with a local newspaper marketing research team. Instead of working the standard 4-6 month internship, I negotiated an extension. This turned into six-months of paid work, padding both my resume (1 year at the company) as well as my bank accounts.
- Internship 2 – Staying with marketing research, I had a stint with a pharmaceutical company, receiving a whopping $10/hour wage (wahoo!) for a roughly six-month internship (best hourly rate at that time).
Keep Working It – Side hustles
- Additional scholarships – My tuition was 100% covered with scholarships as detailed above. However, by talking with the School of Business advisors, I discovered that with a basic GPA requirement and filling out a simple 2 page form, I would be eligible for additional scholarships. I think I received a $2,000 scholarship one year and a $1,500 scholarship the next, simply by filling out this form. I also got to attend a cool banquet, met the President of the university, and got FREE FOOD. These scholarships came in the form of a check to me, straight to the bank, and therefore income. Reader takeaway: research common and niche scholarship opportunities, take the low hanging fruit and unique ones with less competition.
- Textbooks – I actually made money on some of these! Traditionally textbooks are outrageously priced and the textbook industry is certainly flawed. But, did you know that you could find “international versions” of the textbooks online? Instead of costing $150, it may cost you $15. The international versions were slightly different, they would have a soft-cover and would be black and white. Every now and then, an end-of-chapter question might be out of order. The difference was typically inconsequential, especially for those who rarely opened them ☺ The reason this was included in income and not expense saving is because I hustled these books to my classmates. I would write the professor for permission to email the class and let them know I could pre-order the books and have them ready for day one. If the professor obliged, I’d then order 10-15 of these international books, mark them up for a nice profit, but also save my classmates money in the end. Win win.
- Video Game sales – I don’t actually recall how I got into this, especially since I was never into video games. Nonetheless, I became a dropshipper for selling video games online. I’d use the typical online auction platform to sell the games. The orders were filled by the distributor and I received a commission. Bonus: I sold enough games to earn a free game for myself. Why greedily take a free game when I can research what game was selling for the highest amount and resell that for my own personal profit?! Did it, made more money. Boo-yah!
Self Note: I need to get back on these side-hustles. Come on WW!
Other hacks and notes
- Two Degrees – I started as a Marketing major and Finance minor. However, the internships help me discover going into finance was much more in-line with my interests (SPREADSHEETS!). I took an additional two classes to stretch the minor into a second major. Bonus for my entry into my 10+ year career now working in finance.
- Join organizations in your school (i.e. for the School of Business perhaps join the American Marketing Association / Student Finance Association) – These are great for meeting like-minded individuals, surrounding yourself with more dedicated students, finding job/internship opportunities, and building that resume. Develop oneself!
- MBA bonus degree – I also “hacked” a Master of Business Administration. Not quite as intense as undergrad, but I utilized employer programs which paid for the tuition. Again, this took dedication, working full-time job and going part-time to school in the evening. While the actual material was only slightly different from my undergraduate program, it provided more networking opportunities and with a deeper commitment of students.
- Build a relationship with a professor or two – Select a couple professors that standout from a development and connection points of view. While some professors have been just that, academically developed in schooling only, many others have valuable work experience and relationships that are much more meaningful than what the textbooks will tell you.
- Greek life… this is an interesting one as I always had a disdain for those in Greek life and thought it came with undue costs. It can be time-consuming, filled with ridiculous commitments, and did I mention expensive? This is an outsider’s perspective. I know many, including Mrs. Winning Williams had a great experience in Greek life, grew socially, and still have great relationships from that time. So I’ll keep a neutral opinion there.
- Live At Home – This flows into I didn’t have the traditional college experience living at home, and I probably missed out on establishing what could be life-long friendships, which is truly invaluable. Nonetheless, I was able to leave college with a significant Net Worth and I can still build my community today, especially with fine folks in the FI community!
And with all of that money in my bank account, I bought a house… in 2007. We’ve already covered that journey.