I have often been asked how I managed to graduate with multiple degrees debt free. I'm an anomaly - the average student loan debt for all graduate school borrowers is $71,000, not including undergraduate loans - since the extraordinary accomplishment of obtaining multiple degrees usually leaves most drowning in bills they have to pay for years to come.
I have three degrees – a bachelor’s degree from New College of Florida, a master’s degree from Victoria University of Wellington, and am working on a doctoral degree from Curtin University. The sum cost of my education was over $300,000 USD — that is a LOT of money — and I consider myself not only very privileged but lucky to walk away without some form of debt. I figured I would share some ways I completed post-secondary education in this way.
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM MY PARENTS FOR COLLEGE
First and foremost, I need to give a shout out to my parents and my grandparents. All four (my mom, dad, grandmother, and grandfather) highly value education and worked hard to make sure I had a college fund to pursue my university aspirations. These available funds helped lessen the financial burden immensely for me; however, I did not rely on just this for my educational fees.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
When I was applying to colleges, I cast a wide net and looked at many different schools. At this point I lived in Florida and while schools abroad (such as James Cook in Australia) or out-of-state (such as Stanford due to its connections to the Hopkins Marine Station) peaked my interest I ultimately decided to stay in-state due to the Bright Futures scholarship I qualified for. Based on a combination of GPA scores, volunteer hours, extra-curriculars, standardized test scores and more, I knew I was eligible to receive an award amount equal to 100% of tuition and applicable fees.
While I truly fell in love with the Univeristy of Miami and the incredible shark program they have there, I didn't like the dorm rooms and the price was just too high for my budget (it wouldn't have been covered fully by Bright Futures or other scholarships I got). It was then that I found New College of Florida and became enamored with its location and the overall vibe, not to mention their unique approach to education. When applying to graduate schools, I decided to go straight for my PhD in an effort to save money by not having to do a masters degree, but ultimately found a MSc project (that would be fully funded) that intrigued me. I had to make up the difference between the scholarship/stipend and the international fees that my family scrounged up money for me to quickly pay off. For my PhD, I refused to take an opportunity that did not include 100% tuition coverage as well as a stipend.
This is all to say to do your research: explore national, state, local opportunities for not only your education but also funds to get you there. I applied to hundreds of scholarship opportunities (and made a list to make sure I didn't miss a deadline) and got chunks of money here and there sometimes solely because a handful of people had applied! You could also be missing out on opportunities by not seeking help from advisors, financial aid officers, professors, student organizations, etc. so make sure to chat with these offices!
During my high school years, I enrolled in "Advanced Placement" (aka AP) classes. In the USA, this is a program of classes developed by the college board to give high school students an introduction to college-level classes and also gain college credit before even graduating high school. By enrolling in these classes and passing the AP Exam at the end of the year, I was able to bypass having to take entry-level classes and go straight into the good stuff. My last year of high school, I also dual-enrolled with a local college and took a marine biology class to get that out of the way before starting university.
See if your country has this opportunity available to you, or if your university accepts these classes as credit.
Working While In School
Working over the summer can help students save money when they are too busy to work during the school year. Below is a list of industries that hire seasonal summer employees.
It may sound silly, but budgeting really is something that really helped me make sure I didn't get into debt during my schooling years. Making sure you don't spend more than you earn (and that you have some savings in case anything goes south) is so imporant! I go more into that in this blog post here, and I share some general financial advice here.
Please note: NOT ALL OF THE above OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE TO ALL STUDENTS. however, talk to your graduate school representatives to see what options are available to you based on your specific circumstance(s) to graduate with LESS DEBT AND FEWER STUDENT LOANS!
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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