Like most people, I owe my parents a debt of gratitude for many things. One of the things that I am most grateful for is the fact that my mom and dad took on the task of paying for college. I was privileged to be the first person in my family to attend college. Unfortunately I did not qualify for any academic scholarships. My SAT scores were too low. And that still makes me really mad but I try not to be bitter and hate on the SAT but it is the stupidest way to assess and analyze the academic worth of a student. Okay. I’m done. Grrr.
I spoke with my mom today and we pieced together how they were able to send me to school and not take on any debt. Mom says that she and dad knew when I was very young that they wanted me to be able to go to college. As a single income family there was just no way, at the time, that they could begin saving to send me to school. When I was in 6th or 7th grade my mom decided to go to back to work. I was older and was in school all day and she was ready to earn a paycheck!
She was able to quickly find a position as a rural mail carrier. In the first few years she was a substitute and worked every Saturday so that the regular carrier could have the day off work. My dad and I spent those Saturdays together and I cherish the memories of having an early breakfast with him and then being his helper for the day. For as long as I can remember my dad, an electrician, took on extra weekend jobs in order to provide for us and I just went right along with him.
Once I was in high school I worked very hard to get good grades. Although I had an excellent GPA and was a good student, I never tested well on standardized tests. Because of this I did not qualify for most academic scholarships. (Did I mention how much that bothers me?) To add insult to injury I didn’t qualify for any financial aid at the time because mom and dad made too much money. Oh. And one more thing. I had my heart set on going to a small private school which cost an absolute fortune. After visiting the school and seeing the campus my parents and I were convinced that this was the school for me.
One small piece of good news is that I did qualify for a ‘leadership’ scholarship. I think that the school may have invented that one just for me. I’m quite convinced that a ‘leadership’ scholarship is simply a small token of support for all of us active in clubs/organizations/student government/etc. who just weren’t bright enough to do any better on the SAT. The scholarship that I received covered about a third of the tuition. Much better than nothing…
Mom says that during my junior year, when I started sending off college applications, she and daddy got very serious about saving. One of the many wise choices that they made financially was to not take on any bills that would require her income as a full time rural mail carrier. Because of their discipline, they were able to start saving 100% of her pay check. She remembers that they had it directly deposited into the postal credit union. Because they did this they were able to write a check for tuition every semester and did not take out any loans during my four years of school.
My contributions were relatively small as I look back on this time, unless you count the hole in the ozone. My parents had gotten me a car in high school and paid for my insurance. Daddy gave me a gas credit card and gave me an idea of how much I could spend per week on gas. Mom made sure that I had a Macy’s credit card so that if I really needed something I could get it with the credit card. She said that I never abused the cards that I was given. My grandparents paid for all of my books each semester. I did work full time hours over the summers and holidays in order to save up my own spending money. And truth be told I thought that I was amazing for being such a hard worker. How ridiculous is that?
It really surprises me to remember how my parents basically handed everything over to me on a silver platter. I tried to never call them and ask them to send me any money because I was aware of how hard they were working in order to send me to school. Even at that age I knew that they were giving up doing fun things for themselves in order to provide for me. The fact that my grandparents paid for all of my books made it a true family effort to get me through college. I felt the weight of that and it was good for me. My parents are a great example of people who have always chosen to live within their means and I am so grateful to them for the example that they are to me and my kids.
It is not possible for everyone to do what my parents did but there are options that do not involve assuming debt for either parents or the student. How did your parents help you go to school? Did they make any mistakes that you want to avoid with your own children? I would love to hear your story…