The other writeups in this node offer a very comprehensive set of suggestions regarding
sending a child to college. My writeup, however, is from the perspective of the child. I sent
myself to college, and now that I've graduated I see that in my situation, paying my
own way was the best path to take. In a sense, though, my experience might represent another way to "send" your child to college: by offering good budgeting advice rather than money, and by encouraging responsibility.
I am the eldest of 5 kids (I have two natural siblings and two step-siblings). When I reached
my senior year of high school I realized that I'd not really been planning for college all along.
My family underwent a 3,000 mile move right before my senior year started, so things were pretty
chaotic. I'd always just assumed I'd "end up" at college, but hadn't really put enough thought into
how I would get there!
My parents suggested to me that perhaps I should start out at a community college. This idea
offended me greatly at first: community colleges had no admission standards! What, did my parents
think I was too dumb for a regular college? No, they said, they had plenty of faith in my
academic ability. They simply could not afford to send me to a 4 year school, and since I hadn't
applied for any scholarships, I didn't really have much of a choice!
All my teenage life I'd been looking forward to the day I'd get to go off to school, to obtain
the glorious freedom of college life. I never really had much social interaction, and my parents
were always very strict while I was growing up. When it looked like I was going to have to wait
two more years to get out of the house, I was quite upset. Even though I understood that financially,
junior college was my only option, I was furious in the manner that only an 18 year old can be!
While all my friends would get to go off and start becoming independent, I was still going to
be home with a 9:30 phone curfew, sharing a room with my little sister.
So I enrolled in the local junior college, declared my major as Electrical Engineering, and
signed up for a few classes. When I look back on that first semester, I see how terribly childish
I still was at 18: I was mad at having to live at home, so I rebelled. I skipped class. I hung
out with stoners. My grades, which had been straight A's my senior year of high school, dropped
to C's. I started to think I wasn't smart enough to be an engineer. I briefly considered changing
my major to something easier.
I had a huge fight with my parents that winter, following my first semester at junior college.
Suffice it to say that after the fight, I had renewed motivation and humility. My father acknowledged
that yes, engineering was hard, but even if I graduated with a C average people would still be
impressed with the degree itself. After my first semester, I was pretty much okay with the idea
of attending junior college for two years before transferring to a regular university. I committed
myself to doing well in my preliminary classes, as well as paying for my own books and tuition.
While attending junior college, I worked two jobs that overlapped for a few months: I worked
retail at a coffee shop, and had an internship at NASA. I switched junior colleges after my second
semester, to a school whose schedule worked on a quarter system: my curriculum would be more
intense, and I'd be able to take more classes. Between my two jobs, I had plenty of money to
pay for my textbooks (about $350 per quarter) and my tuition (about $15 /unit, and I generally took
16-18 units per quarter). I also paid my parents $300 per month in rent; this was mostly my idea,
so I wouldn't feel like a freeloader!
I knew I wanted to transfer to California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo,
so I took only classes that this university would grant transfer credit to. The web site
assist.org allowed me to enter in the names of my junior college and of Cal Poly, and would
generate a list of the classes that were equivalent between the two schools.
I applied to Cal Poly in the winter of 1999, and was accepted. By this time I'd saved up enough
money to pay tuition at a four-year school, at least for a while. Part of the reason I was able
to do this, I think, was because I chose not to drive. I have still to this day never owned a car
or had a drivers' license! Perhaps I should get one someday, but I sincerely believe I wouldn't have
been able to put myself through school if I'd had to worry about insurance payments, and fuel and
repair costs for a car. I rode my bike whenever possible and made good use of public transportation.
I was lucky enough to live within a reasonable biking distance from school (2 miles) and work (8 miles)
while attending junior college, and when I transferred to Cal Poly I was able to find apartments
within walking distance!
I obtained my bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in June of 2002. Because of careful
planning and budgeting, as well as working during the summers while I was attending Cal Poly (and
part time during the school year), I am happily debt-free! I didn't get a single scholarship while
attending college, or take out a single student loan. The only sacrifices I made were that of
living at home for two extra years, and that of not having a car. Neither seem very significant
now, in retrospect. From what my friends tell me, I didn't miss much by never living in a dorm!
I think that if at all possible, children ought to pay for their own education. It is wonderful
to be able to put "Self-financed 100% of college education" on one's resume. You never need to worry
that if your grades drop your parents are suddenly going to stop paying your way, because you're
paying your own way! This in itself is quite motivating: when I worked hard, I was working hard
for my own sake.