Ron Lieber of the New York Times recent published a piece on paying for college entitled Eight Tips for Parents Who Have Saved Nothing for College.
While the information is valuable, I think it’s also important to remember that parents don’t always play a role in a person’s pursuit of higher education. For many reasons, high school graduates often find themselves living on their own following graduation with the desire to attend college but no support in place to help facilitate this process. These people need strategies, too, but it’s rare that I see the media address this issue.
Thankfully, some of the strategies that Lieber describes in the piece apply equally well to these kinds of students.
College was never mentioned in my home. No teacher or guidance counselor ever mentioned the word to me, either. For whatever reason, I was written off at an early age when it came to higher education, despite my excellent grades and bounty of extra-curricular activities.
I’ll never understand it.
If I wanted to attend college, I knew that I would have to find a way of getting there on my own.
Lieber suggests a gap year and possibility of military service. Both are reasonable options. I enrolled in the Army at seventeen but refused to sign my commitment papers at eighteen. Even though the military would’ve provided me with money for college once my enrollment had ended, I decided to try to make my way without committing to military service. Nevertheless, military service was a distinct possibility for me and would’ve provided me the funding that I needed for school.
Instead, I took a gap year.
Four gap years, to be exact, though it would’ve been two had I not been arrested and tried for a crime I did not commit. I was arrested just a couple months before I was slated to enroll in Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Instead of attending school, I was forced back into the workforce, working 18 hours a day in order to fund my criminal defense.
I ultimately moved to Connecticut following my exoneration and began my college career at Manchester Community College instead.
Lieber also suggests community college. I can’t imagine a better financial deal in terms of education, whether you have the funding for college or not. After attending Manchester Community College for two years at practically no cost, I graduated with an Associates degree in liberal arts and an invitation to attend Trinity College, Wesleyan College and Yale University, among many others, and I was offered full scholarships to most.
I chose Trinity College because of its proximity to my work and home and its program designed specifically for non-traditional students like me. I was still working fulltime in order to survive, so as much as I wanted to attend Yale (on full scholarship), I could not afford the hour commute to the campus every day.
Trinity turned out to be a great place for me. All but one of my courses from Manchester Community College transferred into the Trinity program, allowing me to enter as a junior and giving me two years of Trinity credits at practically no cost. I received a full scholarship from the Trinity for the final two years based upon my success in community college, and because of Trinity’s participation in a consortium with other Hartford area colleges, I was also able to enroll in St. Joseph’s University, an all-women’s college, where I earned my education degree while earning my English degree at Trinity.
Think about that for a moment.
I enrolled in Manchester Community College without ever taking the SAT or writing a college essay. I worked hard, earned excellent grades, piled on extra-curricular activities like student government and the college newspaper, and as a result gained access to prestigious colleges like Yale, Wesleyan and Trinity. And none of these schools requested a high school transcript, an SAT score or a college essay.
Anyone could do this if they are willing to work hard enough.
Lieber also discussed taking on debt, which I was forced to do as well. Though Trinity offered me a full scholarship, my final semester was not covered by that scholarship because I had completed my course work prior to that semester in order to spend the entire semester student teaching.
My final semester of college was spent entirely at St. Joseph’s University, and thus I needed a loan.
I later took on more debt in order to earn my Master’s degree.
As burdensome as college loans may be, they are a necessary evil that can bridge the gap for many students who want a degree but can’t afford it.
I write this for two reasons:
1. It’s important to remember the men and women who lack parental support following high school. These people are often forced to begin supporting themselves at the age of eighteen, making college seem impossible to them.
It’s incredibly difficult at times, but it can be done.
For every New York Times piece directed at parents who are attempting to fund their child’s college education, there needs to be more attention paid to the people who are funding their own college educations.
They need just as much help, if not more.
2. It’s important for people in these positions to know that there are ways of making their way to college. Every year, I take my fifth graders on a tour of Manchester Community College. Part of this program includes telling them my story. I never want my students to think that college is beyond their means because of their family’s financial position or even their academic standing.
For people like me, it can take longer to make our dreams come true, and it’s not always as picture perfect as it might appear in the movies, but it can be done.
People need to know.