University of Washington Alumni Association
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Columns Votes - December 2006

How did you pay for your college education?

Comments on Finances and the Student Experience

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My parents made too much for me to qualify for any assistance, but insisted that I pay my own way, so their income was irrelevant to my ability to attend UW. I did live at home rent-free.

It was a struggle. I worked cleaning houses, walking to college from my home because I lacked bus fare, going without the required books for courses, etc. If it hadn’t been for my organic chemistry professor, I would have been forced to leave college in my junior year due to lack of funds. Some students told him I was planning on leaving college. He hired me as his assistant, never telling me that the reason he did so was so help me stay in school. My father felt females did not need to attend college and only attended college to find a mate. So, no help there. Academically, I did fairly well in spite of this but would have enjoyed my college years much more and probably done even better academically speaking, had it not been necessary to devote so much time to struggling for every dollar needed just to pay the tuition.

I worked different jobs every summer, from Seaboard Lumber Co. to a job at Soule’ Steel Co.—a job found for me by Coach John Cherberg because I was turning out for football. I lived at my parents’ home and that saved money.

Parents provided a loan that required a payment of $100 per month (a lot more value in 1980’s than today) and allowed for working 30 hours per week during school rather than 50-60+ when in vacation periods. This was educational in personal budget priorities and provided a basis for socking away similar or greater amounts away into extra savings for house down payment.

The help from my parents was that I lived at home in going to the UW. I paid for all cost at the UW and work there and also work away from home during the summer to pay for the school year.

I worked as a Resident Adviser for two years at UW, which greatly helped with subsidizing room & board expenses. One of the ways I saved money was living at home & waitressing for two years (attending WWU) & then transferring to UW at the beginning of my junior year. The toughest part of my college experience was having to miss out on several unique internship & study abroad opportunities because I had to find continuous paid employment to stay in school. The lack of these experiences on my resume have made it more difficult to find a good job following graduation. However, I do think that working hard (either academically to receive scholarships or through my jobs) helped me to become more self-reliant than many of my peers and more realistic about financial management later on.

I worked at the art school slide library cleaning the slides after the professors’ lectures. From primitive cave paintings to modern textiles I cleaned ’em all and saw ’em all. A great job. It was as much a part of my education as any class.

I was coming from Colorado, and I desperately wanted to go to UW for the oceanography program (CO being land-locked). I was one of those strange freshmen who actually know their major before applying for admission. I had some private scholarships, but many would not pay for out-of-state tuition. I had to work two, sometimes three jobs, and I never had time to sleep, let alone study. All my out-of-class time was spent working to pay for school. I had no help from my parents or anyone else. When I was able to get in-state tuition, I still could not cut back on my work hours because textbook fees were increasing and housing costs were rising too. As a result of being in survival mode for four years, my grades and health suffered greatly. I suppose a smarter person would have quit. But I loved the UW, and giving up was not an option. It was my only chance at a decent life (as I saw it then). Please, I strongly urge you to consider helping out-of-state students for their first year, especially those coming in with strong academics and who plan to become WA state residents. Some of us actually stick around and give back to our favorite school.

I had one year of college with my parent’s help, my savings and my scholarship. After that I got married, divorced and was a single mother. The last three years I waited tables, did work study, and stopped going to school when the money ran out. The last quarter my mom paid my tuition. It gave me a confidence that few women have. It also lowered my grade point and reduced my academic opportunities. I wish someone would have paid for my books and supplies. It would have been a wonderful support and would have given me a peaceful mind about the extra expenses of school. My confidence would still have been won.

My parents were overseas with the Dept. of Defense throughout my college experience, first at Seattle Pacific, and the last two years at UW because I couldn’t earn enough to pay cash as I went, at SPC. I was tired, scared, sick a lot, unemployed and hungry sometimes, but in the end it was a very valuable experience, even though my grade point might have been higher if I’d had some help. I learned how to budget. I learned what was vital and what was not. I learned I was stronger than I thought I was, and that being drunk or drugged or pimped out like a lot of my richer classmates whose parents paid for everything, including their mostly bad grades, was not what I wanted. Also, when I graduated, I already had a well-earned resume and valuable job experience. Many of my classmates had just a piece of paper. I have now been a community college instructor for many years, and have also taught for several four-year colleges for short periods. I have found that the student who is paying his or her own tuition, or at least the majority of it, is far better focused and more deeply and continually committed to his or her academic work. A majority of the kids who get “aid” especially from well-meaning parents, are not committed and perform more poorly. It doesn’t mean anything in particular to them. I often think that in an effort to manufacture graduates faster, we forget to really make them DO something to qualify to get in. Then once they’re in, sports are still more important than academics, and so is the evening partying. My own UW experience was empowering, because one cannot develop true power without genuine personal accountability for one’s self. We should be giving THAT experience to the generations that follow. Stiffen entrance requirements. Forget financial aid and make everyone take a lighter academic load and do some actual working application—the old “sing for your supper” routine. It was the most valuable part of my own college education. It took me five years, instead of four, to go through the first time, but was well worth it, and since then, I’ve worked my way through two other graduate degrees—one of them at Georgetown. I didn’t owe anyone anything financially when I finished, either! Think of the value of THAT when you walk out with your diploma!

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