How I Graduated Debt Free & Early

I want to start this blog post with a disclaimer. I am in no way a financial adviser, finance guru, or elite scholarship winner. I am however very very fortunate and privilege to have a family that was able to support me throughout my education. While this post is intended to shed a little light on how I was able to graduate debt free my circumstances may not align with yours. Graduating debt free in today's world is an increasingly difficult task. That being said there is nothing wrong with graduating with debt! We all make it to the finish line some way. I hope that this post can be informative and perhaps help you in some way. I’ve been as transparent as possible while writing this so I appreciate you being respectful of how sensitive it is to talk about money. 

Instead of going to my high school graduation I went to Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with my older brother and my boyfriend, Chaz. We celebrated with popsicles while waiting in line for a show.

Instead of going to my high school graduation I went to Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival with my older brother and my boyfriend, Chaz. We celebrated with popsicles while waiting in line for a show.

When I was in high school I was pretty okay at a lot of things but I definitely wasn't the best at anything. I took a few AP classes, I played in an orchestra, and I struggled through math classes (like really really struggled through math). I was a pretty okay student but I didn't make the honor roll and didn't graduate in the top 10% of my class or anything. When I was a Junior in high school I went through a very rough isolated period where I felt very uncomfortable at school and was very lonely. I didn't have very many friends and I felt like I was done with high school altogether. When I became a senior I applied to be a part of a post-secondary program with Cleveland State University. I was accepted into the program and I enrolled in classes full time at CSU. I went back to my high school occasionally to play in orchestra but all in all, I was there very little. I didn't even attend my high school graduation. Things started to look up for me once I got to Cleveland State. I felt more independent, I got to spend the afternoons downtown, the classes were interesting and engaging and I met some new friends. Not only was this a really good move for my mental state it was also a great way to set myself up for college at Kent the next year. 

I pretty much always knew that I wanted to go to school for fashion. I have always loved clothes, and styling, and fashion design. I initially really wanted to study at Parson’s in New York City or move out to LA and go to FIDM. I got really caught up in the prestige of colleges. When I talked to people at my high school they were all applying to loads of schools with big names and big reputations and programs that were the best of the best. I wanted to be a part of that. I think this is the biggest mistake people make when applying for college as 17-year-olds. They get really caught up in what the college they attend means to other people. College is what you make of it. It doesn't matter if you're going to the most expensive school on the block or the cheapest community college, if you’re excited about school it won’t matter where you go (and trust me it hardly matters on resumes as well). In the end, I visited two colleges, The Cleveland Institute of Art and Kent State. CIA is a great school and I was elated by the idea of being in classes with 10-15 students making fine jewelry every day but the price tag was far too high for me. I visited Kent with my mom and it just made sense, they have a fashion program (top five in the country) and its just about an hour away from home. I got on the computer that night and applied through an online portal that took about 20 minutes. I was accepted the next week. 

At first, I was a little bit upset with my decision. I felt like maybe I was settling too quickly into the easiest and most obvious choice. But like I said before college is what you make of it. As I spent more time in the classes at Kent I realized that I was not settling I was making the best choice for me. Through my time at Kent, I was given so many opportunities and I did learn a lot about the fashion industry. I even was able to study in New York City for a semester which I really think shaped my view of not only fashion but my perspective on life. 

This photo is from my first week living in New York City last year!

This photo is from my first week living in New York City last year!

The biggest plus of going to Kent over any other school on my list was that I was able to graduate 100% debt free and an entire year early. There are a few main reasons why I was able to do this. 

Let's start with the graduating early part. Since I had always had an inkling that I would attend Kent I was able to take most of my general education requirements at Cleveland State when I was a senior in high school. All of these credits transferred to Kent State. Not only did this save me a year of prerequisites it was entirely free thanks to the post-secondary program I was a part of. This is a great tip for anyone who is going to a more pricey college for a certain major. Try to take your non-major required classes at a community or state school and transfer them over. Chances are the classes are easier at the community college and they are definitely less per credit hour. 

In addition to this one year at Cleveland State, I also took two semesters of summer classes at Kent. Each summer semester I only took one or two classes. I didn't take these with the intention to graduate early. I more or less had to take them in order to take certain classes only offered in fall semesters. However, this did help speed along my graduation process and in turn, helped me save money.

So how did I do it all debt free? In-state tuition at Kent is $10,687 a semester according to their website. This number includes room and board.

The first way I saved myself a ton of money was by living at home. I know I know everyone wants to go off to college and be the independent person they’ve always dreamed of, but for me, I loved living at home. I mean who doesn't love having your mom make you dinner every once in a while and being able to go to your hometown coffee shop every morning? I also had decently paying jobs here that I wouldn't have been able to get on-campus. The other downside of living at home was the hour sometimes an hour and a half commute from my home in Lakewood to school in Kent. I’m lucky that for most of my semesters I was able to schedule all my classes on only two or three days so I minimized my driving expenses. I’m also very fortunate that my mom was able to provide me with a car to drive to school. I did, however, have to pay for gas and parking, which I will get into. 

Without room and board, the cost of going to Kent per semester is $5,006 for Ohio residents. 

When I applied to Kent I received a scholarship for having a decent GPA in high school. Kent awards this scholarship to a lot of students and they're more or less depending on your high school GPA. I received $1,500 a semester for four semesters. 

This took my semester tuition bill down to around $3,256. 

I used a tuition payment system that allowed me to pay this bill in monthly increments - around $800 a month. My parents were able to help me by paying for half of this monthly bill.

That means I paid $1,628 a semester myself for my tuition. I also paid for my textbooks, sewing supplies, parking, and gas. I looked at some previous bank statements and it averaged out to be about $200 additionally each month. 

So how did I afford my tuition payments? While I was living at home I was able to work weekends and some weeknights at a few restaurants in Lakewood. I hosted at night and served in the morning every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday while my college friends went out or worked on homework together. Most weeks I was working 30 hours in addition to going to school full time. It wasn’t easy but it was worth it. I also won a scholarship for a runway show I participated in at Kent. This was very helpful when I was living in New York City and had to afford an apartment there. 

No one ever said to me that I had to graduate early or that I had to graduate debt free. These were just goals I had for myself before I even started college. The idea of being in debt is so uncomfortable to me. If I wouldn’t have been able to make it our of Kent debt free or close to it I probably would have transferred schools along the line. Like I said before I am extremely fortunate to have had the support of my family and scholarships but it was also a lot of hard work on my part as well. 

I hope this post was informative for you! If you have any questions please comment below or shoot me an email!