Paying for College

Exploring strategies to pay for college tuition


Photo by Kenny Eliason | Used with permission (Unsplash)

Alex Zhang

The long string of numbers on my screen doesn’t seem real. Taking a breath, I frantically hope that when I refresh my page, my computer will tell me there’s been some sort of error. But with each click, the same five-digit number stares back.

When I first started the college application process, I, like so many other hopeful applicants, believed that gaining admission was undoubtedly the hardest part. However, after submitting my essays and hearing back, I realized I now had a whole new problem: finding a way to pay for my college tuition. 

With the average price of one year of tuition at a private college amounting to $39,400, a number that could potentially double after adding on additional expenses like housing, books, and living costs, I began the frantic search to start saving money as soon as possible. 

My first instinct was to begin hunting for a part-time job, a search that led me to interviewing at a wide variety of different industries including fast-food chains and restaurants, until I eventually settled on a job working at a retirement home. Initially, balancing a 20-hour weekly job, school work and afterschool sports proved very challenging; however, I eventually found myself falling into a comfortable routine, despite the occasional last-minute rush to meet different deadlines, 

But after several months of stretching my time and dedicating seemingly every spare hour to picking up shifts at work, I began to lose hope that I would ever even come close to my lofty goal. The bi-weekly pay check notifications I used to look forward to now felt like a single drop of water in my ocean of problems. As a result of this sudden lack of motivation, I stopped looking for local scholarships and even considered reducing my work schedule, drowning in feelings of futility.

One night, however, during a particularly long eight-hour weekend shift, I felt the urge to check my savings account and track the progress I had made towards my goal, something I had stopped doing after initially being discouraged. Carefully reading my balance, I was pleasantly shocked to see the number was significantly higher than I initially assumed. I realized that adding everything together, the supposedly minor paychecks and awards I had previously written off began accumulating into a decent-sized dent and motivational step forward. That night, I returned towards saving and working towards my goal with a renewed sense of purpose. 

While paying for college can often seem like a near-impossible task, it has taught me a sense of resourcefulness and dedication that I would have never expected. Even though it often feels like each shift or paycheck is small in comparison to college’s large price tag, I’ve learned to appreciate cumulative efforts individual actions can have. 

Approaching freshman year of college, I’ll continue moving forward one small step at a time.