Have you heard the news? There is a student loan crisis in the United States! According to Forbes.com, Americans collectively owe 1.5 trillion dollars in student loan debt. I believe young people looking to grow their futures and build careers are going in the wrong direction. For those that want to build a business or invest in real estate, how is one to build cash with huge loan balances lasting years after graduation? With the high costs of tuition and fees, it must be impossible to get a college degree without a massive amount of debt, right?
Wrong! Dead wrong!
This is how I GOT PAID to earn three college degrees and a training certificate. By minimizing outgoing expenses, I was able to accumulate over one million dollars in real estate by the age of 30. Let's get started!
First and foremost, I did not come from a wealthy family that funded my college. My family was not overly wealthy; yet, we also were not going hungry. We were comfortably somewhere in the middle. We had enough money to cover all necessities while also funding a few "extras." These "extras" were typically ultra-bargains. For example, my first truck was a 1982 Mazda that we jokingly named the "Silver Bullet." While the name implied this truck was some shade of silver or gray, do not be fooled. The primary color on this truck was "rust." Where did we find this gem? We had it towed to my hometown in Illinois from the state of Washington. This was not towed by a tractor-trailer or truck. It was towed across the United States behind my grandpa's minivan. You read that correctly, my truck was towed across the country by a minivan. And while this tiny, rusty, chick-deterring hunk of metal didn't look like much, it was mine and it got the job done.
As already mentioned, we did not have a ton of money. However, we did have opportunities to work and develop our skills. Because my parents were self-employed small business owners, there were usually little jobs we would help with as kids. As we got older, we helped more often with the manual labor. This instilled two principles:
In addition to working, we were always involved in extracurricular activities such as sports and music. If you are wondering how this applies to free college, keep reading.
Fast forward to high school where I decided I wanted to be a doctor. In fact, I wanted to be a Pediatrician that worked at St. Jude's Hospital. Like most teenagers, I thought I had the perfect plan. Yet, I still had a bit of doubt. That doubt led to one of the smartest decisions of my entire life; that is, I sought out mentors and exposure. I followed a physician, dentist, and optometrist. I watched them at work and evaluated their daily lives both in the office and at home. After watching numerous professionals, I decided I wanted to help people, make a comfortable income, have time with my future family, and potentially own my business. For these goals, I determined dentistry was the best fit.
Becoming a dentist required eight years of college, ouch! That was going to cost way more than I could afford. I was determined to find a way to accomplish my goals. I loved math and science and thought I knew what I wanted. After working in the one 100 degree heat, I knew confidently what I DIDN'T WANT. I knew I should stay in school. This is where the magic happened.
The first step was leveraging my talents. I had to recognize my strengths. I was good in school, but maintaining good grades took a lot of time and effort. I was relentless in my studies. I knew many people that were smarter, but few that worked as hard. Also, I was involved in multiple extracurricular activities. While I performed adequately in some, I excelled in baseball. Other students found success in drama, debate, football, basketball, cheerleading, band, machine shop, etc. I outperformed most in baseball. I'm a firm believer that everyone has a natural talent they can leverage. Oftentimes, the harder part is discovering that talent. I was fortunate to figure this out early in life.
With my personal strengths in mind, I developed a plan to pay for college. The first step was applying for scholarships. I was unrelenting in completing scholarship applications. Students would grab one or two paper applications from the guidance counselor's office, I would grab twelve. If I thought I remotely qualified for a scholarship, I applied. The worst they could say was, "no." Perhaps it was my high-school dating life or driving the "silver bullet" that built my immunity to rejection. I wasn't scared to fail and felt obligated to try.
At graduation, I was awarded a handful of local scholarships. Most of these were between $500-1000. This was an enormous victory, but I knew these were not going to pay the bills.
On top of applying for local scholarships, I worked continuously to improve my baseball skills. Because of this, I earned a baseball scholarship to a local community college. Continuing my baseball career not only allowed me to keep playing the game I loved, but also provided free college courses. In those two seasons, I completed eighty-four credit hours with a 3.92 GPA. Honestly, that part sucked. But, it was the best way to maximize my scholarship. These same classes at a four-year college would have cost thousands! I took full advantage of the community college classes (as should you)! If you are willing to leverage your talents and attend a low-cost community college, you can finish a majority of your degree for a fraction of the price.
After community college, I transferred to a four-year university to finish my degree in Biological Sciences. Up to this point, most of my accomplishments were earned through hard work and perseverance. Then, I discovered FAFSA. FAFSA is the Free Application for Student Aid. Essentially, I was eligible for federal and state grants towards education based on financial need. If I did not complete my FAFSA, I would have missed out on thousands of dollars in free grant money.
Around the same time that year, I hit the scholarship Jackpot. Do you remember those $500-1000 local scholarships that I mentioned? One of those scholarships decided it was going to increase its award amount from $1,000 to $20,000. Overnight I had an additional $19,000 for education expenses. This was a huge blessing and an incredible stroke of luck! Also remember, I did not initially win any of the major scholarships. Because this was a scholarship for a small dollar value, fewer people applied. Because I had the strategy of capturing as many scholarships as I could, regardless of the amount, I placed myself in a position to win. That key point is you cannot get lucky by sitting on the sidelines! Put your name in the hat, take a chance, and see what happens!
After four years, I had two degrees and no student debt. I then matriculated directly to dental school. Professional school is different from undergraduate training. In general, there are fewer scholarships to be had. However, some of these scholarships are massive.
We were a few hours into our dental school orientation when an Air Force recruiter walked into the room. I was intrigued. I had always considered military service but didn't know this was an option for a dentist. In fact, until that day, I didn't know the military had dentists! I listened intently to his presentation regarding the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). Essentially, the Air Force would pay my tuition, I would have a stipend while I was in school, and after graduation, I could move all over the world. This was no small offer. The average cost to attend my dental school was roughly $210,000. I thought through my options and applied later that week.
A few months later, I received a call late on a Friday evening. It was the end of the semester so my classmates and I were out enjoying some much needed time away from studying. To my surprise, it was the recruiter. Here I was, drinking beers with my friends in a bar when I was unexpectedly offered an HPSP position! Luckily, I said "Yes." That's not exactly how Disney would write the end of that story, but it's memorable none-the-less.
I finished my last year of dental school with approximately $30,000 in student loans. In my final year of training, I paid these loans off in full. That's a grand total of nine years of training for FREE. In addition, I had extra cash from part-time jobs and military pay. That's right, I MADE MONEY going to college and residency.
College is expensive, but that doesn't mean you have to be a slave to student loans. If you are willing to leverage your talents, apply for every scholarship and financial aid available, consider alternative scholarship sources like the US Military, and work part-time in well-paying part-time jobs like babysitting and tutoring, then you too can get paid to go to college! Reducing this education expense is one step on the road to financial freedom.
Travis Cripps is an active member of Active Duty Passive Income and the Author & Creator of The White Coat Landlord