It was ten-thirty at night on a cold Friday in February and I found myself stepping into the Chili’s off of Route- 59. I was with my soon to be- roommate Sasha and we were going to visit her friend Katie. Katie, as I was informed a couple weeks ago, would be the fourth roommate for our apartment in the fall at Illinois State University. Everyone knew Katie except me and I was curious about who she was as a person. The moment we walked in, we asked the hostess where Katie was serving at and were shown a small section towards the back right next to the kitchen. Instantly, Katie walked out and saw Sasha running to her arms to hug her. I didn’t know Katie at all so I introduced myself and we both smiled at each other relieved to finally have met. Katie had her brown hair pushed backed into a pony tail, but loose fly- aways peeped out revealing she had a busy night. We sat down as Katie went running back and forth from the kitchen to tend to her few customers so late at night. As we sat there, Sasha explained to me that Katie works constantly and she’s planning to pay for everything when it comes to rent, food and tuition. My mouth dropped at the thought of someone her age having to do it all, especially transferring to a University and living on her own. It made me curious to how she’s going to do it all and still have time to be a normal student.
Fast-forward a month later, I found myself interviewing Katie over the phone about how she plans to do it all. Both Katie and I are planning to transfer to Illinois State University in the Fall of 2017. We have signed onto a lease with two other girls to live in a four- bedroom apartment with rent set at $495 a month. I found Katie’s and I story cross paths in some ways when it comes to paying for college. I was fortunate enough to have a college fund saved for me from my parents since I was a baby, but as I have almost completed two years of community college the amount in my account is dwindling. Leaving me to have to pay for the last two years if not a year when I transfer. My dad agreed to pay for my rent, but I will be on my own for food expenses and other things that I will have to buy. Katie on the other hand will be doing it all by herself. It intrigues me that in today’s economy and tuition rates, how one plans to pay for a $15,000 tuition as well as a 495$/ month rent all the while going to school and having a social life. In an article in The Atlantic, “today’s average college student, without support from financial aid and family resources, would need to complete 48 hours of minimum-wage work a week to pay for his courses”(Narula). Katie works approximately 20-25 hours a week serving as a waitress at Chilis, putting her under 20 hours short of needing to help pay for her courses. She makes $4.95 with tips which is under the minimum wage of Illinois of $8.25. On top of that she has a course load of 3 classes equivalent to 11 credits at College of Dupage. How does one plan to pay for everything when she’s barely scraping by? Loan, scholarships and out of the pocket was Katie’s response.
Paying for college on your own isn’t a lost cause but it also isn’t easy. Pulling out student loans is much more expensive than what it used to be 20 or 30 years ago. Tuition rates have gone up exponentially as well as added amenities like housing, food and college books. In an article from the Huffington Post, “college tuition fees have increased 1,120 percent since records began in 1978” (Unknown). Paying for college today is no laughing matter and for the most part, those who are reading this right now could agree. When asked if she had decided to pay for college or if it wasn’t a choice, Katie simply said, “my parents aren't financially able to pay for my college so it was either I pay for it myself or I didn't go at all”. Most parent’s in today's economy struggle to find the money to send their kids off to college. With an ever increasing tuition rate and fees, how does a parent plan to send a child to college let alone more then one? I was fortunate enough to have a college fund but for some people like Katie, that wasn’t an option. Knowing you have to make your way through this world alone financially when it comes to college is scary, but it’s also a mature act not many students can face. Some students would try and pull out as much financial aid as they can; not even thinking about getting a job to help with expenses or the risk of having to pay it all off later. Living off of student loans can be nice, especially if your given enough. But sometimes, that’s not enough to cover it. Katie plans to pay her rent out of the pocket and continue to work at the Chili’s in Bloomington and hope for the best when it comes to student loans and scholarships.
Our minds are programmed to go to college, get a degree and get a job. But what if there was another way to do so. I asked Katie why she decided to go to college and pay her own way through instead of just working for the rest of her life. Her answer was simply “I’ve only ever seen myself being a teacher when I was growing up so you need school for that, and i don’t wanna settle and take the easy way out of it and say “oh I can just be a waitress for the rest of my life” “. She couldn’t have said it better. Most people do choose to take the easy way out and or other things get in the way. Some people would say you don’t need a college degree to get a career. But I found Katie to be very head strong when it comes to a decision like this. A degree doesn’t just promise a better job then before, it promises having the opportunity to do something you love when you walk out of those doors four years later. The way you were brought up financially shouldn’t define whether or not you can go to college. If you are determined to do so and want that degree, then don’t let it stop you.
Katie, like many other people, is fighting the financial crisis we have at hand when it comes to all things college related. There’s no easy way to go to college, unless your one of those lucky few who don’t have to worry about a dime till after you leave those doors. Community college is one thing, you can take as many or as few credits as you like. But transferring and moving onto some thing bigger and quite frankly more expensive can be scary. You are no longer just paying for classes but as well as food to eat and other things to help take care of yourself when your away from home. But why let that limit you to having the full college experience you deserve. Katie did it right when it comes to going to college the financially smart way. Instead of blowing $60,000 for four years at a University, she decided to go to community college first to get some credits under her belt and save herself money. Saving. It’s a term that many millennials, including myself, struggle with. With everything at our fingertips and many ways of purchasing and spending our money, why bother with saving any more? But saving is what is helping Katie make her way through college a little easier. But work can get in the way of your education and it doesn’t get easier as time goes on. We are all money hungry, whether it’s we want more money or love to spend money. But when you're working and going to school, that can’t always be the case. Katie said, “Sometimes it's hard for me to balance school and work because I get focused on making the money,” but she pointed out that she always lets her management team know when things are getting too chaotic, that school comes first before anything else. But what about having a social life?
When I started at COD, they had a freshman orientation day and went over all the basics you needed to know. One thing that stuck out with me the most was when they said, “for every one credit hour in which you enroll in expect to spend 2-3 hours studying”. Most classes are credits making your studying outside for one class at least 6-9 hours per week. An average course load of 4 classes would be equivalent to 24-36 hours a week. Does your brain hurt yet? That’s just before you calculate in sleep, food, time for class and if your one of the lucky few, a part-time job. With college already demanding so much of your time is there ever a chance for a break from it all? I know I have personally struggled with finding time for having a social life on top of work and school. For Katie, who is needing to make more money, she doesn’t feel having a job and going to school is having her miss out on the full college experience, “college is about growing and being my own person and I see myself as a person who works for what they want but I also have free time to hang with friends and do what I want.” With the demands of school always coming first, we forget to take time for ourselves. This world is always on the go and we never stop and think about the things around us. After I got to know Katie more, she opened my eyes to a new possibility of hope. That just because you have to do it on your own, doesn’t mean your alone or you can’t do it. Many people before us have done it and although tuition rates have risen doesn’t mean it can’t be done. When I met Katie that first night I saw a sweet girl who was a waitress at Chili’s on a Friday night. Now I see a head- strong girl that won’t let anything get in her way of achieving the dreams we all have in life.