This article was written by Tyler Yates, IT Operations Engineer at Earnest.
A very clear memory comes to mind when I started to seriously consider going to college. I remember sitting in a classroom and listening to an admissions rep from my local community college talk about class sizes, tuition, books, and sports.
Like most, my first thought was “can I afford to go to college?” There were not many resources on how to pay for school and what my options were. I would be the first person in my family to attend college, and much of this information was new to me. There was no way my family was going to be able to foot the bill, but I knew I wanted to find a way to continue my education. The tricky part was going to be paying for college alone, without taking on a mountain of debt.
Earning My Associate’s Degree
Even after hearing the presentation from Northwest College, the local community college, it was not first on my list of places to go. There were several private four-year universities I was considering over the community college. It wasn’t until I did a few campus visits that I truly realized how comparable the community college in my area was when you looked at programs offered, quality of teachers and housing options.
Of course, there were two glaring positives to the community college that tipped the scales for me—class sizes and cost. It was a clear choice once I realized the cost savings. I would be able to get my Associate’s degree for what some colleges charged for just one semester. If I wanted to continue to my Bachelors, I would be able to apply with my Associates and spend less time at a more expensive school.
“There were two glaring positives to the community college that tipped the scales for me—class sizes and cost”
This has been described as the ‘2+2’ plan, and some schools even partner with community colleges to facilitate the transition after earning an Associates.
Working with my high school counselor I found several scholarships to apply for and was fortunate enough to receive a few. I was able to get my Associate’s degree completely paid for, including tuition, housing, books, and a meal plan.
What made this all even better was that my mom and I actually ended up at the same school for our Associate’s degrees. We went through a lot of this process together, even had a class together, and graduated on the same day. Walking together for graduation was an amazing experience and I am so glad I got to share that moment with her.
My Education Intermission
In the spring of 2011, I graduated with an Associate’s degree in Business Administration, and that fall I entered the workforce. I hadn’t decided what I wanted to do with my life after graduation, and transferring to a four-year university at the time didn’t seem like the best choice.
My first job was at a school teaching computer skills to K-5, which I really enjoyed. When a position in the IT department at the school opened up I was able to apply as an internal applicant and got the job. Working in education I was constantly in a learning environment and worked with many highly educated teachers who reminded me of the importance of getting an education.
Read more: How Much Does College Cost in 2019?
Returning For My Bachelor’s Degree
Four years into the workforce and having a much better idea of a career path, I knew I would need to further my education to keep moving forward. However, quitting my job and going back to school full-time seemed impossible and, again, really expensive.
I began to look at online options to receive my bachelor’s degree and eventually selected Western Governors University (WGU), a private, nonprofit, online university with headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. It took a few months to find the right school but, in the end, online coursework made sense for me because I was able to continue my day job. The key selling point for WGU included the cost of attendance, its competency-based model, and my positive interactions with the staff.
“Online coursework made sense for me because I was able to continue my day job”
WGU was a much cheaper option than going back to a traditional brick and mortar campus, and I only ended up taking out $5,600 in students loans. It also gave me the ability to work through my classes as fast as I could, so I was able to complete two years of traditional classes in just nine months.
WGU offered a degree in Business Administration, IT Management, which was a perfect fit for my work experience and career plan. Within six months of obtaining my degree I was able to move into the management role of the department I was working in—two months after that I was asked to lead a second department.
Taking on the Debt I Could Handle
Because of my education, I have the skills and knowledge to continue to take on roles with more responsibility, and in response be able to move forward in my career path even faster. Going to college really was an investment in my career and in my financial future, but I didn’t want to take on more debt than I needed to make that future possible.
Looking back and talking with friends who went the traditional four-year route, I am glad I made the choices that I did. Many of them are carrying debt in the $35-50k range, and have struggled to find employment in their field. The nontraditional path to a bachelor’s degree may not be the best option for everyone, but I am glad it is the route I took. I knew back in high school that a college degree was what I wanted, and I know now it was worth it.