There's a wide spectrum of financial situations for students like me -- especially at state-related universities like the University of Pittsburgh. You have the students whose parents pay for their education and living expenses without hesitation, and then you have the students who eat Ramen noodles and bartend at night to pay their bills.
I'm somewhere in the middle. Like other Pennsylvanians who go to Pitt, my tuition is more manageable than those who attend private schools, like our next-door neighbor, Carnegie Mellon. This year, I paid $13,334 for my education.
Not only is my tuition more manageable, but I have more resources than many students. My mom died of cancer in 2004, when I was a freshman in high school. My parents were divorced, so I inherited our small townhouse.
That townhouse was worth about $60,000 and paid for most of my college tuition.
But in addition to tuition bills, students have to pay for living expenses. I moved off campus during my sophomore year because it saved money and seemed cooler. Between rent and groceries, I spend about $500 per month on rent and groceries. Each semester, I also spent anywhere from $250 to $400 on textbooks -- and that after I find cheaper ones online.
My mom's will and some help from family members has been my main source of income during college. I also worked small jobs while I was in high school and during college to save money. It was completely normal in my rural, south-central Pennsylvania high school to work, and most kids at least had summer jobs. I worked as a fryer and prep cook, a cashier and a waitress at several jobs since I was 16. This culminated in 2008, when I had a summer internship during the day and a waitressing job at night -- at times, I clocked in almost 80 hours per week.
But still, the odd jobs, the will and working at the student newspaper didn't pay for everything. So I took out a private $15,000 loan to pay for a year of school and chip away at rent and food costs. I don't qualify for federal or state loans, so I'm not sure what the interest rate will be once I start paying it back.
You might not believe it, but still, all this didn't pay for my education and living expenses, either. I used Advanced Placement credits from high school tests, took an extra six credits I picked up in a six-week summer study abroad program and signed up for extra classes during my last year to earn my degree a full year early.
I'm planning on working as a journalist after I graduate. It probably won't be the highest-paying job, but I can't imagine doing anything else. If I have to work an extra job in the beginning to pay off my debt, I will.