05/02/2011 03:41 pm ET Updated Jul 02, 2011

PatchU "How Are You Paying for College?" Competition Winner

Editor's Note:
PatchU is Patch Media's program to form great relationships with colleges and universities around the country. The PatchU Network is an active group of students and faculty members at more than 160 college & university-level communications and journalism programs, with member schools in at least 36 states and Washington D.C.

One of the goals of the PatchU Network is to provide opportunities for students to publish their work on national media. For this first-ever PatchU Network / Huffington Post College writing contest, student journalists only had to ask one interview question of a classmate -- how are you paying for college? Our winner rose to the top of the heap with a thoughtfully crafted profile of a student who is working four jobs to pay for his living expenses and become financially

Thanks to everyone who made submissions! Congratulations to Briana Gerdeman, the winner of this competition.

Nathan Sorensen works four part-time jobs. Park assistant. Server for a catering company. Staff writer for the student newspaper. And...gumball machine maintenance worker?

“It's pretty simple,” he said. “It's only one gumball machine, and it's in the mall on Atlanta Highway. I just go in there once a month...take out the quarters, clean it and make sure it's working, put in more gumballs, and then I take the quarters to the bank, put them into an account for my boss.”

Sorensen, a junior at the University of Georgia, dabbles in several jobs to help pay for his living expenses. After a two-year mission trip to Thailand in January 2010, he returned to college to study mass media arts and began looking for part-time jobs.

First, he was hired as a staff writer at The Red & Black, UGA's independent student newspaper. He began writing two to three stories a week, depending on his schedule, to “make at least a little bit of income.”

A few months later, in May 2010, he began working as a server with Trumps Catering.

“They're always looking for servers, people to help with events, like weddings, banquets, that kind of thing,” Sorensen said. “I finally got onto that staff, and I've been working there ever since.”

At the end of that summer, he found what is now his favorite job. A friend was moving to go to medical school, and offered Sorensen his job as a park assistant at Bishop Park. His work as a park manager varies by season – right now, he spends a lot of time setting up fields for softball games.

“And just making sure the park runs smoothly – opening up the gates and locking them when it's closing time, turning out lights, and just making sure the park's running good, you know, recycling, trash, that kind of thing,” he said. “But it's a pretty easy job, at least for a student, because I have some time to do homework too.”

And one weekend a month, he goes to the mall to check on the gumball machine. The maintenance usually takes less than two hours, he said, most of which he spends rolling up quarters to deposit them in the bank. His boss – a man he's never met who lives in Texas – sends him a check for $30 once the quarters have been deposited.

Although it's unusual, Sorensen said working several part-time jobs suits him well.

“I feel like that's the best way to make money, through several different sources, you know?” he said. “And if I don't have enough time for one, I can put it off, or I can quit from one of the jobs and still have an income.”

But balancing multiple jobs and school has led to some scheduling conflicts, he said.

“I'm a full time student, so I'm trying to keep up with school. It's definitely a balance,” he said. “It's hard, especially because it's not normal...So it's a balance, but it's fun.”

Sorensen's four jobs don't completely cover the costs of college. His tuition is paid for by Georgia's HOPE scholarship, which is funded by the Georgia Lottery and is awarded to students with a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher. Sorensen's parents own his car and the mobile home he lives in, but he pays for gas, food and other expenses.

“I'm slowly gaining my independence, but I'm still not quite there yet,” he said. “I tried really hard to just do it on my own, and I made it through without having to call my parents and ask for money, just through persistence, I guess, and now I have too many jobs. They're all vying for my attention.”