I paid only 17% of the cost of my Ivy League education by starting out at a community college. Now I'm responsible for 400 employees and will graduate debt-free — here's how I did it.
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Changing your life through education is no easy feat. It takes grit, commitment, and determination to show up each day ready to put in the hard work. As a non-traditional, adult student myself, it was especially challenging as I also balanced a career, a family, a home, and countless other responsibilities. Despite the additional demands, I firmly believe the advantages of attending college later in life outweigh any drawbacks. Although I did well in high school, the thought of choosing a major, taking on debt, and committing to a university for four years felt overwhelming at the age of the 18. Instead, I pursued trade school and became a licensed cosmetologist a year later. After working as a hairstylist for seven years, I became restless. I knew I could think more, do more, be more, and contribute more, which led me to cautiously enroll at the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) at nearly 26 years old. Within two weeks of enrolling, I quit my job at the salon and accepted an office coordinator role at a healthcare firm. I worked full-time and took part-time evening, weekend, and online classes at CCP for three and a half years straight, including summers. Early on, I was grateful to receive state and federal grants to pay tuition, as I was fresh off government assistance but weary to take on thousands of dollars in loan debt. I graduated with an Associate in Arts in communications in May 2017, finishing with a 3.94 GPA and highest honors. A week before graduation, I also secured my first job as a human resources coordinator. I took the summer off from school but in the fall, I was back at it again to finish my BA, this time at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn). Fifteen of my CCP classes transferred to Penn, which allowed me to enter as a third-year student. While at Penn, I continued to work full-time in human resources and took part-time evening classes at the College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS), the school best suited for adult and non-traditional students given the al la carte class options. Once LPS Online became available in fall 2019, I transferred over, as I find my mental and physical health improves when I'm not burdened by commuting to and from campus. I now have one semester to go before graduating this December and am proud to say I have maintained a 4.0 GPA. Although it has taken me seven years to achieve my BA, there have been many advantages from pursuing a less traditional journey as an adult, working student. Some of the advantages I experienced include: I paid less for my degree The first "two years" of my BA at CCP, which consisted mostly of general education courses, cost me $14,000 total. Compare that to two years at Penn, which costs $154,000. That's 91% savings! The second "two years" to finish my BA at Penn cost me $42,000. In total, I spent $56,000 on an Ivy League degree that is advertised for $320,000. By pursuing community college first and then LPS at Penn, I paid just 17% of what I would have paid had I attended Penn for all four years. I am debt free As a part-time student, my tuition bills were less each semester, which meant they were easier to pay off before accumulating more. Working full-time allowed me to make enough money to pay my tuition mostly out of pocket. To help supplement large bills, I took small subsidized loans which I included in my budget as the final payment of the semester, and then paid off before interest accrued. I got money back As an independent student who paid for tuition and books out of pocket, I utilized every educational tax credit on my annual tax return. These included the American Opportunity Tax Credit for all four eligible years and the Lifetime Learning Credit for another three years. Between these two tax credits, I received $12,000 back on educational expenses, which is almost 22% of my total degree cost. I grew my career Working full-time has allowed me to focus on my professional growth and set myself up for success when I graduate. During my journey to a BA, I started off as someone who had never once stepped foot in an office to now ending as a HR manager who is responsible for nearly 400 employees. My salary has doubled, I have received promotions, my professional network is robust, and once I have my degree in hand, I will already have years of working experience to better position me for strong roles. College can be daunting for adults as we delicately balance all of our abundant responsibilities with the mountain of classes, tuition bills, homework, and energy that being a student requires. However, I discovered there are many advantages to attending college as an adult that can actually make it just as, if not more, fulfilling than the traditional experience. If you are considering pursuing college as an adult but are apprehensive about the journey ahead, I hope you can see from my story that persistence pays off. Brittany is a human resource professional in Philadelphia, PA. Come December 2020, Brittany will be a debt-free graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a BAAS in Organizational Studies and certificate in Applied Positive Psychology. Previously, Brittany worked as a hair stylist for almost a decade before pursuing Community College of Philadelphia. Brittany's educational journey as a non-traditional adult student has inspired her to help others achieve their academic, professional, and personal goals.SEE ALSO: 7 things the ancient Stoics can teach you about becoming a strong, happy, and morally sound professional Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why hurricanes hardly ever hit Europe
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