How I Paid My Way Through College (And How You Can, Too)

By 9:30 this morning, I had had a consultation, I cleaned my living room, I got coffee with friends, I took a morning walk, and I spray painted a few decorations for my room. I was basically kicking ass at life. And it channeled all the feelings circa 2010, when I would get up to work from home at 6, go to class, go to another job, get lunch with CJ, study for class, go to another job, eat dinner on the go, and then go out with the girls. I loved college.  And I loved feeling so productive and on top of it.

Because I had to be productive and on top of it.

My parents paid for my first year of school, & then I was on my own. Or at least that's what it felt like. Not in a lonely way, but in more of a pressure-filled-oh-snap-it's-time-to-get-to-work way. So I did it, in cash (mostly), and I'm gonna tell you how.

1. Prepare yourself.

I was so grateful my parents paid for my whole first year of college, but that was no excuse to chill all year long. Because did you know rent is due the FIRST of the month, not at the end of the month? As in you have to be ready BEFORE you move in & you have no time to make money THEN pay rent. This is a lesson I learned my second year of college and that I legit did not know. So, halfway through my first year, I got a job. I didn't need the money then, but I knew damn well I would need it in just a few months. I used that opportunity to save, so that when I moved into my apartment (Mustang Village 2, baby), I had enough saved up to pay 3 months of rent and utilities.

Takeaway: If you know when you're going to get cut off, don't wait until then to start making moves. It takes a whole lot of pressure off if you start saving now.

2. Be picky about your jobs.

Let's go ahead & list all the jobs I had in college, for historical reference:

1. Ran California Pacific Language School
2. Taught Spanish privately
3. Tutored in general (through Grade potential)
4. Worked at Froggie's Cafe
5. Assisted a broker part time on my own time (I STILL do this!)
6. Receptioned at Meat Head Movers
7. Receptioned at a podiatrist office
8. Delivered newspapers for the Mustang Daily
9. Learning therapist (which became a full time job after college)
10. Photography (obviously)

I had so many jobs because most of them were part time, and I couldn't live on a part time budget. And because once I realized something wasn't a good fit, I peaced out, This is not the same as "Once I realized something was hard, I peaced out."- but paying the bills & wasting time don't have to be the same thing. I knew that the jobs I had needed to mean something to my future, or I needed to really enjoy it, OR it needed to be REALLY REALLY convenient & high paying (like assisting the broker). 

When you appreciate your job, when you feel you get paid enough, you work harder. When you work harder, you earn respect, references, you might even get paid more, and you learn more. It may not feel like it, but there are always other jobs. And if you waste time at a job where you don't feel those things, you're wasting huge opportunities to move forward, get paid better, or learn more.

Takeaway: Don't waste your time, or your life. Shutting one door is opening another, blah blah blah. But really.

3. Mustang Jobs is the bomb.

I got most of my jobs through Mustang Jobs, and I responded quickly and impressively. You put your best assets on the resume and you take the rest off. I got the broker job because I had the highest WPM and I had a car and I responded swiftly. I had no idea how to do what he was asking me to do, but I COULD type fast, and I would learn the rest. 

I was on Mustang Jobs EVERY SINGLE DAY. And even when I had a job, I would still look for jobs, just in case there was something better. And a lot of times there was. And that gave me the freedom to exercise #2; I was able to be picky. Also, it's easier to get a job once you have a job. I don't know why, but this is true. 

Mustang Jobs is great because they're reputable and are looking for students. They won't be pissed off about your school schedule, or surprised you don't have ten years experience. They are looking for employees eager to learn and eager to work. That is you.

Takeaway: Utilize reputable job searching sources. And check often. And respond quickly. 

4. Just keep swimming.

Sometimes I feel like Hermione when I think of how I got so many things done in school. Like how I had seven jobs, I don't know. I worked like 10 hours a day and got great grades. I DON'T KNOW HOW THAT HAPPENED. You just keep going. If you wake up early, you get up and start working. You squeeze in time, you chill less & work more. If you have errands to run, you pick up your best friend to go with you & call it quality time. And then you go out five nights a week because, what, are you gonna work from 11pm-1am? (That was my mentality..) (Also, I didn't drink, so that probably allowed me to go out five nights a week and still function like a super human.) You have clothes in your bag to change from one job to another, you just turn into a BOSS. 

Takeaway: It's not easy. Sometimes you just have to go through the motions, and then you get the drive back.


5. Choose what you spend your money on.

I laugh when I think about the fact that I did not drink coffee in college. I was wayyyy too high strung to need caffeine, and I was also like NO. I WILL NOT SPEND MONEY ON SOMETHING I CAN MAKE AT HOME. I also NEVER ATE OUT. You imagine how irritating this was to my friends who are like "No Asia I don't want to come over and have another grilled cheese for lunch, can't we just go to Firestone like normal people?" haha, no. I did eat at Pizza Solo a lot, because $5 solo sticks. (Because in college I lived off bread and it's a miracle I'm alive.)

You know what I did spend money on? Concerts. A lot of concerts. 3 days of eating out and 3 mornings of coffee = one Lil Wayne concert. That's a no freaking brainer. Worth it to me. But I couldn't do both!

Takeaway: Treat yo'self on some things & forget the rest.

6. Birthday gifts (from family) should be dollars.

Or gift cards to food, or something else VERY practical. Let go of the idea that you need clothes or a purse for your birthday. You do not. Unless Cal Poly is accepting designer jeans or Marc Jacobs purses as payment. Which is not a thing. 
You should not ask for dollars from your friends for your birthday because that's awkward. They can take you to dinner. They have fed you & kept you alive, this is an amazing birthday gift.

Takeaway: Birthday gifts should be dollars. That's it. Oh, and dollars you spend on school. 


7. It takes a village to raise a graduate.

I say I paid my own way, but really the military contributed $300 a month to my expenses. And sometimes my parents would pick up the books. And I got to live for free while house sitting my advisor's apartment the summer after my first year.  One time my uncle came to visit and I had graham crackers and frozen ravioli in my fridge and that's it. He took me to Costco immediately and bought me $500 worth of groceries. The money that my parents got for claiming me on their taxes got me a new computer, a down payment for a car, and my ticket to Australia after I graduated (that's a whole other how to!).

Takeaway: Take all the help you can get.

If you Pay Your Own Way through school, I would like to be part of that village.

I hustled my BUTT OFF in school, and people were willing to help me because I was doing the best I could to help myself. Sometimes it was enough, but a lot of times it wasn't. And I have a long list of people I am grateful to for getting me through school, and I feel it's time to pay it forward.

This year, I'm giving away a free graduation shoot AND a free headshot shoot to a college senior working their butt off to pay their own way through school.


Why two shoots?

You REALLY deserve to take some time to capture everything that you've accomplished. You've worked really really hard, and honestly I wish someone would've given me a graduation shoot when I graduated! So I want to give one to  you. It's for your mom, it's for your grandparents, it's for thank you cards, your graduation announcements, it's for celebrating how much you rock. AND the headshot shoot? That's for getting you a job, so that the last four years can be all worth it. 

How do I apply?

If you or anyone you know are paying for college, just fill out the form below and include a brief paragraph about this person, how they are paying their way through school, and what you most admire about them. If it's yourself, don't be shy. I was PROUD OF MYSELF for my accomplishments, and you should be, too..

Name *

I will choose the winner by August 20th, based on the nominations above, and will be featured in the Back To School issue of SLO What? magazine.


Every day you're hustlin, and I respect that. And I can't wait to meet you!

Tons of love,