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How I Got Into USC and Escaped With Only $26K of Student Loans

This article recounts my college history and how I was able to attend a good school without going into a crazy amount of debt.

A couple years later at 26 years old, I was able to pay off my student loans.

Accompanying video at the bottom.


Student Loans…eh, who cares

When I was in college, I didn’t think much about student loans.


I figured they would somehow get paid off because I was going to make a bunch of money right out of college.


When I got my first job out of college, my expenses were between $3,000 – $3,500 a month living in Los Angeles. I was making about $3,200 a month.




But let me backup for a moment.


School #1: University of Colorado – Boulder

I initially went to University of Colorado at Boulder. That lasted one semester. I got bad grades and left. I went home to St. Louis and took a semester off.


I accumulated around $8,000 in loans from that one semester.


School #2: Community College in St. Louis

I enrolled in Community College in St. Louis. I come from a low-income family so FAFSA gave me $5,500 a year for school. After tuition and books, I usually had around $1,000 leftover each semester.


Being paid to go to school!? Pretty awesome.


I was also working part-time and living at home, so I was able to pay off some of those loans from Boulder.


School #3: University of Southern California (USC)

After a year and getting a 4.0 GPA in Community College, I was able to transfer to University of Southern California (USC). This was my dream school and I was ready to take out as many loans as needed (not smart).


However, because USC is a private school with good funding and my family had low-income, USC and FAFSA paid for 95% of my tuition.


Looking back now, I can’t believe how much money this saved me.


Instead of $26,000 in student loans, I would’ve had $150,000+.


Living in L.A. was still not cheap despite living as a student. Going into my senior year in college I had about $18,000 in student loans.


My (Almost) Terrible Mistake:

In the summer of my junior year, I landed a high-paying internship in digital marketing. I made enough money to cover a good amount of expenses for my senior year (~$10K).


At this point I had started investing and playing around in the stock market. I had done pretty well so far and had made money from all my investments (#dangerous).


So, I got this little idea that since I had most of the cash to cover my expenses for the year, I could take out a subsidized loan and use it to invest and make money off it.


This is about the worst idea you can have.


Well, anyway, I did that.


In my senior year, I had about $26,000 in student loans.


Mistake Averted:

Fortunately, after risking my student loan money in the market, I made ~$2,000, sold and banked the money.


I was still working part-time at the digital marketing agency and had a few freelance projects so I made an extra few thousand throughout the year.


I graduated college and paid off $10,000 of the loan balance immediately. This was mostly just returning the money that I risked in the stock market plus some extra from working in my senior year.


So, I got my first job at Fandango in digital marketing with about $16,000 in student loans remaining.


Key Takeaways: how I was able to get into a top school
  • I went to Community College and had a 4.0 GPA.
    • Colleges love transfer students with high GPAs from other colleges. It is the single best indicator that you will succeed at their school.
    • Spent a lot of time crafting an amazing college essay.
    • Stellar referral letters.


Key Takeaways: how I escaped college without crazy student loan amounts:
  • Ultimately, I was in a good position because my family had low-income status.
    • Community College paid me over $2,000 to attend.
      • Also, lived at home and worked so I banked most of the money I made.
  • At USC, most of my tuition was paid for so I had to work and take out loans for LA living expenses.
    • Had multiple internships, including a high-paying one that I worked in the summer and then part-time during the year.
    • Always was working some job or side gig.
    • Got lucky to not lose my shirt when I risked loan money in the stock market.
      • So bad, do not repeat this.


In the next article, I’ll discuss how I was about to pay the remaining student loans off by 26.


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