A Free College Education Made Easy

It is possible to get a college education without loads of debt. Learning scholarship application tricks that work is a key ingredient.

The last time it snowed more in NE Wisconsin was March of 1888. That’s a long time ago.

My oldest daughter, Heather, was home from college when the storm hit. It was so bad they closed the college so she stayed with us an extra day. Our family bonding time consisted of shoveling wet, heavy snow a good part of the day. Such is the way of things in the Northwoods.

April snowstorms melt fast. The days are long and the sun is high in the sky. Cold temperatures fight a losing battle.

But when record snow falls it takes time to clean the roads and melt the piles. We should have the last of the piles melted by May 1st.

Heather’s car had to stay outside because the garage is full. With modest coaxing I got the AGCO tractor started and started moving most of the snow out of the way. Heather’s car was the last thing we dug out.

The next day the roads were plowed and it was time to head back to college. On the way back her car died for no apparent reason. The car was towed to a shop south of Neenah for repairs. The bill came to nearly $500, a princely sum for a college student.

As bad as Heather’s luck was, it could have been a lot worse. She saved and invested for several years before committing to college full-time. Still, she is determined to finish college without a penny of debt. (So far, so good.)

But that isn’t the reason why car problems were nothing more than a hiccup along her college journey. And her story can help countless others attain a college degree without cost.




Slow Start

Heather had grand ideas when she reached adulthood. She wanted to attend Full Sail University in Florida on dad’s dime for an art degree. I’ll save you the damage to your eardrums and refrain from my response.

At the time Heather was selling artwork and stashing it away into investments. She is quite good at a variety of art forms. What she struggled with was scholarships and dad wasn’t in the cooperating mood.

Then she got the idea she would go to college (art again) in Thailand. She got her passport (more on that later) and sent the school $500. The short story is she never went to Thailand. She did get one heck of an education for the lost $500 and the cost of a passport. Truth is she wasn’t ready to be alone in a foreign country. Yet.

Then she looked into a school in Missouri that was affordable, but it wasn’t what she wanted. Then she toyed with Japan and more seriously with South Korea. The only place she didn’t want to go to school was some of our affordable options right here in Wisconsin.




Seeing the Light

Dad made it clear he wasn’t paying for any college costs unless Heather found some scholarship money. It wasn’t that Heather didn’t try. She applied to a hundred or more scholarships without a nibble.

The first turning point came when Heather decided the local technical college was an okay place to start her formal education. She busted her tail working to fund her education so dad relented and provided a modest—around $2,500—of financial support. When my kid puts in the effort I’ll do my best to help them.

Choosing a local college and a career she could reasonably expect to earn enough at to calculate a return on her education investment gave dad hope. Heather likes to travel the way I like to nest on the farm. Heather wants to see Asia. She is in love with the cultures and peoples. The only thing missing was some scholarship money to grease the process.

Now that she was going to college close to home she was able to get some small grants and scholarships. Most of it was state or local government provided. Wisconsin chipped in $300 and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) invested around $1,000. (DVR provided support because she has her own tutoring business and she has some medical issues.)

Proud parents posing with their daughter.

Still, scholarship successes were scarce. I read a book by Ramit Sethi (I Will Teach You to be Rich) years before where the author claimed he had so much scholarship money when he attended college he was able to save and invest some of the funds since they weren’t all needed for college expenses. I was concerned Heather was unable to apply the same procedures to her college funding.

Sethi was slamming one scholarship after another while Heather couldn’t get them to open the envelope. Something was wrong. When something isn’t working it doesn’t mean you double your efforts doing the same thing. You just go nowhere twice as fast!

Dad had no solutions. College was a different animal back in the early 1980s. I had my own home (didn’t live on campus) and paid my own way. Scholarships weren’t necessary because $1,000 would cover a semester easily, including books, with a meaningful remainder left over for social activities.

Heather is like her dad: knuckle-headed. She wanted to go to college so bad it hurt and she wasn’t going to be denied. Mom and dad are supportive, but we will not give a free ride. Eighty percent of a college education is getting there. If you want to make it in the business world you better be able to figure out how to get an education without visiting bankruptcy court.

Money was tight her first year. She wanted college to be self funding; no dipping into long-term savings either. She studied hard and has a 4.0. And she never stopped researching scholarships and other college funding opportunities. She also clung to her dream of teaching English as a second language in China.

As Heather approached the first year as a full-time student (she was taking a class or two prior) opportunities she never knew existed were exposed to her. Since she has a tutoring business several organizations were interested in helping her. Her college started a Fox Trap Pitch Contest. (We live in an area called the Fox River Valley and the Fox Cities.)

Heather tackled this contest the way she did everything in school, with unrelenting effort. First prize was $1,000. Want to guess who won first place. Yup! My daughter! All I can say is, “Good genetics. Especially from the paternal side.”

The pitch contest did more than help her promote her business and raise capital. It taught her how to pitch an idea, like maybe to a scholarship. And this is where it gets interesting. In the last few months she finally figured out how to pitch her business and submit to scholarships in a way that works.




Unlimited Opportunities

You can’t imagine how proud I am of my oldest daughter. She never quit no matter how down she got or depressing it was to work without results. (My youngest shares the same attributes so I’m proud of her, too.)

The best part is she knows how to do it herself. If dad wrote a check Heather would still be clueless on a good many things. I would have robbed her of the most valuable part of her education!

Remember how I said Heather wants to go to China to teach English as a second language? Well, her degree is for teaching. She is also leaving in a few weeks for China to teach for a month. She has been contacted for job interviews when she gets there. When her month is done it is back to Wisconsin to finish another school year. She will probably tutor via internet during the school year and head back to China for a much longer stay after she graduates. Her passport was a worthwhile expense after all. BTW, China instantly gave her a 10 year work visa.

China and the United States are two very different cultures. But as Warren Buffett has said all along, the United States has the “secret sauce”. In the last week he added China to the list saying China also found the “secret sauce” economically. With two great nations and cultures, with a heaping bowl of sauce bridged by my daughter and her efforts, the human race is destined for glory never seen before. (Yes, dad’s pride is swelling.)




Grabbing the Chance

Things were different when I went to school. Higher education is expensive today. Student loans are out of control. School counselors want to help students manage loans. Heather was quick to interrupt when the topic came up to explain she wasn’t interested in loan. God, that kid is smart. Mom had to have done something right because I’m not that gifted.

Scholarships are everywhere. Large numbers of scholarships go unawarded due to lack of interest or quality entries.

Heather was recently elected vice president of the Wisconsin region of Phi Theta Kappa. She gets to do more of that traveling she loves now and is guaranteed another scholarship. This one could be meaningful, if you know what I mean.

As a side note, Heather tried to convince me Phi Theta Kappa means “the smart ones” in Greek. Dad was suspicious and looked it up. Good one, Heather. And yes, I know you’ll be reading this. BTW, it means “wisdom, aspiration, purity.”




A Scholarship for Every Wealthy Accountant Reader

Some things I can’t do no matter how important they are. I’m not in the trenches when it comes to college funding.

Heather is getting an education on how to get an education. Therefore, I asked her to write a follow-up article to this post which she promised me in a week. If all goes according to plan I will publish Heather’s post next week on how she discovered how to write killer scholarship applications that work.

I think she will also include other resources she has used. For example, her college has a service called SALT. The SALT program has a massive clearinghouse of scholarships where the college helps you submit a quality application. And it’s FREE! Just be careful when they try to help you with getting student loans. Student loans are the last line of defense when all other options are exhausted. When you stand firm expecting scholarships to pay for your education, the counselors have to up their game to help you. Make it clear you want scholarships, not debt!

My opinion on college has been published before. Education is the most important thing you can do to improve your life. Most education happens outside the classroom! That doesn’t take anything away from a formal education. College is about learning and making contacts.

Next week, if all goes well, you will make a powerful contact with Heather.

Finally, remember Heather’s $500 car repair bill? She discovered there is a program at the college where they will help pay one major expense per year, in Heather case, up to $500. She kept her eyes open for opportunities removing a car repair bill from the budget.

Smart, girl, don’t you think?



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7 Comments

  1. Steve on April 30, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    I believe a free/cheap college education is possible as well. Congrats on all of the hard work that you put into getting your education Heather. I’m sure you’ll graduate debt-free with everything that you’re doing.

  2. Wealthy Doc on April 30, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Good work. I hope to get my kids through college without debt or a sense of entitlement. Not easy.

  3. Nancy on May 5, 2018 at 10:40 am

    Great Article and Congratulations to your daughter. As a retired educator (elementary-university) and one that also went to college in the 1980s, you are correct in that a lot has changed…not all for the best. I also commend you for making your daughter make it on her own. My own adult daughter now working in the university system experiences “helicopter parents” all the time.

  4. Two Optimists on May 5, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Looking forward to her article. My daughter has been applying for tons of scholarships and hasn’t found the proper “pitch” yet. Thanks for paying it forward!

  5. […] we have a special feature. My daughter provided today’s post as promised last week. It is hard to capture the work she did in preparation to winning all those scholarships and the […]

  6. Petyo on May 14, 2018 at 10:23 pm

    Here is interesting hack how to get a degree for only $7,500 in one year:

    http://www.millionaireeducator.com/2016/03/a-7500-college-degree-in-12-months.html

  7. SAHM on May 15, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Despite your wealth I commend you in making your daughter ‘earn’ her college tuition.
    Very admirable of you and your daughter.

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