Don’t Give Up on College: How I Got My College Degrees as an Impoverished U.S. Citizen

Our education system is under attack. It’s been under attack. People are becoming discouraged. They are either dropping out or not going to school altogether.

The reason for this is simple: uneducated people are easy to control. This may seem counterintuitive to what you have been told. Wouldn’t college be considered an institution of sorts, not unlike high school, where one would essentially be forced to adhere to a strict schedule, be brainwashed, etc, etc? The answer is a resound, “No.” That is what I thought prior to going to college.

I went to a preparatory semi-private high school that led me to believe that college was going to be like it. The reality is the opposite. Colleges give students the tools to think for themselves. A good college has good professors, and good professors ensure their students’ abilities are expanded in ways that allow them to think outside the box. There is no strict schedule to adhere to unless you choose that schedule. You can go full-time, double-time, part-time, or even take a single class at a time.

College is a self-paced concept and it is not the same as high school at all. In fact, if you stop your education at high school, you are stopping your education at the peak of indoctrination. The peak of indoctrination. Understand this. If you don’t want to be indoctrinated, you need to go to college.

A good college will teach you subjects in relation to other subjects. A good college will integrate multiple teachings into single classes, such as histories in relation to sociology (history is useless without true context). Or such as, science in relation to current events (like meteorology and climate change).

A nation of uneducated people is easy to control. A nation of uneducated people is easy to further indoctrinate. The reason why Trump’s administration is attacking the education system is because Trump and his administration are criminals and they are lying to the people on a daily basis about nearly everything. An uneducated person can’t read the Mueller Report and understand a single page. An uneducated person can’t read a news article and compare it to the CRAAP test. Do you even know what the CRAAP test is? If you don’t, here it is. (Side note: “libguides” stands for library guides, not liberal guides, for all you anti-liberals out there).

Are you aware that Germany’s citizens elected Hitler? This is because they were brainwashed. They were indoctrinated. And Trump actually has studied Hitler. For real. At least, his ex-wife Ivana said that Trump kept a book of Hitler’s speeches next to his bed. Creepy, right? And historians, citizens, and politicians are comparing the U.S. right now to Nazi Germany. This has actually been a constant, increasingly true comparison over the last three years. Like here.  And here. And here. And here. And here.

Yes, that is right. Trump is actually, really, truly, using Hitler’s playbook while President* of the United States.

The problem with this scenario, other than the inherent dangers of falling into a fascist dictatorship, is that people need educations in order to understand what is going on around them in a way that they can press for the kinds of social change we need to progress into a safe, healthy future. Having an education not only increases awareness, it allows a person to express themselves in a sensical, eloquent way. It also increases empathy. I am a more empathetic person now than I was five years ago.

Not having an education makes you way more likely to have your job replaced by software or AI. Unless you want a job that is purely manual labor, and want to work until you are so old or hurt you have to retire, getting an education will help you. These days, employers consider a B.A. to be the equivalent of a high school diploma. This means that if you don’t have a B.A., most employers will assume you don’t understand how to follow through with timelines and you haven’t developed your critical thinking skills past the level of a teenager. That isn’t necessarily always true for each individual, but it is something to think about. Having a B.A. is like the equivalent of being Nationally Certified in the massage world, except it can be used for something other than manual labor.

Now I am not saying that life experience isn’t good. It is. And it isn’t an either/or situation. It is possible to travel and experience life and then go to school. In fact, that is the cheap and smart way to tackle post-secondary education.

Unless you became a legally emancipated minor at some point prior to becoming an adult, the government considers you a dependent until the age of 24. Yep, 24. So basically, there are two ways to look at this:

  1. If you moved out early from your parent’s house (like I did, at age 16), you should become an emancipated minor if they are not financially supporting you. Unfortunately, no one explained this concept to me when I was a teenager, so I never became emancipated. Instead, I had to wait for scenario 2, which is…
  2. Wait until you are 24 years old or older, and then go to school.

I waited until I was 27. Prior to that, I travelled a lot and partied a lot. I learned a lot about the world. I went to a healing arts school and got a professional vocation that allowed me to seek work and get hired no matter where I lived. (The National Certification for Massage Therapy is recognized world-wide, harder to achieve than its counterpart, the MBLEX, and allows you to work in a lot of different countries and states in the U.S.). My healing arts school was one of the best in the world and cost me only about $10,000. I paid it off by moving to Yosemite National Park and working there, with an overhead cost of close to nothing. It took me about a year of payments.

I’ve never had a credit card, by the way—except for one specifically for dental work, for a tooth surgery I needed at age twenty two, that had a 27% interest rate. I needed a cosigner to get it, and made $100 payments for two years. But after two years, I still owed the same amount that my initial surgery was. Crazy, huh? Other than that, I have always paid cash for everything. No debt until the tail-end of my college education. I know how to live on close to nothing.

But despite all the world experience I got from being a philosopher and traveller, I realized that there was a lot that I did not understand. So I came to the realization that I was passionate about school. This was school on top of other schooling that a Nationally Certified Massage Therapist and Energy Worker needs to continue in order to maintain the National Certification. So I had never actually stopped learning, but I wanted to learn more.

And if you remember that Discovery Channel said I had “extreme intelligence,” that is true. I scored very high on the Mensa certified IQ test that I took as a child (a 139 back in the ’90’s, which was one point below genius); I also scored very high on a Johns Hopkins intelligence test for talented youth (99th percentile); I also score pretty much off the charts for perceptual reasoning. But that doesn’t mean anything without an education. It means I can learn in my weird albeit sometimes fucked up ways from life experiences and mistakes, but it doesn’t make me smarter than the average college student if I don’t know how to read a statistics graph and analyze it according to reality. It doesn’t make me understanding of anthropology or humanities or sciences or anything, aside from what I learn by myself in real life.

If the paragraph above just made you feel defensive, realize this: the mark of true intelligence lies in the willingness to accept that one does not already know everything. A high IQ doesn’t mean shit without the willingness to learn. But we need to have the willingness to learn. We need to have the willingness to accept that we may be wrong sometimes. Otherwise, we just become a society of mindless humans who are easy to manipulate. The average U.S. citizen’s IQ is 98. I don’t even know what that means. I mean, I do, but I don’t. Maybe it means that most of the shit I write blows right over most of my readers’ heads. But a person with any IQ who is willing to learn and push through college is inevitably going to be smarter than their peers who refuse to educate themselves. A nation of people who are too proud to educate themselves is a nation that has been successfully indoctrinated. Thus we are a nation of people who believe everything we see on TV. Thus we are a nation of people who are lied to on a daily basis and cannot differentiate between truth and lies.

IQ, schooling, life experience: none of it matters without the willingness to learn.

And life experience is amazing. In fact, I would say it is probably better to wait until you are in your mid-twenties to go to school because you will find yourself and have a better grasp of what it is you want to study. If you go to school when you are burned out or not ready, it increases the chances of dropping out. So only getting half of a degree isn’t going to help you. You need to have the determination to keep on keeping on.

On hindsight, I sometimes wonder if I should have taken the scholarship (Vermont Scholar Award) that I received in 2003 to go to the University of Vermont. However, I was on my own and not receiving financial assistance from my parents, and I was a 17 year old. The scholarship would have paid for about 3/4 of my expenses, leaving me with $10,000 on my shoulders every year. I had never had a full-time job other than summer jobs and so I didn’t think I could make that money. Could I? Perhaps. But I deferred for a year and went to Japan. Then I came back to the U.S. and moved to Colorado and deferred another year. After two years of deferment, I just gave up. I gave up on college for ten years. I may have dropped out if I had gone to college when I was seventeen, too, and that wouldn’t have helped me. So you need to consider your own personal situation and listen to your intuition.

When I enrolled in college, I was 27. I did five quarters in a row and then took an entire year off to go film Naked and Afraid in Brazil and Colombia. There was a lot of waiting time for those shows and so I took off that year. But then I went back. As soon as I got back from Colombia, I re-enrolled in college and continued. I graduated with a 3.9 GPA for my Associates and got accepted into a university to get my Bachelor’s, raising my GPA back up to a 4.0.

If you wait to go to school, you may find that it’s actually a lot easier than if you went when you were a teenager. You’ll be able to apply world experience to your lessons and classes in really profound ways that wouldn’t have been possible a decade earlier.

There are some real issues with being impoverished and wanting to go to school, though, and I am going to address those for a second. First, college students can’t receive unemployment in the case of a lay-off, and they can’t receive food stamps. Second, for those times you aren’t in college, the cut-offs for what counts as impoverishment are set very low. So say you make $1800/month and are getting a tiny bit of financial assistance, like $150/month in food stamps. The next month you make $1,900 and now you are disqualified from getting food stamps, but the reality is you are spending more than $150/month in food. I experienced a lot of this as a massage therapist, when I wasn’t on the road. I would work at 5 star resorts and make a lot of money (a lot of money for me, that is—maybe $3,500/month) for a couple months, but then it would be slow season and my income would drop down to around $1,000/month, even being on-call at multiple locations 6 or 7 days a week. In the massage world, every spa has a therapist or two who have been there for what seems like an eternity. They don’t travel, they stay in one spot. Those are the leads and those leads usually are mandated to be granted a certain amount of work, leaving all the other therapists with less hours.

This is a problem that needs to be addressed on a sociopolitical level and it needs to be addressed by the people, meaning you and me and everyone else who isn’t in the top 10% of the economic food chain. This needs to change because it leads to a constant cycle of impoverishment. And the fact that students can’t get help with food is insane. The government is supposed to be promoting a better society for all, and that includes making it possible for everyone to get a decent education so we can keep services like hospitals open. The fact that Betsy DeVos was Trump’s nomination for the Secretary of Education and she is in fact so anti-education doesn’t make things better. So again, these are things to think about as you consider how to get your education and what you want to do with it.

So…how do you get an education when the system seems rigged against it? This is how:

  1. Consider moving to a state where college is cheap for full-time residents. Live there for as long as you need to in order to become an official resident, and then apply for school.
  2. Always apply for scholarships and grants. I had two really helpful scholarships in college; one was only available to impoverished people like myself, and the other was available to me through extracurricular participation in theatre projects.
  3. Adapt your life so that you can live off of the Pell Grant or close to it, at least while you are getting your undergraduate degree(s). Is rent too high? Move into a car (I know that sounds miserable), and mobilize yourself. I got almost half of my college credits while living on the road. It was hard, but I got to keep my sense of adventure and freedom. I took a lot of online classes. Those allowed me to be mobile and stay in school full-time. It worked.
  4. Get as many credits as possible from a community college because community college is cheap. It’s become more of a valid path towards education in recent years, especially as a stepping stone towards a weightier degree. Some community colleges are also starting to offer Bachelor’s degrees. Save your debt for a Master’s or Doctorate’s, or the tail end of your Bachelor’s.
  5. If you don’t want to be homeless, pick up work, pick up work, pick up work.
  6. Lastly, and most importantly, give yourself credit. I mean, give yourself a lot of credit. Realize that anyone who gives you shit and thinks you aren’t working hard is probably either a rich, privileged person who never truly suffered financially and was gifted everything in life, or a Baby Boomer who has no idea how the economy has resulted in everything costing way too much and minimum wage being way too low. Check out this Productivity/Pay gap chart and how it’s drastically increased since the ’70’s. Also, this Fortune article “Here’s the Real Reason You Don’t Make Enough Money.”  (This is why you need to register to vote asap so you can vote for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primaries, regardless of if you are a Democrat or Republican right now. If you are Republican, switch right away in the primaries so you can give Sanders your nomination. He has been trying to address this wage gap issue for like, half a century and no one has listened to him).
  7. Look at getting your education as a battle, and one that you are going into with the full intent of walking out of. It will be grueling, it will be tiresome, but you will thank yourself later.

You can do it.

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