Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Interview with Colin Ashby: A Determined College Freshman Who Made It Work

A couple of weeks ago, I came across a news story about a young man who spent the first year of college at Texas State University (my husband's alma mater located in San Marcos, Texas) living in his car. I was totally amazed with Colin Ashby's story, which was shared on my local news site, and immediately reached out to him to learn more about his story.

As a columnist for USA Today's College column, Colin Ashby is finishing his final semester as a senior with a mass communications major/writing minor at Texas State University. I could tell he was a hard working student who was obviously determined to do whatever it would take to earn his degree and face his college education head on. Below is our interview, and I have to say, I am impressed with his motivation and positive attitude about his experience. As I told him the first time I spoke with him, KUDOS Colin!

The Little Red Journal: How does someone who has worked so hard in high school racking up 44 course credits end up living in their car during their freshman year?

Colin Ashby: I don't really know the exact answer to this. I just know that when I was applying for scholarships, a lot of them were so specific that I was not eligible for them. A lot of the scholarships I applied for were small amounts that weren't even enough to cover the cost of my textbooks, let alone tuition! Many of my friends in the top 10% who received top 10% scholarships had a hard time figuring out how to pay for their first year. Even their scholarship amounts of $1,000-5,000 weren't enough to cover college expenses.

I felt like I had done everything "right" to prepare me to get aid for school. I got good grades in high school, participated in several extra curriculars, and worked a part-time job, yet it didn't seem to be enough. My parents "made too much money" according to the FAFSA and I got very little grants and not a lot of aid.

LRJ: My husband went to Texas State, and I was also amazed at the tuition rate. After you used your federal student loans to pay for tuition, how did you pay for everything else, such as food and other expenses?

CA: It's funny because Texas State University has some of the lowest tuition rates of public universities in Texas. After using my federal loans to pay for my tuition, I had nothing left over. I had a bit of savings in my bank account that I used for buying textbooks and other school materials. During the year, I worked a part-time at McDonald's doing the graveyard shift. Making minimum wage, I obviously didn't make a bunch of money. Almost all of my paycheck went to paying for food and other bills. I was so scared of overdrafting on my bank account during the year.

LRJ: How did you manage to balance a full semester of courses, work, and find time to study?

CA: It was incredibly tough. I worked from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. shifts. I had a big time gap on Mondays and Wedesdays between classes where I would go to a private study room in the library to study for my classes. After getting out of my 8 a.m. on Mondays, I would go to the study room, take a short nap, then study for about 3–5 hours before I had to go to my next class. The biggest misconception I saw among my peers was that a student needed big chunks of time to study. I tried to fit most of my studying during the week. There would be times where I would study for 20–40 minute time periods between classes to fit it all in.

LRJ: Did you ever have a moment where you wanted to give up and go back home?

CA: During the first two months of living in my car I wanted to give up because it was so hot and humid. I live in Texas where there is super high humidity rates all the time. There would be times where I was sweating at night, unable to go to sleep because it was so hot and humid. During those humid nights were the only times where I really thought about giving up.

LRJ: What kept you motivated during that first year?

CA: What kept me motivated while living in my car was knowing that it was temporary and would lead to something better. On some late nights, I would sit in my car and write down my career goals and the different things I wanted to be remembered for in life. It's what kept me going.

LRJ: How did no one notice you were living in your car?!

CA: Besides two of my siblings, I told no one, not even my closest of friends. Whenever I got into my car, I would always make sure I was in a sparse area of the parking lot so no one would see me. I tried not to move around too much once I got inside.

LRJ: You spent lots of time in the library and focused all of your attention on school. Do you credit this experience to getting a four year degree in only two and a half years?

CA: Yes, I do. I don't really like formal schooling yet I knew I wanted to get a college degree. Getting bachelor's degree in two and a half years takes a lot of planning. I spent nights in the library carefully planning out my schedule for the next five semesters. Whenever things didn't go as planned, I readjusted. Being in the atmosphere of a library forced me to think about my direction in school and to keep moving forward.

LRJ: After graduating, what was next?

CA: I graduate this fall, December 2014. I'm looking into different places now for what I want to do after graduation. I'm looking to work in the communications agency field or social care.

LRJ: What do you hope people will take away from hearing your experience?

CA: I want people to know that the article I wrote isn't just about me living in my car. It's a call to action for college students. Be a leader of your education, not just a customer. Soak in what you're learning. If there is something that you feel you are lacking, then start learning it. Seek out mentors, try different careers through internships. School and learning isn't just about showing up, you have to do more.

LRJ: Is there any advice you'd give to those who are struggling to pay for college?

CA: See if a four-year degree is the best option for you. There are so many rewarding and great-paying careers a person can have without getting a bachelor's degree. Look into programs that community colleges have. Not just their transfer programs, but also their technical programs like nursing, web design, and electrical.

Note from LRJ: I want to thank Colin for taking the time to discuss his story further with me!

To learn more about Colin, check out his blog and personal site.

Kelsey is a passionate vegan living in Houston, Texas, spreading the word about the benefits of eating a healthy, plant-based diet. She's also a minimalist enthusiast, a self-proclaimed financial guru of her household, and founder of The Little Red Journal.

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