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Learn how you can go to university with little to no money using leverage. If I did it, you can do it too!
Many Jamaicans will tell you that borrowing is bad! However, if done properly, borrowing is good because it provides the opportunity for many to obtain things they believe to be unaffordable. To understand why I say this, you first need to know how credit works; so, take note of the definitions below.
Credit is created when one person called the debtor receives money from another person called the creditor and promises to pay it back at a future date. This transaction immediately creates debt (i.e. interest payable) for the debtor. However, it is how the debtor uses the money that will determine if the debt is good or bad. If the debtor chooses to invest the money, immediately the money becomes capital and the debt becomes leverage (i.e. using borrowed capital for investment, expecting the profits made to be greater than the interest payable.) This is good! In contrast, if said money is instead used for expenses without sufficient income, this will result in the debtor becoming insolvent (i.e. being unable to pay debts owed.) this is bad!
Ok, now that you understand credit, I will tell you how I used debt to become the first in my family to attend university. I successfully completed a bachelor’s degree at the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech). Costing over $2,500,000.00 JMD, many find it difficult to believe that a poor person like me, was able to complete university debt-free; especially knowing that so many university graduates are currently burdened by student loan debt.
My Humble Beginning
I was born at home in rural Hanover, Jamaica to a single mother, who worked hard as a pre-trained basic school teacher. With my mother’s monthly salary being barely over minimum wage, I soon realized that my small family wasn’t wealthy. Therefore, I stayed focused and worked hard in school. Despite being poor financially, I was rich in potential and ambition. Thus, in 2010, I successfully graduated from Manning’s School in Westmoreland. I wanted to attend a university that same year but never applied because I thought I couldn’t afford to. Instead, I decided to work, hoping to save enough money to pay for higher education after a few years. At the time, I had not considered how Hanover’s lack of development and it’s limited employment opportunities would adversely affect my plans. In no time, five years went by and even though I consistently worked hard, and with my best; all my employers were only able to pay minimum wage or slightly above it. Finally, I had to admit that I was never going to be able to save for university. Admitting this, led me to what may be the most important decision of my life. The decision that no matter what, I will attend a university that year, September 2015. I had no idea how, but I was confident that through careful thinking, planning, determination and God’s grace I would figure it out!
Fully accepting the challenge, I announced to my family that I will be going to university. At first, they thought I was delusional, “U nuh si di boi gaan mad”. However, they eventually realised I was serious after I refused to be told anything that implied that my goal was impossible. I applied to UTech and got accepted. Then I used all of my savings to pay UTech’s deposit of $20,000.00 JMD, which left me penniless. Desperately needing money, I then wrote and delivered in person and or via email over 20 letters requesting financial assistance. This is not an exaggeration, I sent letters or pitched in-person to past employers, banks, schools, churches, charity foundations, businesses, present and past acquaintances, known cousins, unknown cousins, strangers etc. Basically, I contacted any individual or institution I thought was in a position to assist me financially. I got rejected hard, and a lot, in fact, I got rejected so much that I got used to it. Pushing through took extreme levels of self-confidence, hope and persistence.
After what seemed like forever, A minister’s wife from a church in the UK donated $175,000.00 JMD. I was humbled and overjoyed. Finally, I received some funding. However, my celebration ended promptly when it dawned on me that I did not secure a place to live in Kingston. Crazy right? Thus, the roller coaster continued. I wrote explaining the situation to the UTech Accommodations Unit and they were kind enough to provide me with on-campus housing, even though they were no longer accepting housing applications. Thank God! The good news gave me the momentum to continue until I was able to cover my first semester.
Debt to Leverage
I did it! I was now at UTech, but I needed to find a way to sustain my UTech education, and I needed to do it fast! The degree consisted of eight semesters and I barely managed to pay for one. Available grants and scholarships were very useful, especially, the student union grant. However, the most lucrative opportunity available to university students was the US J1 Summer Work and Travel Program. This program allows university students to travel to America and work for 4 months, typically from May to August. All my J1 related fees summed up to approximately $200,000.00 JMD. To pay for this I borrowed even more money. Additionally, by the end of my second semester, I had a tuition balance in excess of $100,000.00 JMD. Also, I paid a deposit of $15,000.00 JMD on cheaper off-campus housing that was only 5 minutes walk from UTech. At this point, my total debt was now exceeding $300,000.00 JMD, But I wasn’t too worried because I intended to work like crazy in the US and settle all outstanding balances. Now, do you remember the definitions prior? My debt became leverage the moment I invested the acquired capital in the J1 program.
Return on Investment
In May 2016 I arrived in America, and I was on a mission. With such a large amount of debt looming over my head, I had to consistently work harder and smarter than my peers. I created a strict budget, I strategically planned my weekly earnings and ensured that I met or surpassed my target amount. Thus by the end of June 2016, I settled my debt with all creditors except UTech. I continued to live frugally, obeying my almighty budget and by mid-August, I was debt-free. Now, I needed to earn enough money to cover all my third semester’s expenses; namely: rent and tuition. Consequently, I stayed in the US until mid-September, which was the latest date my J1 visa permitted. By working a bit longer than most, I missed three weeks of school, however, this decision allowed me to achieve my financial goals. I was even able to invest in a professional camera kit which would allow me to earn additional income while at UTech doing freelance photography. Success! I was now able to finance my studies independently.
Apply the Formula
At this point, to my family and many others, I seemed to have done the impossible; they were all convinced that the debt I acquired could only end badly. I proved them wrong, and it felt great. Now equipped with a tested and proven formula that works; I continued to invest money in the J1 program annually. I would only settle my winter semester tuition debt from my summer earnings. Thus, continuing to use debt to leverage my educational investment. Finally, In December 2019, I successfully completed my bachelor’s degree at UTech, and I was debt-free. So, never say you can’t, instead, always ask yourself, how can I?
Whatever your goal may be, you won’t achieve it if you don’t start. You don’t need all the answers to start.
Apply to a university or college now! Apply for scholarships, grants, student-loans, write and request financial assistance. Though you may feel embarrassed, and things may get hard, you must remain persistent, believe in yourself and you will achieve your goal.
If you found my story helpful, please share it with classmates, family and friends so it can inspire them to pursue their dreams too. If you have questions or remarks about my journey, write them in the comments below, and make sure to subscribe, so you don’t miss the next one.