Independent Carolina: Putting Yourself Through College

by Josh Thompson / Garnet & Black

According to Forbes, students who pay for their own education will perform better.

Imagine you’re coming home from class one day. You eat a granola bar on your way to work as your meal of the day. You work the rest of the day, and then you go home to study. And you wake up the next morning to do it all again.

It’s hard to imagine when college seems like the harbinger of stress and 24 hours seems too small of a number to make up one long day. But for some students, that’s reality.


Third-year broadcast journalism student Jada Williams said, “It may sound like [I'm] super woman until you think about all the debt I’m in right now — because it’s a lot of money for a college student.”

Being the last of 10 kids, the subject of paying for college was transparent.

She got her first job when she was 14, just two months away from turning 15, and she starting building a savings account so it would be there if, and when, she ever needed it. She now works at Rack Room Shoes.

“When I got [to USC], it was kind of a slap in the face,” she said. “You have a lot of time on your hands, but you also have no time at all.”

And Williams’ days just got busier: she’s interning for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

“Now I’m in an awkward middle ground because I have an internship. Ten hours a week for work, time allotted for school, time allotted for my internship, eating and sleeping … where does that all fall into place?”

Williams answered her own question: “Very strategic planning. I have every single minute of my life planned right now.”

She spends a majority of her free time talking to her biggest support system: her mom.

“Getting that moral support during my free time is very cathartic for me, which is much needed when I have so much on my plate,” Williams said. “It may be overwhelming right now, it may be really, really hard on you right now, but don’t look at it as right now — look at it as the future.”

And her inspiration that gets her through her jam-packed days?

“A really big factor for me is that I want to be a mom one day and I want to be a working mom. I’m doing this now so my kids won’t have to do it later.”

In the spring of her sophomore year, Williams ran out of money.

She had to miss a month of her classes, but she still got As in all of them.


Many students pick up part-time jobs for some cash on the side, but Jessica Parker, fourth-year international business student, juggles three jobs at a time. Unlike Williams, Parker is the oldest of five kids, but she always knew this expense was coming. 

“It was something I was always expecting — I’m the oldest of five kids,” Parker said. Parker isn’t disappointed when imagining more down time and socializing in college: “I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything.”

One of the jobs Parker has consistently juggled is working at a pizza place in her hometown since she was 14, which she returned to during summer break. During the school year, Parker has held an array of jobs: resident mentor, SI leader, cocktail waitress at The Salty Nut Cafe and employee the Visitor’s Center at USC.

Parker suspected she’d have to pay for college, but she didn’t account for the extra expenses that being an IB major requires.

And she was blown away by how much everything in the real world costs.

So, she became a pro-budgeter. When she studied abroad, she found a way to spend 45 euros or less each week, something she said definitely made her more financially savvy.

On top of working 20 hours a week, she’s preparing her honors college thesis and applying to graduate school. Parker recognizes that internships are valued on resumes, but argues that having a job in college is just as impressive.

“In an interview, I think me saying that I’ve worked at the same restaurant and was able to see it grow for the past five years has just as much merit than, ‘Oh, I worked one 12-week internship,’” she said.

Parker said she has a great support system, something she learned the value of through her work.

“I learned about knowing yourself, knowing your limits and [knowing] what you need,” she said.

The days where Parker can sit down and eat dinner without having to multitask are blessings. She admits that she feels like a mom when she says that, but Parker cherishes those days. 

“It’s rare, but when I get those moments it’s completely worth it when I look at where I’m at,” she said. “I feel like I have so much more merit to add because I’m still able to have those moments and make those memories.”


After high school, third-year broadcast journalism student Caitlin Mathias’ mom told her she was on her own. So, she took out loans and started paying for everything herself.

She said supporting yourself in college is a cornerstone in becoming independent and knowing the value of a dollar.

“By paying for school, supporting yourself, you become a strong individual,” she said. “Once I graduate, it’s not going to be that big of a transition for me.”

Being financially independent puts the simplest things, like grocery shopping, into perspective. She’s got the prices memorized.

“I never used to think about how a gallon of milk costs $4 and a dozen eggs is $4,” she said.

It puts the larger things into perspective, too.

“I know how important class is. I’ll lose $300 if I don’t go to that class,” Mathias said. “I don’t regret anything that I’m doing.”

And she has a lot on her plate. She works 30 to 40 hours a week and 60 to 70 closer to holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas at Four Oaks Farm Country Store.

Mathias makes lists to cope with stress. Visually seeing something crossed off relieves her, and she’s not afraid to buckle down if she has to.

“At the end of the day, I just do it. If I’m starting to get freaked out about everything that I have to do, I just stop and do it,” Mathias said. “I’ll stay up until 3 a.m. and go to work at 7 a.m.”

She said working in college has helped her establish herself.

“Something I’ve learned is that you need to be a good, independent person before you can have others depend on you, or you depend on other people."