How College Saved My Life

The benefit of going to college extends far beyond the piece of paper you graduate with. The memories and experience you leave with are priceless.

In the last week or so on Facebook, I’ve been seeing friends posting pictures of their kids’ high school graduations. This does two things to me: 1. It makes me feel very old. 2. It brings me back to the time I graduated high school and was excited about starting my freshman year at Ferris State University in Michigan.

Going to college is a highly debatable subject lately because of the high cost of attending, and the fact that many people can’t afford to send their kids to college, which puts the financial burden on the student, and leaves them with the possibility that they might be paying off huge student loans well into their adult lives.

Another argument to not go to college is being able to educate oneself through on the job training, self-paced courses, freelancing, etc. Why should one have to go to college and take english and math courses when their time might be better served focusing on specific skills?

My response to that is that it’s because college is so much more than just job training and a degree. It literally saved my life.

the backstory


I almost didn’t go to college. I was an average student at best, mainly because my home life lacked serious structure, so I was unfocused and unmotivated. Although I always sort of assumed I would somehow find my way to college, I didn’t have the drive that many students do to get there. In fact, my high school guidance counselor said that I was really only cut out for business school. To this day, I still find that terrible advice.

During high school my parents were all but separated, and then finally divorced right before my senior year. My mom was dating my stepdad at the time, and was always over at his house (my dad had his own apartment), so during my senior year I fended for myself while my brother (who was held back a grade, and therefore a senior with me), had parties at our house every single night. I wasn’t thinking about school or college. I was thinking about surviving.

Thankfully, I didn’t listen to my guidance counselor and began applying to schools, even though I hadn’t even taken that ACT test yet. By some miracle, I was accepted to Ferris before I even took the test, although they still required me to take it.

In yet another miracle, a teacher suggested I apply for a scholarship based on merit, and not grades, through my city’s cable commission, because I was a television production student in school. I won the partial scholarship, and it was the first time in my life that I believed it was worth it to work hard.

why college saved me


I didn’t know how bad my life at home during high school was until I moved away and was in an environment that was fun and supportive. As I got happier, I joined in on a lot more social activities, which were challenging to manage with the school schedule, so that trained me to become more focused and determined. For the first time in my life, I made honor roll.

As a teenager I was also overweight, mainly because I was sedentary and unhappy. As my happiness increased, so too did my physical activity and making better food choices. I was the opposite of most students. While many were experiencing freedom for the first time, they ate and drank whatever they wanted to, which sometimes led to negative consequences. For me in high school, I had all the freedom I could ever ask for (although I never took advantage of it), so by the time I got to college I wasn’t interested in partying my way through it.

The benefit of going to college extends far beyond the piece of paper you graduate with. The memories and experience you leave with are priceless.

Making the best choice for you


This is not a post to sway someone either for or against going to college. It’s simply yet another perspective on why college life is more beneficial than just a degree. At least it was for me. The life skills, friendships, and independence I learned, has proven almost far more valuable than the piece of paper I earned.

With my current job, I could easily learn those skills online or through much cheaper courses, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world.


If you could go back to your senior year in high school, what would you do differently? What choice would you make about where to go to college? What would you major in? If you went, what was your college experience like?

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Tonya Stumphauzer

Tonya is a video editor/producer and writer living in Los Angeles who enjoys beach volleyball, playing ukulele, and running. Visit her blog Budget & the Beach!


  • I would have definitely applied for more scholarships and been more careful on which loans I took out. Maybe I would have taken the SATs one more time even though I did well the first time to maybe lock in a better scholarship. I also didn’t apply to any private schools, but would have gave them a shot since some have a better handle on financial aid as they are not public.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      I wish I would have paid more attention in high school to get better test scores, but live and learn.

  • That’s wonderful that college was such a positive experience for you! I agree too–I gained so much more than just a degree from my undergrad experience. It was an opportunity for me to really learn who I was. Plus, I had a lot of fun and met Mr. FW :)!

  • I would definitely pick to go to college if I had to choose again. I had a full ride scholarship for academics and a part-time gig with the military that allowed me to graduate in the black. I would be completely different person if I hadn’t gone to college and I wouldn’t have my kickass job. Definitely a good choice for me all around.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      wow glad it had such a positive impact on your life! I can’t imagine the kind of person I’d be if I didn’t go.

  • Jason B says:

    The only thing I would change about my senior year is that I would have applied for more scholarships. My college experience was great. It helped me grow up a lot.

  • Hannah says:

    Even though I will encourage my son (and any other kids) to explore options outside of college, I think there’s tremendous value to the transitional phase of life that college naturally provides.

    I’m also glad you’re a fighter and that college brought out the best in you.

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      I think an open conversation about all that goes into going to college or not going to college is what it’s all about. It might not be the best option for everyone.

  • Everyone’s experience is different. For some people, college is a transformative experience, as it was for you!
    Other people don’t get much from it, and find it a waste of time and money. I think college is best for people who enjoy learning, enjoy being around other people, and those who are focused.
    Too many people just consider college a party–and it’s a very expensive party, as they find out after graduation!

    • Tonya Stumphauzer says:

      You make a very good point and I knew many people like that. I know some who were a couple credits shy of graduating but never did. What?? Or who pissed away each semester partying. My guess is they weren’t paying for college themselves.

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