How I Saved For My Student Loans by Camping on Campus
It’s cheaper to pitch a tent outside the admininistration building than pay for a dorm.
Originally published on Debt.com, Jan. 2018
Last semester, I didn’t just go to classes at Florida Atlantic University in South Florida. I lived there — in stairwells, on friend’s couches, even in a tent on the lawn out front of the administration building. Everywhere but in a dormitory.
Why? Two reasons. First, I wanted to save $5,000 to work on paying down a huge student loan balance. Second, I wanted to make a point about the high cost of college. Here’s what I did, and what I wanted to prove…
Stairwells Don’t Cost Rent
Before my final semester even started, I had decided to spend it without a dorm. I wasn’t particularly broke, mentally ill, or relishing the thought of sleeping on concrete. I simply didn’t want to add another $5,000 to my $100,000 in student debt. Especially when I had friends with couches and knew my way around that campus better than the police who work there.
I began by sleeping on couches. That lasted about a month, but I became tired of sleeping on other people’s schedules. This shifted to showering in the gym, storing my stuff in a gym locker, and sleeping outside. My first night, I found out the tent I rented was not waterproof, as I desperately tried to prevent a Genesis-level flood inside. I went back to my friend’s couch that night dripping mud.
The next night, it stormed again, this time as I was sleeping on my hammock. Hammocks are also not at all waterproof, so I ended up sleeping in my first stairwell.
After those two nights, I spent almost a week in one particular stairwell that was quiet, dark, and most importantly out of the way. With my sleeping pad, it was quite comfortable actually. As I drifted off to sleep in that stairwell, though, I thought of all the other students that may not be able to afford housing and how they could be doing what I’m doing, if only they knew how.
I had a nefarious idea. I could tell the student body through the school newspaper, the University Press, exactly what I was doing and how, while also insulting the school for its dorm prices and rising tuition. All I needed to do was order my thoughts — and actually figure out if there were regulations against what I was doing.
My Campus Alarm Cop
According to StudentLoans.net, the average debt per student was $31,333 in 2017. FAU’s website estimates that an undergraduate living on campus would spend $23,246 in a school year, and that’s in-state tuition. Out-of-state is $37,246. FAU almost and does overtake that average debt in one year.
I know people who are struggling to pay off $5,000 in student loans. Undergraduate Stafford loans have a 4.45 percent interest rate as well, which is an extra $1,400 a year on that average debt
College is effing expensive. With a college degree becoming and more and more expected, more students are going into debt for it. And I can say from experience, these debts stop you from doing what you may want to do with your life. The debts chain you down to a job that can actually pay them, but you may not want. What’s the point of getting a degree in something if you have to take a job you don’t want to pay for it?
These thoughts kept me edging myself past my discomfort. I was thinking I could show other students there’s ways to sleep for free, and knowing I’d be sticking it to FAU as well. My final test and act of defiance would be to pitch my tent directly in front of the administration building, in the center of campus, overnight. If I could do this without issue, I could convince students, and who knows, maybe start something great — and free.
I staked out with a photographer at 11 p.m. Campus police woke me at 7:30 a.m. They asked a few questions — they were confused by me being there. I answered and then asked the question that would give me, and other students, the confidence to sleep for free: “Camping is allowed on campus, isn’t it?”
“That’s a good question. I don’t think it is,” they told me. “But you know, you aren’t doing anything necessarily like breaking any laws or anything. I think it’s more or like a campus regulation, plus you’re right outside administration.”
There is no campus regulation, I checked. So I got nothing for an answer.
I followed up but unfortunately, in the end, I still got nothing. I played phone tag with the captain of the FAU police force for a month, trying to get an answer. His initial response of “No” was basically all I ever got. They obviously were not fond of the idea of students camping all over campus.
I published a piece in the university newspaper about all of this, and roughly explaining how to get away with it. I may not be able to change the rising tuitions of universities, but I can at least help shield these students, and myself, from the cumulative $20,000 spent on dorms for four years.