How to Go to College for Free and Other Things Your Parents Didn’t Teach You by Eric Keeneth

According to College Data, the cost of tuition each year for a public college is $10K and the cost of a private university is $35K. To the average person, this is a lot and most of us don’t have that money in savings. I had this problem and an even bigger problem back in 1990 when I graduated from high school.

The Ohio State University; Columbus, Ohio

The bigger problem was I was immature, irresponsible and I wasn’t ready for college. I could have had a million dollars in the bank but it wouldn’t have changed the fact that I was not going to get a degree. So how was I going to get the money to pay for college and acquire the skills needed to get my degree?

I had an idea. I took the radical step of changing my life forever by enlisting in the Marine Corps. After all, my dad was a Marine and so was my grandfather and they turned out all right.

In hindsight, it was the best decision I ever made. Not only did I learn how to march,  salute and fire a weapon but I also learned how to accept responsibility for my mistakes and, most importantly, that you win with people.

Let me tell you a story: I was at the Rifle Range in November of 1990. I had a pilonidal cyst at the small of my back that had gotten infected and I did not disclose this information to the drill instructors. I was due to qualify on Friday and needed a minimum score of 180. On Wednesday I was shooting a 152. Not only was I performing poorly, but I was also waking up in the middle of the night in intense pain due to my infection.  

I had a lot on the line. I went to Parris Island on the buddy system with 2 other kids from my hometown: population 15,000. If I had failed at the rifle range everyone back home would have known it.

A fellow recruit I befriended gave me his last Motrin. To the laymen, having pain medication in boot camp is like having a glass of water in the desert. After I took the medicine, the inflammation in my back went down enough that the pain went away for the rest of boot camp.  This recruit’s name was Private Cruz and if he is reading this article I am forever in his gratitude.

What I did next surprised even me at the time; I asked God for His help. I even remember how the prayers went: “God, if you really exist, please do me this one favor and help me qualify at the rifle range on Friday.” I had nowhere else to go; the drill instructors are not big on sympathy or hand holding.  

By Friday, something happened to me. I had acquired steady confidence and had somehow found a rhythm with my rifle. As they say, everything was clicking. When I qualified that day, I had the highest score out of three platoons, shared with one other recruit , a 229, and I was a Rifle Expert, which is a coveted title for a US Marine.  The way I felt at that moment is indescribable. From this moment on, my life was changed. A boy had died and a man was born.

The lessons I learned that day were two-fold. First, never burn your bridges with anyone. If I hadn’t befriended Private Cruz it’s likely I would have “unqualified” or failed at the rifle range.  Second, I learned how to accept responsibility. Sure, I put my time into the fundamentals of marksmanship but, more importantly, I admitted there was something bigger than me that week and I asked for His help.  For those of you that have had your prayers answered, I am sure you know the feeling.

I left the Marines after four years a changed man. I got to see the West Coast, lived near Tokyo in Japan and met some great people along the way. I also took college courses while I was in the service to build my confidence and by the time I left, I was a transfer student with a 3.9 GPA. Not only was I accepted to Ohio State University, but I also had full-ride tuition thanks to Uncle Sam.

Here are some other lessons I have learned along the way that my parents never taught me: it’s okay to ask for help. People want to help you. You don’t have to think you’re a failure because you seek out someone that has traveled on a path before you.

When I left the Marines, I felt I needed a little polish, so I went to college and joined a fraternity. I know some of you may gasp at the thought but I was a 22-year-old freshman that needed the social skills and poise to maneuver the networking world and set myself up for success in the private sector. As a result, every job I have received has come through a fraternity referral through my network. Remember, you win with people!

Find an uncommon solution to a problem. When I was leaving corporate finance to get into medical sales, I had to face the unfortunate reality that I had no sales experience and I wanted to get into a sales industry that nearly all sales professionals wanted to get into! What did I do? I calmly did some research and bought a rather expensive book called “Insight Into a Career in Pharmaceutical Sales”. Every day at lunch, I left the office and studied that book and I learned the industry forwards and backwards. I also learned how to prepare for an interview: what to say, how to behave, etc. After reading the book cover-to-cover at least ten times, I started interviewing and by the 5th interview, I had secured a job offer from the biggest pharmaceutical company at that time.  

I have found that confidence is best when it is earned. Dare to do something big. I finished my first half-ironman triathlon when I was severely dehydrated and promptly took two IV bags at the finish line. I ran my first full marathon in Berlin, and I didn’t even train for it. I successfully finished my MBA and got my employer to pay for it.  I am not telling you these things to brag, I am asking you to believe in yourself and your capabilities.

Last but not least, pick up the phone and tell those around you that you care about them. Tell your parents that although you didn’t always agree with them, you acknowledge all they have done for you. Tell your favorite teacher how she impacted your life. I still thank my mentor in Finance on LinkedIn and I haven’t seen him in over fifteen years.  

I hope this article offered you some guidance. Good luck in all your endeavors and whoever you are please know that I am always rooting for you.  

Eric Keeneth owns 3Keen Marketing, a digital marketing agency, in Columbus, OH that specializes in helping small- to medium-sized firms grow their businesses. Eric began his career in 1998 in corporate accounting until he found his niche in segmentation analysis and marketing for Limited Brands. Eric has held several positions in medical sales and received a BSBA in Finance from Ohio State University and an MBA from Ashland College specializing in Marketing and Global Finance.