A first-generation student at the University of Oregon, Jessica Bolts has been working part-time while in high school and full-time every summer since she was 16-years-old to save money for college. Now a freshman attending UO, Bolts continues to work up to two jobs to make ends meet this time in her collegiate career.

“I’m paying for school myself, so I’ve been saving up since I started working,” Bolts said. “I got the past fall term covered for tuition, so I’m just trying to work as much as I can.”

Bolts spends her days studying and attending class. After her last class of the day, she drives to the Valley River Center Mall to start her shift at All-American Ice Cream. She works until about 10 p.m., long after the mall has closed. By the time she gets back to her dorm, it is already close to midnight.

“Sometimes it feels like I’m never going to get back,” Bolts said. Some weekends Bolts works from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., and her friends try to visit her when they can. During fall term, Bolts worked a second seasonal job, and worked 15 hours in one day on Black Friday.

While trying to balance her work schedule and 17 credit hours at school, Bolts successfully paid for her first two terms without taking out any loans.

At the University of Oregon, full-time tuition has risen from $5,570 in 2004 to $9,918 in 2014, and federal and state aid have not risen proportionately. This has created a problem for many students, who take out loans or work multiple jobs to pursue higher education.

“I remember one of my teachers in high school said they worked one summer and then that paid for like all of their college,” Bolts said. “It is insane how expensive it is and how everyone is going to have loans that they carry until their forties.”

While Bolts has paid for her entire tuition and housing out of pocket and plans to do so for as long as she can, she acknowledges the possibility of taking out loans in the future. According to Bolts, she does not feel as knowledgable about how student loans work as she wishes she did, and thinks that more could be done in high schools to prepare students for issues concerning financial aid and loans.

“I don’t think I was very prepared or my friends were very prepared about how to take out loans and how grants work and all those things,” Bolts said. “In my opinion, part of an economics class in high school should include that for seniors just to prepare you.”

Despite the amount of time and work it has taken for her to afford higher education, Bolts said she would not change a thing.

“It would be nice not to have a job, just be able to relax and know that I have a lot of time to do homework,” Bolts said. “But I also think having a job is a good way to set out your priorities and learn how to balance out school and work.”

“I think it’s worth it, paying as much as I do.”

Follow Francesca Fontana on Twitter @francescamarief

Please consider donating to the Emerald. We are an independent non-profit dedicated to supporting and educating this generation's best journalists. Your donation helps pay equipment costs, travel, payroll, and more!