Illustration by Samantha Schuyler

In a perfect world, a college degree would come nicely packaged with a career and wrapped in a clean slate. But an outdated financial aid system and unregulated tuition keep some students scrambling to lift their heads above the rough waves of debt.

Student loan debt now amounts to $1 trillion, $864 billion of which is backed by the federal government, according to Generation Progress. This rising trend is due to student loans being tacked with high interest rates. Some are as high as 6 percent.

The difference in the rates adds up to a nice chunk of change for the federal government, but it also means that students will owe even more money than they initially borrowed.

Combine that with the rising cost of tuition.

Can the situation get more discouraging? You bet. At the University of Florida, the percentage of students whose needs are fully met is only 30.2 percent of the student population, according to U.S. News.

There is no reason to give up, though. Students are in college for a reason: to think outside of the box and climb over hills even if they might seem like mountains.

Some students are getting creative to afford college.

David Lakin is a chemical engineering major with a talent for producing fine art. After discovering his gift in high school, he drew simply because he enjoyed it.

But upon entering college, Lakin knew that some things needed to change if he was going to successfully graduate without drowning in loan payments.

As a freshman, Lakin found – a website that allows artists to upload their work and sell prints – so while studying, he could use his favorite pasttime to help him through the fiscal journey.

Lakin works on commissioned pieces, meaning that customers are able to request specific works of art. At the same time, he has the ability to incorporate his own ideas and vision.

“Usually, a commissioner will have some sort of idea in mind that I then bring to life in my style,” Lakin said. “Sometimes, you get an individual who has no particular idea and just wants you to paint them anything.”

Although his online business does not pay for everything, it certainly does help.

As a junior, Lakin is fortunate enough to have qualified for Bright Futures and other funds, but it is more about “riding out the wave” than “hoping for the future.”  The funds that he receives allow him to maintain, but his project adds profit.

“I think the rising tuition costs are completely ridiculous,” Laken said. “Education is a right deserved by all who desire it, and this whole service industry bit has gone too far.”

Lakin doesn’t foresee “affordable” college in the near future unless there is some major, unexpected overhaul.

“It saddens me, but from what I’ve seen, my prognosis is that students will have to shoulder this burden for a while yet,” Lakin said.

Sarah Adams is a junior telecommunications major who found an IT job while searching for work online. Seems normal, right? Except that Adams worked for a company that hired men and women for webcam “peep” shows. Setting up individual cam websites, she also performed daily maintenance on streams and chats.

With parents who were already struggling financially, she was hopeful that UF would come through and provide enough aid for dorm and tuition. Unfortunately, what she was given was not enough. So, she did what she had to.

But it’s hard to get a decent job with “sex industry” on your resume, so Adams switched employers and now works for a family-friendly company. The money she makes from this job goes straight to tuition, and the rest comes from loans.

Adams remembers a time when her sister received Bright Futures at 100 percent tuition. It was her hope to follow in her sister’s footsteps and go through college unperturbed. But things rarely ever go according to plan.

“I never expected it to be like it is now,” Adams said. “Even National Merit students at UF are only getting around $500 a semester.”

“Loan” can seem like a dirty word, but Adams believes that students shouldn’t be afraid to take them out.

“It’s draining to worry about money all the time,” Adams said. “If you have the option to make it a little easier now, do it. Use that extra time not working to get good grades so you can compete for a job that you like.”

Allana Brown is senior telecommunications major who lost both her scholarships and Bright Futures her freshman year.

Desperation set in. Without work experience or a job, it seemed as if graduating college was impossible. So, Brown turned to the Internet for help. Now, three years later, she is a “serial dater,” a person who is paid to go on dates.

Brown accidently came upon the site,, while visiting Uncomfortable with the idea of being a “sugar baby” or a phone-sex operator, she believes that her job is a lot safer.

The idea behind the site is that online visitors cannot view private pictures or send messages until a price is agreed upon between the two parties.

Brown does not necessarily enjoy the job, but it pays for her education.

“I like going on dates, so why not get paid for something we all do for free?” Brown said. “I also have two other jobs.”

Brown believes that her circumstance is a testament to the failing education system.

“The cost is going up, but the aid is decreasing,” Brown said. “I am no mathematician, but that doesn’t add up. Undergraduate degrees are like the high school diploma of years before. Not to mention that many of us cannot even find jobs after we accrue so much debt.”

Despite what others may think, Brown is unashamed of her situation. In fact, she encourages students to do whatever he or she thinks is necessary to get through school.

“If anybody judges you, they better be willing to pay your tuition,” Brown said.