How I Got Through School Debt-Free in Hawaii

Sweet Tooth Delights You Can Get on the Mainland-2.png

I wouldn’t normally write about a topic like this, but it has everything to do with Hawaii. And it would be useful for many Hawaiians, both in Hawaii and on the mainland. So I’ve been trying to figure out what to write about today, and it literally came in the mail. When I got home after a long day of work, there was a cute little package sitting on my bed, addressed from Hawaii. I opened it, my head buzzing with the possibilities of what it could be.

I pulled out a card with the Kamehameha Schools logo and seal, and found within the card the following words:


He lawai’a no ke kai papa’u, he pōkole ke aho;

He lawai’a no ke kai hohonu he loa ke aho.

A fisherman of the shallow sea uses only a short line;

A fisherman of the deep sea has a long line.

A person whose knowledge is shallow does not have much, but he, whose knowledge is deep, does.


What wisdom! 🙂 As I reflected on this, it reminded me of how hard I’ve worked and how, even though I’m not where I want to be at this exact moment, the skills and qualities instilled in me from experiences in my life have helped me to be a stronger, more resilient person, even when the going gets hard.


And that’s how I got through school without any debts. You have to be diligent, even though school is hard and there’s always something to keep you busy. I paid my way through school by applying for tons and tons of scholarships, and I also worked part time. I had many, many rejection letters for scholarships I applied to, but I also received many acceptance letters, and usually just enough to cover the cost of my tuition. 


I graduated from UH-Hilo in three years and by the last semester, I had three jobs (four if you include teaching piano lessons on the side) on top of taking 23 credits to finish up (instead of going one more semester). I got all A’s that last semester, even though it was my heaviest load yet–and if you want proof I will show you my transcript! 😛 On top of that, I was able to save up enough money to pay for half of my LDS mission and then still have some money to use upon my return 18 months later–and that money later would buy me a plane ticket, application fees to BYU, and my first few months of rent in Utah.*


There’s really no secret to success. Those who want something badly will hustle to get it, and they WILL get it. I know that scholarships take a lot of time and work, but come on… Everything takes up time. If you are sick of the school debt, it’s not going to go away with you sitting on the couch and watching Netflix. And maybe I’m a weird little entrepreneur/free spirit kind of a person, but I take pride in all of the things I do. I know that setting goals and making the time to do things will pay off, even if it’s like pulling teeth to get it all done (cause trust me, I’ve been there, especially with writing scholarship essays and letters). 


So if you want to get good scholarships and be free of the student-debt rut you’re in, then you gotta hustle. Here are the biggest pieces of advice I can give you–and these are from my own personal experiences. And keep in mind I’ve received scholarships mostly from the Hawaii-based scholarship programs (whether it’s for Hawaiians or from Hawaii), including Hawaii Community Foundation, Pauahi Foundation, and Imi Na’auao. 


Do extra-curricular activities

And I don’t just mean sports. Participate and accept church assignments. Volunteer in the community (when I lived in Provo, I volunteered at all kinds of things, and one of the fun events I volunteered at was a Fourth of July “Freedom Run,” where I basically passed out fruits to the runners after the race). Get to know other volunteers and be consistent about it. To pay back my Imi Na’auao scholarship I had to do 150 hours of community service. I volunteered not only at my church, but at a local Crisis Line in Utah. I wasn’t just doing my volunteer service for the hours, but I was actually learning. How many people can say they worked at a crisis line and learned how to de-escalate suicidal or high anxiety or depressed situations? The experience I gained through my service has helped and will continue to help me throughout my life. 



Don’t just go to a college class and leave before the professor finishes the lecture. Get to know your professors, and make sure they know who you are too. Stand out amidst your classmates, coworkers, and groups. Be the employee with the highest amount of integrity. Make friends with your classmates who are succeeding and see what they’re doing different so you can learn from them. Be the kid in the class who is nice to everyone. Don’t be afraid to answer questions or participate. And, one of my biggest tips, go visit your professors. Get to know them personally. I never understood why my classmates were so intimidated by professors–I absolutely loved many of my professors and I’d go visit and chat with them during my down times. Many of my professors have become my mentors and friends. They are there for you, and, as you stand out, your network grows and these people will also be able to write you high letters of recommendation.


Get a job

While working as you take classes isn’t idea, it’s helpful. I worked pretty much all throughout college. Even when I first moved to Utah, I had a lousy job as a baker at the BYU Bakery, and it was hard work, but it paid my rent and some of my tuition (the amount the scholarships didn’t cover). While it’s not the funnest thing in the world, working actually helps you manage your time better, and it teaches you fundamental skills you’ll need for the real world (taxes, tithing, rent, budgeting, etc).


Be classy

Saying “please,” “thank you,” and offering to help always goes a long, long way.


Always remember who you are

No matter your religious or cultural background, remember who you are as a person. Remember that you are of worth, and that the things you’re doing now will benefit you and the future generations.


There is no big secret. Going to school and staying out of debt is all up to you. When I started school, I received FAFSA and some parental help, but less than halfway through college I paid for everything, whether it was out of pocket or through financial aid and scholarships. But I would’ve never been able to get through school debt-free if it hadn’t of been for my scholarships.


With that said, I just wanted to publicly thank Kamehameha Schools for the generous scholarships they’ve offered me over the years, and for the many great values and ethics it has taught me. In the card I just received, it said this:


As you embark on a new chapter in your life, we hope you continue to embrace Ke Ali’i Pauahi’s mission and vision of her people becoming “good and industrious men and women.”


My experiences in attending Kamehameha Schools, paired with my religious values and life experiences, has really taught me to be an industrious woman. I’m not perfect, but giving everything my 110% has paid off, literally. I can walk out of school debt free, pursuing my dreams and knowing that I’m doing what God wants me to do, and that Bernice Pauahi Bishop would probably be proud of me too. I’m excited for the day that I can give back to the community by donating to and having my own scholarship programs. So many people have blessed my life from behind the scenes. I don’t know all the people who have generously given money to the scholarship funds at Kamehameha Schools, but my heartfelt gratitude goes out to them. Pauahi would be proud of us, especially as I move on in my career and continue this cycle of giving that others have started, and therefore perpetuate this legacy of hers. 

So how do you get through school without any debt? Well, I just told you how. There’s no secret. The choice is yours.

What are some things you’ve done (or are doing) to graduate debt free? Be sure to like, comment, and share!




*The only expense I didn’t have to pay for as I went through college in Hawaii was my rent. I lived in my home, rent-free, which many students don’t have the luxury of doing. When I moved to Utah, however, I lived in apartments for a very long time and I was still able to pay and keep up with everything. It’s all about budgeting and being wise with your resources.

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