Free College Education: How We Saved ₱250,000 Tuition Fee

Every time I feel down, I always think of my accomplishments. And one of my best accomplishments is the fact that I was able to get a free college education.

It may not be the best that I had hoped for, but those are significant milestones in pursuit of success in life. I’m far from what I was before and what I’m going to be.

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I was in the top 10 of the class during my primary and secondary years, graduated with flying colors in college, ran a 21km marathon, and now work for a multinational company. I may even be interested in pursuing an MBA in one of the best MBA schools in the Philippines.

But the point is, these things never happen by luck or coincidence. I worked hard every day and never slept for countless nights. I have a strong belief in myself but more in my mother.

I’ve known my mother as a strict disciplinarian. She always protected me from bad elements and steered me to a straight path to goodness centered on education. Since I was small, she was always strict and protective.

The Eight Rules of My Mom

These eight rules made me who I am and I was able to graduate with flying colors.

Rule 1: Sit In the First Row

Sit in the First Row

She wanted me to sit in front of the teacher so I could hear well and wouldn’t be tempted to talk to my seatmate. I was prone to catching an illness from my teachers’ sneezes)

Rule 2: Choose Your Seatmate

Choose Your Seatmate

They must be intelligent like you. I was programmed to think that I was brilliant.

Rule 3: Don’t Talk!

Don't Talk

Always listen to your teacher. I realized I broke this rule when at the end of the school year, my teacher told my mother that I was very talkative.

Rule 4: Ace Your Exams and Quizzes. Always!

Ace Exams Always

Participate in discussions as much as possible. Even if I didn’t know the answer, I should raise my hand. That’s what she wanted.

Rule 5: Don’t Go With Low-Performers

Don't Go with Low-Performers

I shouldn’t hang around with low-performer friends during playtime, going home, etc. They are contagious.

Rule 6: Medal = Rewards

Medals = Rewards

If you receive a medal at the end of the school year, tons of toys are up for grabs.

She would only be happy if I had that medal. Otherwise, failure to do so would be a serious family issue for weeks and would defer things like watching TV and going out.

Rule 7: If Others Can Do It, So Can You

You Can Do It

PMA – Positive Mental Attitude. “Your sisters, brother, and other students made it to the top, and so can you,” my mom once said. My brother and sisters were always in the top 1 or 2. But I also responded, “Yes, my classmates are intelligent, but they’re not that good-looking.” LOL

Rule 8: Follow My Orders, No Matter What

Follow Orders

She was an autocratic mother, I must say. The way she hit that leather belt on me was so painful that I couldn’t breathe. Too bad and too good. Too bad because I never had the chance to experience the other side of life when I was young. Too good for some reason.

How We Got Free College Education

I still couldn’t figure out why my mother was so hard on me in college. While I understand it was for my own sake, there was no profound meaning though I never dared to ask. So I accepted her rules, just what she wanted me to be. It never really sank in.

However, things were different. I had lots of freedom, at last! I was in a different arena, and it was never like my early school years’ old, dull days. She never knew I was sitting in the middle row, frolicking in the room, having friends with “not-so-good” guys, sleeping during classes, and not aiming for that shiny object hanging on my neck.

I applied as a working student at the University of San Jose-Recoletos. I had foreseen the challenge like juggling two sharp knives. So I warned her, “Don’t ever expect that I’ll have that medal when I graduate. My siblings didn’t even make it.” Finally, I had my legit excuse, lol. My mother never said a word. She agreed in silence.

“Slacky” 1st Year

My First Year in College

Things were so exciting, and I had a good time with my friends. I went around the city, flirted with ladies, and played online games. I didn’t have a chance to start as a working student, so I was a regular student then.

I enjoyed it, and it was never the same as before. I tried to have good grades but not enough. I ended up at a satisfactory level – not excellent but not failing. What a good life! My mom still had her support and pressure on me.

“Pretty serious” 2nd year

My Second Year in College

I started studying and as a working student at the same time. I had little time to wander around or with some other stuff. It was just between study and work.

While in the adjustment period, there was no other stuff to focus on but my studies. For the second time, I aimed to improve my grades. But I still didn’t make it to the dean’s list. My mom had little pressure on me, but she understood what it’s like to be a working student. Both my sisters were working students too.

“Trying hard” 3rd year

My Third Year in College

I was an average Joe. I felt like I was a guinea pig on a never-ending treadmill. My mother was neither dismayed nor satisfied with my grades, but her support was firm.

I always left home early and came home late, sometimes at 11 p.m., because of my work at school. I almost made it to the dean’s list, but I got a low grade in my primary subject – 3.0 in Advanced Statistics. Pull it down a little, and I would have failed. What a shame!

My performance in my studies and work was acceptable. What would I earn if I had done my best as a working student? Recognition, perhaps. But there was no such award given at that time. What if I excel in my studies? Then I’d become a dean’s lister. An honor student. Would I be entitled to a tuition fee discount? No, working students were not eligible for that.

And that was the tipping point. I didn’t know why, but deep inside, a voice told me, “You are studying now. Would it be fulfilling if you graduated with nothing? Don’t you miss being at the top?” I pondered these thoughts and decided. “I will do my best to have higher grades. What could I do to avail that school fee discount? I had a plan.”

“Liberation” 4th Year

My Fourth Year in College

June 12, 2008 – Independence Day of the Philippines. I was officially an academic scholar and would never have to work again in the office as a working student.

I could also focus on my studies to earn that medal. I also have the potential to avail a school fee discount if my grades are high enough. My motivation was recognition and money. When I was a kid, my motivation was having toys such as robots, bicycles, and watches.

Engineering is for diligent students, I must say. Memorization is just the tip of the iceberg. Simply put, one must memorize the formula and practice solving math problems every time.

Variables x and y were my friends, and I never got bored with them. With no books (I didn’t buy books if they were not required), I only took notes and stuck with them until I mastered the solution.

Mathematical problems are like cooking. A proper sequence of steps should never be interchanged, or your dish will end badly. One professor always includes the word “step,” like Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and so on during the class discussion. I understood it was our guide. It’s like, “Do this first, then after that, do this. Finally, do this.” It helped me a lot.

At the end of the semester, I was a dean’s lister. And I also got a discount on my school fees. I looted some of it and gave it to my mother, haha. She was delighted.

“Mastery” 5th Year

Rinse and repeat. The taste of reward was addictive, and I committed myself to doing it again. I did it. I was thrilled.


When graduation was approaching, I assessed myself if I’d be eligible to graduate with honors. With so much excitement, I took my prospectus with the corresponding grades beside the syllabus.

I computed my GPA from the First Year to the fifth year. In my first year, I got an average of 2.3. In the third year, I got a grade of 3.0. Hopeless. Finally, when I get the sum of each rating, it will be multiplied by the number of units and divided by the total number of units from 1st year to 5th Year. And guess what? I got an average of 1.53 out of 1.0, so I was qualified to apply as an honor student with distinction.

My Realizations

My mom was an investor

I was her business. She took advantage of Other People’s Money (OPM), which is the school, and combined it with my time (as a working student) to let her business grow.

After five years, her business grew and could support itself independently. Simple yet I regret some people are not taking advantage of this school hack. They complain about how hard it is to send their child to college when they only need persistence and hard work.

“Worst to best” is better than “best to worst” transition

My mom’s discipline started the moment I knew how to understand words. I felt like I was always in a cage – controlled and imprisoned. I couldn’t do all I wanted.

But when I was old enough, and she set me free, the transition was like a walk in the park. Now think about a spoiled child getting used to having what he wants until he grows up. Suddenly, his parents changed the rules and tightened the belt. Most likely, he would rage and rebel. Not good.

Honor your parents. Someday it’s going to make sense

Had I not listened to my mother, I would never be what I am now. Although not wholly perfect for who I want to become, she never disappointed me. She always knows best.

Strictness doesn’t kill

Undeniably, there were a couple of times that I pitied myself for not being free to do what I liked and the things that other kids could do. I felt my mother was unfair and inconsiderate.

However, when I recall myself before, there was never a time that she deprived me of something “good.” what I mean by good are things that I truly need, not what I want. She didn’t provide me with everything I wanted but gave me all I needed.

What I was not particularly eager to do as a child is one of my problems now

Mom always reminds me to brush my teeth day and night regardless of where I am or what am doing. Either I was having a sleepover at my cousin’s, watching a late TV show, or going to my neighbor, or I was so damned sleepy that I should never forget to brush my teeth. Sometimes I couldn’t stick to brushing my teeth because it was too cumbersome.


Success, indeed, isn’t about the destination but the journey. The reward exists to motivate us and to get us going but what matters is how the entire process made us as a person. One has to master the discomfort and uncertainty of the journey.

Also, power thinking helps. You focus on things you can control and let go of the uncontrollable things.

I love all the details about my mom and our moments together. I’m proud to be a momma’s boy; even if I had a chance, I wouldn’t change anything. She made me who I am as a person.

What about you? Do you have any unforgettable lessons from your parents?

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