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I Did It! I Paid For My BFA In Creative Writing By Dumpster Diving!

One man’s trash was this woman’s tuition.

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This piece is the first installment in our new series, "I Did It!", a collection of first-person essays celebrating outlandish means and wild achievements. Submit your own story to "I Did It!" by emailing the editor at

I was still $7,000 short of tuition the summer before I moved away to college. My stepfather was unemployed and my mother worked art time for Portland Public Schools, but I was determined to get a very specialized and very expensive BFA in Creative Writing at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

For the past year, I’d been appraising goods at a neighborhood thrift store, where I spent my days sorting through boxes and truck beds full of other people’s cast-offs, judging each dish set or dining table for its potential vintage appeal. In the early 2000s, Portland, Oregon was only just becoming the cornucopia of carefully curated second-hand stores that now characterize its inner-city, bedecked with polished mid-century corning ware and clown paintings and faux-Deco side tables. A new aesthetic of hipness was ushered in, and I was uniquely primed to identify what it included.

I quit my job. My mother and I decided to spend the summer foraging for goods to sell. This, we decided, was how we’d make up the tuition difference.


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