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Trucking as a way to help pay for college?

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Ryan F.'s Comment
member avatar

Hey guys,

I'm a neuroscience student up in the Rust Belt. I've spent the better part of the last three years traveling, taking classes, and working dispatch. Not too long ago, I was struck by the realization that I don't want to spend my life working in a laboratory. While I do plan on switching majors and wrapping my degree up, I still need to make money to fund my education.

I'm 23 years old now. I've talked over my options with a couple of my old bosses, both of whom used to drive. They suggested that I could do a training program with a large carrier like Swift, get my CDL , ride out my contract, and then use what I earn to pay tuition and loans. Honestly, I don't think it sounds like a bad idea - I won't be able to enroll in courses again until at least September, and have bills that need to be paid in the interim. I've always enjoyed traveling and wouldn't mind being able to see some more of the country. It'd beat flipping burgers, wouldn't it?

However, I do have some reservations. Nothing I can come across online seems to paint a clear picture of what trucking is like for newcomers. People either say that it's a solid path forward, or that you'll get stuck forking out all sorts of costs - tolls, meals, whatever - just as a beginning company driver. Moreover, a lot of the "get-your-CDL-and-drive-for-nine-months" deals seem a little fishy. What I read online about CR England's program is that they push newbies to lease and punish those who don't. On the other hand, the reviews I read on this website and others are more favorable towards Swift Transportation, for instance.

My intention is to eventually finish my degree and get an MBA. I've worked my ass off since I was 18 to avoid debt and travel overseas; now is the first time since then I've been job-less.

Does driving for about a year seem like a realistic path to paying for tuition? Will the beginning wages be too low for me to get much out of?

I know a bit about the lifestyle because I did dispatch and hired a couple drivers for my last company, but I'm way more familiar with the office side of things than not. My biggest fear is signing up for a CDL training course with a large carrier and getting screwed by the contract or given no miles after not leasing.

Sorry if any of this sounds stupid. I've been working around truckers for years now, but don't know if getting a CDL is going to help me out or screw me over.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Farmerbob1's Comment
member avatar

You want to drive to make money for school?

It's possible, if you are frugal. However, there are two things to consider.

First, you will want to reduce rent and utilities costs. Do you rent or own? If you rent, can you move all your stuff into a storage facility? That will save a bunch of money. If you own a house and have a mortgage, things get uglier for short-term money saving.

Second, company sponsored training costs money. You (typically) either have to work for X period of time at a reduced pay rate, or you have to repay them from earnings. This normally takes a year or so, and will take a big chunk out of the money you would have wanted to put aside for school.

If you store your stuff, live in the truck, and are frugal, you can save a decent chunk of money in a year.

Company Sponsored Training:

A Company-Sponsored Training Program is a school that is owned and operated by a trucking company.

The schooling often requires little or no money up front. Instead of paying up-front tuition you will sign an agreement to work for the company for a specified amount of time after graduation, usually around a year, at a slightly lower rate of pay in order to pay for the training.

If you choose to quit working for the company before your year is up, they will normally require you to pay back a prorated amount of money for the schooling. The amount you pay back will be comparable to what you would have paid if you went to an independently owned school.

Company-sponsored training can be an excellent way to get your career underway if you can't afford the tuition up front for private schooling.

Ryan F.'s Comment
member avatar

You want to drive to make money for school?

It's possible, if you are frugal. However, there are two things to consider.

First, you will want to reduce rent and utilities costs. Do you rent or own? If you rent, can you move all your stuff into a storage facility? That will save a bunch of money. If you own a house and have a mortgage, things get uglier for short-term money saving.

Second, company sponsored training costs money. You (typically) either have to work for X period of time at a reduced pay rate, or you have to repay them from earnings. This normally takes a year or so, and will take a big chunk out of the money you would have wanted to put aside for school.

If you store your stuff, live in the truck, and are frugal, you can save a decent chunk of money in a year.

Thanks for the response.

I currently live at home. My mom lived with her parents while earning her masters degree and has encouraged me to do the same for as long as I'd like. Rent won't be an issue, although I'm planning to shift away once I resume taking university classes. At the very least, earning enough to pay off a loan I took on a motorcycle and for rent would be amazing. The less stress I have when I'm back in college, the better.

I think I'd be fine doing a contract for up to a year, as long as I were earning somewhat decently. I don't need a lot. Recently broke up with my girlfriend, too, so thee's no reason for me to get much home time. Frankly, I'd love to just work and pay off the majority of my bank-held debt and student debt. Another year of university isn't going to cost me too much - graduating $10,000 in the hole would be better than the $25k I've already amassed.

Otherwise, I don't spend much. I've traveled overseas a lot since I was 19, and that was all through throwing my paychecks into the bank. Might not have been the best use of money according to some, but I know how to budget when I've got a goal to reach.

Company Sponsored Training:

A Company-Sponsored Training Program is a school that is owned and operated by a trucking company.

The schooling often requires little or no money up front. Instead of paying up-front tuition you will sign an agreement to work for the company for a specified amount of time after graduation, usually around a year, at a slightly lower rate of pay in order to pay for the training.

If you choose to quit working for the company before your year is up, they will normally require you to pay back a prorated amount of money for the schooling. The amount you pay back will be comparable to what you would have paid if you went to an independently owned school.

Company-sponsored training can be an excellent way to get your career underway if you can't afford the tuition up front for private schooling.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

Steve L.'s Comment
member avatar

Why not talk to a Swift recruiter or other company that does sponsored training? Ask them what you can expect for pay as a first year driver under contract to pay for CDL training. Then bounce that off real Swift Drivers here.

I believe you can make it work. I just wouldn't tell recruiters you only wanna drive for a year. They don't want/need to hear that.

Your desire and commitment to be debt-free is rare for someone your age. Congratulations! You're ahead of many others.

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.
Bob K.'s Comment
member avatar

A couple of things I'd like to mention are 1) Prime's CDL training costs $155 out of your pocket and as long as you complete 1 year, you don't pay a dime of that back. Wil-Trans and Jim Palmer also have similar CDL training programs. I don't know of any other trucking companies that offer such a great deal for training but the admins have made a list here on TT. 2) Have you thought about maintaining your career as a truck driver while taking online courses? It's something I'm considering but I'm not a trucker just yet so I don't know how well that would work out. I know with a lot of online courses you log in and do your assignments, listen to recorded video lessons, etc. whenever you have time, whether it's 8am or 11pm. Anyway, just wanted to throw that out there. Good luck!

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Dm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

Wil-Trans:

Darrel Wilson bought his first tractor in 1980 at age 20, but, being too young to meet OTR age requirements, he leased the truck out and hired a driver.

Through growth and acquisition, Wil-Trans now employs over 200 drivers, and has a long-standing partnership with Prime, Inc. to haul their refrigerated freight. The family of businesses also includes Jim Palmer Trucking and O & S Trucking.

Brett Aquila's Comment
member avatar

Well first of all you have to figure out what your time frame is. You've mentioned "a year" a couple of times but you said you're going back to school in September. Even if you started making phone calls today it would be a week or more at the earliest that you could even show up to begin classes. And of course you're not going to be able to drive until the day before University classes start, so you'll need a little time off before school starts. Now you're talking more like a seven month window. That wouldn't be enough time to finish off even the shortest contracts I know of which are eight months.

Personally I have no issue with the idea of setting aside the college thing for a time and doing some trucking. I've always been super adventurous and I always love a new challenge. Many, many times over the years I've stopped my life on a dime and radically changed directions. I'm always looking for the next awesome thing.

In fact, at one point in my trucking career I took some time away from trucking to go to Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Orlando for Harley Davidson mechanics, graduated (full time course for one year), and worked at a dealership for a short time. Turns out that turning wrenches for a hobby is fun but doing it for a living was pretty boring, especially compared with OTR trucking. So I went back to trucking. But that experience was absolutely priceless to me. I learned a ton, I had a great time, and I had the chance to explore an entirely new career. Great stuff!

If you intend to go back to school in September I would say forget about trucking for now. If anything I would shoot for a job in an office of a trucking company because you have experience there already. You could jump in and contribute rather quickly and wouldn't have to worry about paying back any tuition for schooling.

But you don't enough time between now and when school starts in September to make it really pay off financially. You'll be roughly six months into your rookie year of driving and that's about the time people really just start putting it all together. That's when you've gotten better at managing your time and resources on the road, you've developed a decent relationship with your dispatcher , and the company is trusting you with more important freight and higher miles.

You're also at the point where most companies will give you a pretty significant raise, with more to come at the one year mark at least. And of course you wouldn't be at it long enough to work off the contract. I personally would strongly recommend against starting a contract that you don't fully intend to finish. That's not the type of decision making that will get you ahead in life. That's the type of stuff you think may sound like a shortcut at the time but turns out being a gigantic mess down the line.

I would only consider going into trucking if I had a minimum of one full year to put into it. Otherwise the slow start that rookie drivers usually get and the contracts that have to be paid off if you don't stick around long enough would prevent the endeavor from being financially worthwhile.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Dispatcher:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.
Patrick C.'s Comment
member avatar

I know what I am about to say really doesn't have much to do with Trucking, but If you want to take care of college debt or have a way of paying for future college, join the military. Do 3 years. You won't touch the benefits you receive from being in the military anywhere else. Pay kinda sux in the beginning, but it does in trucking too. If you really want to drive trucks, you can do it in the military. Or at least learn to drive large pieces of equipment. I know I have a very skewed view from spending 17+ years in the military. If you already have a Bachelors degree you can enter military service in the pay grade of E4.

Pianoman's Comment
member avatar

I agree with Brett-- If you want to enroll in classes in September trucking won't work too well. Not enough time. But the idea of using trucking to help pay for college is great. It's what I'm trying to do. I'm not having a ton of luck since I'm married and can't ditch the apartment like others can but I'm pretty frugal and manage to save over $1000/month. Without overhead, you can double that number. It's not that trucking pays super well--in some cases it does, but not usually for rookies--it's that you can get rid of your overhead and enjoy your job at the same time.

As far as where to work...I am also 23 and work at Swift and really enjoy it. Been working here for a little over a year now. To me their biggest perk is that they have lots of options--dry van, reefer , intermodal , flatbed, otr , dedicated, local, shuttle.... And since they're the biggest it's not too hard to get freight just about anywhere. Their rookie pay isn't as great as some others, like Prime for instance, so that is something to consider if your plan is to only stay for a year. But we always say on here, what will really have the biggest effect on your earnings is you-- how motivated you are, how well you work with dispatch, how you manage your time and your clock. To me, the gazillion options I have here outweighed the additional cpm I could've made somewhere else.

Is online school an option? Online school would probably be too much to handle right off the bat, but after a year you might be able to settle into a nice dedicated account and work on online school on your time off. Just a thought.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

Intermodal:

Transporting freight using two or more transportation modes. An example would be freight that is moved by truck from the shipper's dock to the rail yard, then placed on a train to the next rail yard, and finally returned to a truck for delivery to the receiving customer.

In trucking when you hear someone refer to an intermodal job they're normally talking about hauling shipping containers to and from the shipyards and railyards.

Dry Van:

A trailer or truck that that requires no special attention, such as refrigeration, that hauls regular palletted, boxed, or floor-loaded freight. The most common type of trailer in trucking.

CPM:

Cents Per Mile

Drivers are often paid by the mile and it's given in cents per mile, or cpm.

Reefer:

A refrigerated trailer.

Dirtyred's Comment
member avatar

I know what I am about to say really doesn't have much to do with Trucking, but If you want to take care of college debt or have a way of paying for future college, join the military. Do 3 years. You won't touch the benefits you receive from being in the military anywhere else. Pay kinda sux in the beginning, but it does in trucking too. If you really want to drive trucks, you can do it in the military. Or at least learn to drive large pieces of equipment. I know I have a very skewed view from spending 17+ years in the military. If you already have a Bachelors degree you can enter military service in the pay grade of E4.

I was going to recommend the same thing.

Jason G.'s Comment
member avatar

Then he'd have to consider the reserves in military so they could pay for college while he does one weekend a month and two weeks in the summer. If wanting to do trucking for a year he might not want to do military for three years.

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