It all started with an innocent joke. April* and her mom had just received her first college tuition bill. Even with scholarships covering 80 percent of her tuition, she still owed more than $5,000 for one semester. That didn’t even factor in the costs of books or a meal plan.
April’s mother turned to her and said, “You’re gonna have to strip to pay for this!”
April laughed, but it made her think. She had seen what debt could do: Her parents had declared bankruptcy when she was 15. Her father often had to decide between keeping on the gas or the lights.
How far was she willing to go to guarantee she wouldn’t graduate with $40,000 in student loans?
Four days after her 18th birthday, April was standing on a stage, the spotlight glaring down on her.
She had spent almost all of her time in high school on cheerleader teams or in modern dance classes. But tonight, she wouldn’t be wearing a leotard or uniform. In fact, she wouldn’t be wearing anything at all.
On her first night at the Birdland Strip Club,* she made over $200.
“I had never seen so much money at one time in my entire life. As the bills kept coming, I started to do mental math,” she said.
“If I did three lap dances, I could pay off my textbooks. If I did 10 shows in a week, I could afford to move into the dorms.”
Within the two months, she had enough to pay for her entire fall tuition — a bill she paid in cash and in person at the bursar's office.
“They were amazed. I don’t think they had ever seen someone come in with that much cash and just plop it on the table.”
But she didn’t stop once she earned her tuition money. April’s dream was to become an elementary school teacher, a job that she knew would never pay her well. She wanted to graduate with something to fall back on.
She took extra shifts, covered for other girls, and started to carry around her stripper heels and G-strings in her book bag so that she could leave campus whenever she got a call.
April finally left the pole behind in her last semester of college when she began student teaching at a local elementary school.
“I didn’t want it to end, to be honest. I had made over $95,000 after taxes — $42,000 of which had gone towards tuition and supplies. On my last day, I sat in my dressing room and sobbed… And then I went home and checked my bank account. I had to continue to remind myself that I was going to be okay without stripping.”
A Secret Life With No Regrets
Despite her working an estimated 30 hours a week, April's friends or family were none the wiser. She explained paying off her tuition by making up a fake scholarship, even printing a fake award letter for her parents.
“I don’t know how they would have reacted. I think my dad would have come and pulled me off the stage! But I had to do it. I wanted more security than they had, and I like to think that maybe they’d understand it if I could explain it.”
But she still had to be cautious. She kept a lookout for classmates and professors who might recognize her. When she applied for her first teaching jobs, she purposefully avoided schools near the club.
In four years, her only near miss was when an adjunct professor came in at the end of her shift — luckily she was wearing a mask.
Today, April, an elementary school teacher at a private school, has no regrets.
“I can’t say that I would ever go back to stripping to pay off debt, but that doesn’t mean that I am ashamed of what I did. I went along this path because I knew there were very few options for a busy college girl to make that kind of money quickly… I'd never regret that, even 11 years later.”
*Name and name of venue have been changed to protect privacy.