First, some background:
2004: Senior year of high school. Applied to five colleges. Three for theatre (acting), one for biology, one for nursing. Accepted to all of them, I chose to go to VCU for theatre.
2005: Started at VCU for theatre. Naive and starry-eyed.
Summer 2006: Decided not to go back to school for theatre, found it wanting. Move in with parents.
Late Summer 2006: Decided to go back to school for theatre after a late night drunken conversation with friends. Move out of parents’ house.
Spring 2007: Unsure of whether or not to continue into a third year of theatre, I said “fuck it” and continued on.
Fall 2007: After getting yelled at in an acting class for laughing during the typewriter game, I drop out of VCU for good.
Fall 2007 – Spring 2009: Epic amounts of floundering. Enroll in a wide variety of courses at local community college including emergency medical services, child psychology, and biology. Never complete a full semester.
Summer 2009 – Spring 2010: Start working at gym. Study on my own to become a personal trainer. Get certification. Enroll in local personal training institute to further my education. Never complete entire course after realizing it wasn’t for me.
Spring 2010: Enroll at University of Phoenix for AA in communications.
Summer 2011: Complete AA in communications.
Summer 2011 – Spring 2013: Try on two different majors – journalism and visual communications – until settling on health and human services (because I want to save the world, duh).
Spring 2014: Complete BA in health and human services.
You know what’s dumb? Expecting a 16 year-old to know what the hell she wants to do with the rest of her life.
Filling out college applications my junior year I was an average (at best) student full of naivety about the future to come. I don’t have my VCU application essay anymore but that’s probably for the best. I vaguely remember an incredibly cliche essay about following my dreams and never looking back. #art #dreamer
I love theatre but surrounded by classmates willing to live in shoeboxes for the rest of their lives to live out their dreams, I realized I wasn’t like them. I never felt like I fit in with my classmates and maybe that’s why. I wanted to act but not if it meant being poor and never going on vacation. I had no business trying to figure out a college major when I hadn’t experienced anything outside of high school and my retail jobs. How was I supposed to know what to do with my life? I guessed. And I guessed a lot, hoping something would eventually stick. When I dropped out of college I spent time pursuing things that interested me because I had no other idea how to figure out the rest of my life and hey, college is what you’re supposed to do, right?
I now have two degrees: an associate’s and a bachelor’s, and I still can’t figure out if they were worth it.
I didn’t learn anything new to get my degrees. And that’s not because I took horrible classes and the degree programs were useless. It’s because I naturally seek out what interests me. I had already studied organizational communications concepts before I started my first day of my associate’s degree. I had already studied the largest pieces of the PPACA before starting my bachelor’s degree. After spending most of my life as an average student, I kicked ass in school for both of my degrees. Because I cared about the subject material and I work hard when I’m excited.
I learned. On my own time, in my own terms. I knew what I wanted to know more about and I researched until my face turned blue. And had I done all of that research and never completed those degrees, I would have all of the same knowledge but probably wouldn’t have the same career path.
As recruiters are flooded with resumes they need a way to quickly filter the applicants. Don’t have a degree? Well that’s an easy way to lose out on innumerable opportunities.
My two complete degrees are from for-profit institutions. they get a bad rap and I understand why, but they were my only chance at getting degrees. I needed to support myself and I couldn’t go back to school full time while working to pay my bills. And that scenario would have only been in a perfect world. The reality is that after dropping out of one school and failing to complete a single class in four semesters at another, no non-profit school would have touched me with a ten-foot pole. I was obviously unfit for education. So it was a for-profit school or it was nothing.
And it’s bankrupting students. The generations before mine expect us to hop fresh out of college, get a job, start working, and stop bitching about how much money we don’t have. But education is different now. Abandoning logical growth, the rates of tuition increased at a rate higher than auto and home costs. In the last three decades, tuition prices have increased by a baffling 124% (when adjusted for inflation). Couple those numbers with a recent economic depression and you’ve got yourself the perfect financial disaster.
“The size of the average student loan in 2005 was $17,233. By 2012 the average U.S. student loan debt climbed to $27,253–a 58% increase in just seven years, according to FICO (Forbes).”
For all of my years trying to figure out how I want to spend the next 50 years of my life, I have $73,587.62 in student debt.
Take a moment, because that’s not a typo.
Under the current debt forgiveness program the remainder of my loans will be forgiven after 20 years. See how kind the government is? I only have to pay $500 per month for the next 20 years and then I’m scot-free. That’s all. Another potential avenue is to find work with a non-profit. If I make every payment for 10 years while working at a non-profit (with no breaks in employment whatsoever) then I can have the remainder of my loans forgiven that way. Except I happen to like my current job and my current career trajectory.
Couple that disgusting number with the rest of our debt (mostly medical, plus credit) and David and I are around $100,000 in debt. Did that number make you throw up? Because it should. It keeps me up at night.
It’s the kind of number that makes a person want to file for bankruptcy. Until she realizes that student loans are obscenely difficult to get discharged and since they are the bulk of her debt it’s kind of a waste of a credit-score-damning maneuver.
I guess I should end with something positive but I just don’t have it. My student loans are crippling and there’s no way out. But I know that I wouldn’t have the continually-improving career that I’ve had without a degree.
Should I have stayed a personal trainer forever? Should I have just tried to make ends meet without a degree at a low-paying job instead of trying to make ends meet with a decent salary and mountains of debt? What’s the right answer? I can’t see the other side. I don’t know what would have happened if I had chosen the other route so I have to hope that this is the better choice.
I have to hope because if at any point I come to the realization that none of this was worth it, I’m not sure I’ll be able to maintain sanity. I have to hope that things will just keep getting better for me and David and that we’ll get out of this financial hell hole much quicker than we plan.
I have to hope, I have to work hard and budget harder, and I have to play the lottery occasionally. Because what else can you do when you realize you’re going to be suffocating in debt for the next 20 years? #AmericanDream