Today, I’m writing on a subject I live with every day: student loan debt.
See, I had no loans as an undergraduate. I turned down college at UCB and UCSD to attend San Diego State University. Why? Because at 21 years old I didn’t want loan debt in my early 20s. My parents helped pay my tuition and I earned an income working part-time for Syrrx, a bio tech company in La Jolla.
While at times I do regret not participating more as an undergraduate in student events, having work experience made life so much easier! Syrrx provided free breakfast, lunch and/or dinner and my earnings went towards living expenses. I had fun working, too! Because of my work experience I found a job in Sacramento after only two weeks of graduating at San Diego State.
Now, fast forward four years to graduate school.
I could not afford graduate school unless I had student loans. I lived within my means, with a bit of credit card debt. I put a healthy chunk of money into my savings for global education. But, I could not afford the ever-increasing tuition.
Student loans let me to live abroad. I’ve always dreamt of having a global education. Without student loans, I would have remained at my job at UC Davis Medical Center only dreaming of something more. Student loans let me walk through 12th century castles in Wales, drive cross-country with friends to Scotland, listen to British professors explain Irish poets, or meet a certain someone whom I live with now. Student loans made the world an accessible and smaller place. But more than that, I finally had time to research and write to my heart’s content! Student loans made me believe I could pursue all my dreams in only a few years.
I never would have grown out of apathy if it weren’t for student loans. They gave me the chance to kick ass.
But, the world after graduating instead kicked my ass. Everything changed within a few years. Before it took two weeks to find work, now I wouldn’t even hear rejections. For every 15 CVs I sent out I would maybe receive a few rejections and, maybe, receive a phone interview. I did receive positive feedback from recruiters. People liked me and liked my experiences. But I didn’t have that extra OOMPH to land a job. I was competing against better caliber people with higher degrees and more professional experience. When I finally did get hired from a few companies they were contract only, providing barely enough money to get by. I did have a good job working as a Research Assistant in Sacramento, but I was laid off after three months. So, what the hell?!
Meanwhile, my student loan interest accrued. The little I did pay back only went towards interest, hardly ANY to the principle. The majority of the money went to living expenses.
I began to worry about my future and question my past decisions. What the hell did I do to myself?!
The Straight Up Ugly
When I finally confronted my student loan debt it was a staggering $50,000. That’s a very jagged pill to swallow. Hell, just looking at that number sends shock waves throughout my body. That’s like paying for three or four cars. Only I couldn’t sell this debt away, this was my monster creation.
I deal with that everyday.
Aside from student loan repayment misery there’s the extra added emotional turmoil. I do not LIKE having any debt. I want to get married, have kids, buy a house. I’m plagued with having too much debt. I have every intention of paying it back but let’s not forget, the cost of living increases each year. Student loan interest, if not fixed, can fluctuate. That’s a shit load of uncertainty.
Whilst I am chipping away at my debt as best I can, each month I change tactics at how to confront it. Some days I feel it best to put everything I have towards paying it off (and live on ramen) another part of me is saying don’t kill yourself! Pay it down modestly. This is not debt that will go away any time soon, is it worth living like shit? Meanwhile, I’m not getting any younger. This is my internal struggle.
Did I learn anything? Yes, you bet.
My advice to people considering student loans: know exactly what you are getting into. If I could talk to past Kassie, who was bouncing around with no plan, I’d tell her to get her shit together and focus on helping others. Take enough for a few loans, forget the rest. Focus on marketing skills like pursuing science, web coding, ANYTHING contributing to the world. Securing marketable job skills NOW. Not having a clear focus is what landed me in hot water to begin with.
It’s great I realised where my passion lies, but now I have an extra special weight with student loans. I need to plan three months ahead before making decisions. Like poor Frodo, it’s a burden that I alone must bear. No one else will pay this back I need to do it. Also, thankfully, having awesome family and friends helps alleviate some of that heavy burden when I get too hard on myself.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. This is a shift in thought people need to realise. Let’s mentor our young students! Really, truly think about what debt you’re going to inherit when finished.
Only then we’ll start tackling the root of the problem.