As American students now cumulatively owe about $1 trillion in student loan debt, Yahoo is publishing first-person accounts from those who are still paying and those who have lessons to share. Here's one story.
FIRST PERSON | I'm 34 and owe $36,000 in government student loans. When I reach my educational goal of a doctorate in social psychology, I may owe close to $100,000 from a mix of subsidized and unsubsidized federal Stafford loans and PLUS loans. That kind of money would buy a pretty nice house, but I decided that I'd rather spend the money on a home for my brain. After all, the maintenance is more fun, and I can take it with me whenever I move.
By the time I was 30, I had worked my way up from an office temp to a highly-paid administrative assistant in a field office of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. I had the middle-class job, mortgage, car, and pile of credit card debt that everyone mistakenly assumes you can't get without a college degree. I was also bored enough to pay out-of-pocket for occasional classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College just to keep my mind active. What I didn't expect was to stumble onto my dream career via an introductory psychology course.
At first, I took classes part-time, worked full-time, and took out student loans. The one thing I regret now is that I borrowed more than I needed for classes and books. I accepted the full amount offered each semester, which was about $7,000 above my expenses. I hadn't yet learned my lesson from credit card debt that "free" money is never free. I could pay something now to help offset the interest, but (maybe mistakenly) I'm taking advantage of the offer to defer my payments while I'm attending school. Of course the 6.8 percent annual interest continues to pile up whether I make payments, so I will owe more in the long run.
In 2012, I realized that at the pace I was setting, I would run out of federal loan money before I graduated. I would also have to move, since there wasn't a top psychology program within 100 miles of Kalamazoo, Mich. So I preemptively quit my job, moved to Atlanta and enrolled full-time at Georgia Perimeter College.
My advice to potential students is to ask four questions before taking on student loan debt:
1. Do I have a life-long passion for something?
2. Do I absolutely need a college degree to do this thing professionally?
3. Can I get good grades and stay focused all the way to graduation?
4. Will I make enough money on graduation that I can afford to repay the loans?
If the answer to more than one of these questions is no, then look for other ways to fulfill your goals. Of course, the fourth question is difficult to answer. With skyrocketing tuition rates, more students are choosing careers based on salary rather than interest or skill. I will make payments for decades if I end up teaching, but it's worth it to me. It took me a few extra years in life to find my destination, and now student loans give me the means to get there.
- student loans