First Person: True Cost of College

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First Person: True Cost of College

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Laura Allen

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 | With a piece of paper comes great burden. At least that's how I felt when graduation day in 2011 dawned. After one transfer and a change of major, I found myself in the middle of the Great Recession with $70,000 in debt, a bachelor's degree in animal science from Penn State, and no job to speak of aside from my part-time job at a shoe store that paid $7.25 an hour.

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I didn't worry about loans or the amount I was borrowing during school because that was the future.

With a hefty debt hanging over my head, an apartment to pay for here in Altoona, Pa., and a gas tank to fill, I hit pavement with my resume and filled out applications everywhere I could. The words "over-qualified" seemed to be branded on my forehead. I couldn't even get a job at McDonald's!

With my loans' grace period ticking away, I took a job with a temp service for a customer service position and kept my part-time job from college. I was working almost 60 hours, seven days a week to try to get ahead.

Between the two jobs, I paid my $700-plus monthly student loan bills and had a bit spending money after paying rent on an apartment in a sketchy but cheap neighborhood and buying groceries. Cable was a luxury I wished for, but I scraped together enough every month to have basic internet so I wasn't completely cut off from the world. I didn't have an iPhone or a Droid, but I had a pay-as-you-go monthly contract phone. I cried myself to sleep many nights wondering how I was going to survive paying off my loans.

For two and a half years I lived that way: running on caffeine and adrenaline with few days off when the burnout became too much. I was killing myself over the cost of a piece of paper that had done very little for me. To help save money, my boyfriend (who also has student loans of his own) and I moved in together, which allowed me to cut down to one job.

At 26, I still haven't relaxed though; I'm trying to start an animal behavior consulting business so I can work with private clients and veterinarians to diagnose and correct behaviors in pets. I hope to build a business so I can quit my customer service job and pull myself out of debt doing a job that makes me happy.

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