College is expensive, and as a recent graduate of college it shouldn't come as a surprise to you that throughout my four years of schooling I acquired a bit of debt. Well, if we're going to be honest, a pretty massive amount of debt. Student loans are the bane of my existence.
When an individual decides they want to attend college it's wise for them to first determine who and how they will be paying for the education. Many young people are left on their own. Parents wish they could pay for their child's education at the school of their choice, but in today's day and age and with the price of schooling, it's almost impossible. Simply choosing a school out of state is an automatic raise in price, especially if it's a private institution.
I have known many people who wanted an education but refused to rack up student loan debt. They wisely chose to go to a small local school, while they worked and still lived at home, which greatly reduced the cost of tuition. They now have next to no debt. I was not one of these people.
I chose to do the opposite, pick any school you'd like to attend and apply for loans, scholarships and grants. I think it's safe to say most kids choose this path. You're too caught up in the new scene of college to care about the debt you will have in four years. It's exciting to venture away from home, meet new people and learn in a different environment. I think that's why a lot of young people choose schools away from home, it's why I did, but this comes at a very high cost. If your desired degree can be obtained at a technical school or local university, that would be something to strongly consider. The experience of dorms, meal plans and on campus activities might be forfeited, but the savings will be great. Plus, many community colleges and technical schools do offer clubs and activities.
Would I have changed my college decisions had I known I would have debt the size of a house? I think I would have. Maybe I just tuned out the advice, but I don't remember anyone really stressing to me how big of a deal loans can be or that I should pay close attention to who my loan providers were and what type of loans I had. I don't think my parents realized it either. The information was available, I just didn't bother getting acquainted with it, which is my fault.
Many students are also under the false illusion that they will enter a high-paying job immediately following graduation, resulting in a quick repayment of loans. Unfortunately, for many, this is not the case.
Though debt is not fun, I have learned some valuable lessons throughout this beginning process of paying back my loans; the most important being, it's not worth fretting over. When I calculate my total debt it's very easy to become overwhelmed. I admit I've had small breakdowns, but at the end of the day I'm alive and my bills are paid, and that's what matters. The pile of debt will slowly diminish. If I can get rid of it faster, I will, but in the mean time worrying won't do anything, except give me an ulcer.
I have also learned the simple lesson of not buying things you can't afford. I was never one to go on shopping sprees, and I never will. There are some people in worse debt than myself who didn't even attend school, but instead took out loans for cars, clothes, electronics, etc. Let's just say I've been scared into never charging large items, which I see as a good thing.
While I may be upset with Sallie Mae and the United States Department of Education, I refuse to let them ruin my life. They have taught me how to budget, so I guess I can give them a tiny thanks for that.
To those of you who are in the beginning process of applying to colleges or have a child or grandchild doing the same, I urge you to please be aware of the costs. Meet with a financial advisor from the school and listen to what they recommend. Also, when it comes to loan providers and interest rates do your research and find out who will best take care of you. Last, but not least, always fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out this form enables states and colleges to determine how much financial aid you can receive. If you don't fill it out you'll likely miss out on help, and anything is better than nothing.
Dealing with the cost and repayment of schooling may seem like a daunting task, but it will be so worth it in the end. You'll thank yourself after graduation.
(Laura Reed is a desk editor for The Review. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org)