I lived with student loans for a quite a while, about 13 years of actual payments. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my student loans weren’t excessive. In fact, I chose my graduate program in part because of the cost and the maximum amount of debt I would carry from it. Of course, things didn’t work out totally as planned and I ended up with some credit card debt in addition to the student loan. But for the most part it worked, and the loans were taken out considering their amount versus what I was getting a degree in.
Those 13 years were hard, though, as I tried to set myself up for the dreaded “rest of my life.” I traveled, I pursued other goals, and I moved a number of times during those 13 years. And the debt always came with me. It did hinder a great deal of what I did, how I lived, and in many respects, I had to downsize projects, goals, and aspects of my career paths as I went. Much of this is mentioned in my earlier post. I might have gotten out of it sooner if I had returned to Hawaii rather than going to Japan. I could have lived with my parents and gotten a job in Honolulu, but I would have missed out of the loads of experiences I had in Japan, which opened my eyes to the possibility of living on the East Coast where I now have a family.
From a writing standpoint—especially in the late 90’s and early 2000’s—the debt partially limited my ability to send out submissions (paper, ink, stamps, envelopes) as well as being able to pay for reading fees for manuscript submissions. My access to other resources, such as new books, were similarly squished, but other aspects (calls for submissions and reviews of presses and journals) improved as much of this came online. Needless to say, I think I lost some years in my writing career because of the debt in addition to my time abroad and my decade-long focus on aikido.
That all being said, I don’t regret the loans (or the travel or aikido), and I don’t discourage others from taking them out either. The trick is to have a realistic eye on what you’re probably going to be paid from your most likely line of work immediately after graduation and a conservative eye on how much debt you’re going to undertake.
True, what you study seriously affects how much you get paid not only immediately, but long-term, this can also be a trap. This rather sobering assessment from a law school graduate sheds a pretty bleak picture to one degree that many consider a sure fire bet. Reading that, I thought about a couple of people I know who are saddled with law school debt and aren’t practicing. I don’t know if there is a law school bubble, but it is food for thought.
When I was an undergrad in Hawaii a lot of people were studying travel industry management, and I wondered then if maybe there were too many people studying that already. This is to say nothing of those who had already graduated. I graduated in history, and that was because I wanted to go to law school. Something my college job disabused me of.
My personal belief is if you want to and can (because of temperament) go to college and make the most of it, the long-term benefits for you are well worth the costs. I didn’t make the absolute most of my undergraduate or graduate days, but I was then and remain curious about things to this day. My education expanded my ideas about career, my ideas about people, my ability to research not only things of random interest, but also to investigate and analyze new areas of importance and interest. My understanding of politics, finance, and career development were profoundly affected by my undergraduate studies. Being a history major, and being exposed to real history, prepared me to look at the world and analyze it in ways that have been beneficial to me.
That being said, university is not for everyone and there are many people who not only do fine, but excel without the college experience. There is no “right” way here. There is only a right way for you. This is all about acquiring knowledge and experience, and we all do that differently.
For those who do want to go to college, they should research, make serious and realistic evaluations of their situation now and five years down the line, and if they get in, make the most of every opportunity. Not just job fairs and student events, but attending lectures, concerts, special exhibits, and make yourself a familiar fixture in the library. If you’re going to go, learn as much as you can about everything. You won’t learn it all, but every little bit helps.