Flashback to early 2012, when I was just starting my 12th grade economics class. My teacher asked the class to answer one not-so-simple question: what do you value most in the world?
Cue the anticipated “friends” and “family” responses as we went through everyone. As she got to me, I proudly (though while blushing) stated: “my education.” I know it’s selfish, and I’ll never pretend that I am anything other than selfish, but to me education is the most valuable thing in the world. Education, be it conventional or from the school of life, gives me a better understanding of the world, which in turn helps me understand how I should fairly be treated and how I should treat others. It’s how I learn what is important in the world, how society needs to be progressing. Knowledge is power, and I have always wanted to feel powerful.
That said, education comes at a price, and it sure isn’t a pretty one. I’m not fortunate enough to have parents who can pay for my college tuition, nor am I unfortunate enough that the government would see financial need warranting a scholarship or grant. So to get this education I covet so much I have had one option: student loans.
Boy oh boy student loans are a pain in the ass. Sure, I’m grateful that I have a way to pay for my education, and in the immediate future it’ll come in and feel like easy money, like getting paid to go to school, but pretty soon it’ll all come back to bite me, and it’s going to hurt. See, this is my last summer before my final year of my bachelor’s degree, and payments on my student loans begin six months after I graduate. My tuition each year has been over $20,000, and when you factor in that I didn’t work in my first and third years and therefore also had to cover living costs with my loans, well, you can do the math. Basically, I could easily afford a decently sized house in most of America with that amount of money.
But, alas, it is not my money. Some of it is accruing interest now, all of it will accrue interest once I’m out of school, and then I’ll really have to deal with the consequences of getting an education. Consequences of getting an education. Doesn’t that just sound so messed up? Why does the pursuit of knowledge cost so much? Before, only some people got an education because not everyone was smart enough, not because they weren’t rich enough. And I’m getting a BA in History, so thanks to every statistic and stereotype, no one expects me to do any better on the job market than a college dropout anymore. We all (apparently) end up at Starbucks some day.
There’s nothing wrong with working at Starbucks, I actually have, and it was a fantastic job for a student, but no, I don’t want to go into management and make coffee for a salary. I have big goals and a lot of ambition, and I 100% intend on seeing all of it through in order to: a) feel truly happy and fulfilled in life; and b) pay off those monstrous loans before I’m a grandparent (preferably before I’m a parent…I know, ambitious).
I don’t mean for this to be a “pity me” type of post, I know that I’m very lucky to be getting an education in the first place. That said, that doesn’t mean that the system doesn’t need work. Interest rates are up to 8.25% on student undergraduate loans, I haven’t been able to make a payment from my main account because it’s a foreign account and the website isn’t set up for that, and not even declaring bankruptcy would excuse any of my debt for simply pursing an education.
Living in Norway for the last year, I learned that no one has to pay tuition for public education institutions, not even international students. In fact, the University of Oslo is not only free for domestic and international students, but it also has a program to help students in conflict zones finish their education in Norway in peace. Students in Norway can still take out student loans to cover living costs while studying, and if they aren’t paid off by a certain time, they are forgiven.
There is such a difference in priorities between some countries, and I know that each country has its own set of problems to face that are completely different, but why has my own country put education so far back? Investing as much as we do into prisons and war isn’t going to help the country progress like education is. We’re using band-aid solutions for bullet wounds (oh no, did I just go Taylor Swift on this?), and it’s times like these I feel infuriated about the direction of our government.
I am terrified of graduating and having to look that large sum in the face. I’ll do it, and I’ll pay them off as quickly as possible, and I’ll be successful in life, I swear it, but I can sure see why many people don’t choose to get an education when loans are their only option to finance one. I don’t regret my decision to pursue a higher education for a second, because with knowledge comes power, and I’ve gotten so much knowledge of both the world and myself from my three years of college so far.
If you’re in a similar boat as me, I’d love any advice you can give me. What I can tell you is find someone you can talk to about it and get a firm grasp on what your total debt is and how paying it off will look so that you feel prepared, and take whatever job you can.
Maybe someday our children or their children won’t have to deal with such a large investment for their pursuit of knowledge, or maybe we’ll all just move to Norway.