Before You Take Out That Student Loan . . .

About That College Tuition | Ordered and Organized

This is an open letter to my loved one about a topic I know far too much about:  the heavy burden of student loans.

Dear girl,

I’ve heard through the grapevine you want to go to an expensive university. Like $35,000-a-year tuition expensive. I know what you want to do for a living, and I know the university you’ve chosen is the best for this profession. Trust me when I tell you that I know how badly you want to be in the field you’ve chosen and to attend the school you’ve chosen to attend because I wanted the exact same things 10-15 years ago. Back in those days the music field was my happy place, and Belmont University was my dream, too.

I know you’re smart. I was, too. I had scholarships galore when I applied to undergrad schools. And I expect that you’ll get a scholarship or five as well. Some will cover your entire tuition and some of your room and board, I’m sure. But let’s be honest: Belmont might not.

I know I’m old, but let me share my story. I went to undergrad in our hometown. I made $3,500 a year going to that local university 20 years ago, and my parents allowed me to live with them AND paid for my vehicle, all of my gasoline, and even living expenses. (You weren’t even alive in those days!) I graduated debt free. I didn’t make a lot of money at my first job, but I was 21, and I had the potential to make much more as I crafted my career.

But then I took a different path. I went to law school and became an attorney. I convinced myself that while I could actually use my degree to manage music artists and that if I hated it I could also do other things as well. I received a 75% scholarship to my private law school. So even though I had a lot of other expenses to fund at that point, I knew it would all be okay. I knew it! My then-boss told me so!

Except that I still graduated with more debt than some people in less expensive areas pay on a house. My student loan payments are more than the mortgage my parents had on their house built in 1987. In fact, my student loans payments were more than the mortgage portion of the payment on the last house I owned from 2015 to March of this year. I drive a very nice vehicle, and if I didn’t have the student loan payments I have today, I could drive three of them. No lies. Three. And you’re looking at taking on more debt than I have, depending on how much scholarship money you’re offered.

And life happened to me, by the way, just the same as it happens to everyone else. I’m no longer a practicing attorney. I have a husband and a baby girl I love, and my best life with them does not include that stressful job I wanted so badly all those years ago. So I stay at home and homeschool my child. God bless my husband who earns the money to pay those student loan payments every month.  And he makes his own, too!  He borrowed a ridiculous amount to pay for his paramedic certificate in 2005, and we’ll finally pay that off within the next month or so.  He never even worked as a paramedic.  He works as a senior analyst now and doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree.  Let that sink for a minute.  He doesn’t even have a bachelor’s degree, and he works in a research lab as a senior analyst.  (Because yes, there are other paths to great-paying jobs.)

If you get a scholarship that totals the bulk of your expenses, great! But if that doesn’t happen, I beg of you to do something different. Please don’t walk out of college at age 22 and have a massive amount of debt to pay off, one that will affect your life for years–maybe decades–to come. Perhaps you’ll end up managing the next big thing and the degree will pay itself off in a year or two. But perhaps you’ll be like me and end up still paying it off eight years–and a deferment during a period of unemployment–later.

Because you can’t just discharge student loan debt.  You can’t file for bankruptcy and easily remove it.  It’s a mark on your credit, and it stays with you forever.  And you’ll never escape paying it.  Not that you would want to.

I want the best for you.  I’m sending you Five Mistakes You Can’t Afford To Make in College.  I know you’re gearing up for your senior year, but I promise you that you won’t regret reading it this summer.  (For those of you reading this on my blog, that’s an affiliate link, and I’ll earn a small commission to defray the cost of this blog if you buy through that link.  See my full disclosure policy here.)  In the meantime, you can listen to what the author says was his biggest mistake in college on a podcast here.  (Hint:  Student loans.)

God bless you, girl.  Let Him guide your way.

Bridget | Ordered and Organized

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