College: A Retrospect; Debilitating debt

Recalling college is a bittersweet memory. Sweet in terms of what I got out of it while in attendance and bitter because of what is still looming in the post collegiate wake. I learned a lot of fantastic things in college that I wouldn’t have otherwise sought out had I not been paying hundreds of dollars per credit. Nonetheless, I feel at least a tad brighter having spent time there.

Some folks that attend college have a good idea of why they are there. They have a preselected major and guided four year course outline. That’s a good way to go about it. However, a lot of students find their attendance to be in question and basically meander through a variety of unaffiliated courses each year which all add up to nothing. I’m talking about an Associate’s degree in the liberal arts. Which is typically a two year degree, though some may spend up to three or four years completing it.

Depending on which college you attended this degree can cost you anywhere between $6000-$20000. This degree, if attending a technical university, should cost about $6000. However, at the ripe age of 18 I was able to discover what I thought was a crazy miscalculation in the Federal loan system. Which in turn made my $6000 Associate’s degree cost about $17000.

Aside from tuition prices rising about 8% a year on average, old Sallie Mae had an even trickier scheme up her sleeve. When applying for a Federal loan one is able to borrow the exact amount of tuition for a semester or a full year. Here comes the scary part. On top of that, one is able to borrow up to $5000 extra for “books, school supplies, laptops, etc.” No credit check. No age requirement. No parental signature. They allow practically any student to borrow up to $5000 extra in their initial loan amount. This excess money is then mailed to the student in the form of a check. That they bring to their bank and cash. And then spend as they choose.

Maybe at 18 I was just irresponsible, but I took that money. Not the full $5000, but each semester I received a check upwards of $2000, but sometimes only $1000. At the ripe, brilliant age of 18, when drinking and girls are high on the priority list, this money is a godsend. Especially when you don’t think of the future ramifications. Or paying it back. I bought a TV. A lot of beer. Went on a couple of vacations. And always had extra cash whenever the semester started. Life was good.

Looking back, this practice is absolutely asinine. Not only is this practice predatory, irresponsible and dangerous but it should also be illegal. A good portion of people take this money in it’s full amount every year. $5000 a semester multiplied by 8 semesters is $40000. I’ve read stories of people furnishing homes, buying cars and going on extravagant vacations with this money. When the government gives 18 year olds the power to haphazardly borrow life changing amounts of money without anybody’s consent or supervision, something has gone awry. I was able to borrow $17000 in two years in a situation where I should’ve only borrowed $6000. As interest accumulates and years go by I’ll probably pay back $20000.

And i’m one of the lucky ones! $17000 is chump change compared to some people. I have friends with loans in the six figures. Most of these people end up in positions where they are able to pay back that money. They’re PhD students. There’s still never a guarantee of a job. The people I know that work in restaurants, bars, coffee shops and retail stores, all have college degrees. Some even have their Masters.

Aside from the massive debt I accrued, I also received a degree with absolutely zero relevance in the real world or any job market. Sure it may give someone a slight edge over someone with a high school diploma, but not by much. Aside from the medical terminology, water color painting, gender biases and Freudian Theory I took from college, it took a lot more from me. Advice for incoming college students: Stay focused, don’t stay in school if you don’t know why you’re there and don’t borrow more money than you have to. Also waiting until you’re older to go to college is never a bad idea. You have a better concept of money, spending and the value of your time. Good luck.