When I graduate in June, I will have roughly $40k in student debt. That seems like a lot, especially for someone who had an assistantship with a tuition waiver and housing and for someone who is going into the field of education. But looking at the chart, as a student qualified for financial aid, I’m just about average for a Master’s student and an education major.
I have a decent amount of credit card debt, but it’s manageable and will “go bye-bye” fairly soon. It’s nowhere near (and has never been near) the absurd amounts of debt radio ads promise they can make disappear.
The thing is, too, there were several factors that resulted in this number of loans. For one, I chose to attend an undergraduate institution that offered me some grant and scholarship money, but not a ton of it. I didn’t get that many scholarships my first year, and my last year at WWU, I shouldered what was my parents’ PLUS loan. We were a middle-class family with little debt, but I qualified for assistance, and I worked part-time to make sure I had some “fun money.”
When I worked for two years full-time, I had several more factors working against my saving capacity. I lived alone my first year, commuted 60+ miles round-trip each day the next. Then, I went to Europe on my savings for two months–and it was worth it. I came back to the States, worked part-time, then coughed up a lot of money to move for graduate school–and then got my employee paperwork misplaced by HR. Which meant I ended up paying for books and other initial expenses without assistance and very little to my name. I’m still paying that off, but the bottom line is I’m on-time with my payments.
In graduate school, I knew where my values were. They were in travel, and I paid my own way to multiple conferences and an international internship. I saved like crazy and supplemented where I needed with loans. To get home during the holidays, I have to cross mountain passes at peak times, and that means usually shelling out money for train or plane tickets–at holiday rates. I had a small dental procedure scheduled–during exactly the time that I was uninsured for a month. And then, I landed my dream job a quarter early–which meant my tuition waiver was null. And as an out-of-state graduate student no longer affiliated with an OUS institution as an employer, I had to take out several thousand dollars to cover my last five credits.
I’m not complaining, though.
This is exactly the level that other students find themselves in. I have had the best experiences and opportunities for growth possible during my time as a student.
My borrowing works out to roughly $6500 a year for six years. What’s the price tag I would put on volunteering in Madrid for a month? For interning in Trinidad and Tobago for a month? For being able to be at friends’ weddings, my dad’s last few days, every Christmas in freezing-cold Wenatchee (and one special Mom/Daughter trip to Hawaii)?
So maybe it means I request an Income-Based Repayment Plan. Maybe it means looking for a condo to buy in a price range that’s $40k less than my current job could allow me to buy. Maybe it’s packing my own lunch every day and making my own coffee in the morning.
I don’t have a car loan. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have any children. It’s just me and my dreams and the world.
And heck, when I look at the map and the pictures and the friends I’ve made, $40k is a steal.
Here’s to young adulthood and young professionalism. Here’s to growing up slowly. Here’s to being average at the cost of living an above-average life.