This is a counter-intuitive take on the student loan debt bubble that I’ve bee mentally working out ever since my deferment period expired and it came time to start paying back three degrees’ worth of student loans. It’s just my story, but it’s probably not one entirely unique. Anyone who knows what a FAFSA is can likely relate.
Here’s the breakdown: I got a BA, MA, and PhD, all in the growth industry of–wait for it–the English department! Believe me, I read many, many opinion and long-form articles about what a waste of time and money this would be and was still undeterred. While I was finishing up my doctorate, I silently pulsed with anxiety and dread about that day I would check the Dept. of Ed. website when it would reveal a very large balance that would rival what my parents paid for their house. And now, I am gainfully employed (though underpaid for now, but that something I’m working on changing) and between my partner and I, make monthly payments that probably won’t chip away at the principal amount we owe for at least a decade or so.
Poor me, right? NOPE. And don’t you dare tell me you feel sorry for me because I did it all myself because it was the right thing for me. This just skims the surface of what my student loans got me:
- an amazing undergraduate experience where I got a phenomenal education
- a Master’s degree with faculty and peers that inspired me and boosted my confidence to apply to a PhD program, which I never would have otherwise considered
- a PhD from a tremendous program with a fabulous record of job placement
- many, many dear friends who live in places I love to visit
I could go on and on, but here’s the bottom line: student loans gave me the resources to find out what was possible beyond the rural Connecticut town from whence I came. Sure, I could have lived at home and worked full time to pay for community college and perhaps transferred to a state school. I would probably have married my boyfriend from high school, who did exactly that, and then we would have gotten divorced in short order. Instead, we broke up while I away at college, and I went on to grad school where I met my life partner (who paid for dinner and drinks with his student loan money, too).
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying the student loan bubble isn’t a problem. My experience has mostly been with federal loans and the private loan industry is a whole other animal that needs taming. My issue is with the narratives of people who lament not being able to afford to buy a lot of big ticket items because they have student loan debt and question the value of investing in their education in the first place. Who says you have to own a house by the time you’re 30? Or 35? Or ever? If you want to get married and have a family then DO it. Use that brain of yours that you pay for every month to Salliemae and come up with creative solutions to your problems. Or better yet, stop caring so much about stuff you buy and value the intangibles–love, relationships, art, music, nature, among other things–and don’t worry about never being able to afford a BMW or buy a summer home.
But wait, what happens to people with student loan debt? Do they die alone in a gutter? Flipping burgers? Pouring drinks? Sometimes. Or sometimes not.