Discourse / Letters / May 15, 2013

The truth about student loans

As I finish up my second year of life in the “real world,” more and more is being said about the dangers of student loans and how they are our nation’s next big financial crisis. This is both alarming and refreshing.
Whenever I talked about student loan debt before, I felt guilty. Getting accepted to and going to college is still such a privilege to a good portion of the population, so why would I ever complain about how much it costs?

It was my choice to attend a private liberal arts college, so I should accept the consequences and be quiet about it. That said, I do not want to complain, rather relay a sense of reality that was not clearly presented to me while I was at Knox, attending classes, studying in the library, going to the Gizmo, soaking up sun on Post Lawn and waiting eternally for Flunk Day.

First things first, if you are reading this and you have missed more than four classes over the past 10 weeks not due to an extenuating circumstance, please stop and think long and hard about what you’re doing in school. I am not one who believes you should know what you want to do or go to school specifically for a trade or profession, but remember your time at Knox has value.

Breaking down the yearly tuition (without factoring in scholarship or grants), one course at Knox costs $4,254, or $141.80 per class. If that does not seem “worth it” to you, take a term off and reconsider your options. I give this advice to anyone — no matter if you are paying for school or if someone is helping you out. College, in some form, will always be available.

If you are in school and you have loans taken out in your name, start paying interest on these loans. Pay whatever you can swing. I do not use the word regret lightly, but I deeply regret not paying interest on my loans while I was in school.

Right now my student loan payments are $318 per month. Two hundred of that goes toward interest; one hundred goes toward the principal amount borrowed. It makes me sick every time I look at it. I cannot even think about how much money I would have saved if I had paid a little bit towards my loans while in school.

Paying $50 or so on interest a month also gets you into the habit of looking at your education as a tangible reality you’re paying for, rather than just four years of your life that help you transition into adulthood.

Think long and hard about graduate school. There is a feeling when you graduate from Knox that your education is not over, which is nice, but the reality is that in this economy, an advanced degree does not necessarily secure a future. It does not necessarily mean that you have marketable skills either. The Great Recession sent thousands of people into graduate school to delay inevitable unemployment.

Advanced degrees do not guarantee employment as they once did. Work experience, in many cases, is just as valuable as an advanced degree, and work experience means a paycheck!

I realize that some dreams require advanced schooling (i.e. doctors, lawyers, professors, etc.), but if your career does not, think before you apply to grad school, especially to programs that are not fully funded.

My last piece of advice is to not let anyone make you feel bad about your student loan debt. I fight this feeling every day. According to The Knot (a wedding website), the average American wedding costs $21,000. According to Kelly Blue Book, 2012 Toyota Camry costs about $22,000. People go into debt to buy jewelry, houses, boats, motorcycles and even fast food if they use their credit cards irresponsibly.

I know this is a very familiar approach to looking at borrowing for college, but it really is an investment in yourself. I would not be the person I am today without my four years at Knox College. I only wish I had thought a little bit more about how it would feel to pay the same in rent as I do in student loans.

Lexie Frensley, 2011,
Literature & Educational Studies

Lexie Frensley '11

Tags:  advanced degree finance Kelly Blue Book Knox letter to the editor payment student loan

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