5 Things I Can’t Do Because of Student Loans

I’ve mentioned before that I’m practically drowning in student loan debt, and am not at all happy about it.  It’s the kind of thing nobody can really prepare you for, no matter how many Time Magazine articles or school assembly leaders tell you about it.  Until you receive that first loan statement in the mail telling you that even if you spent every single dime you made on paying your student loans, you still wouldn’t be debt-free for four or five years, you can’t really understand how crushing a debt that large can be.

It’s not as though nobody tried to prepare me.  The news, recent college graduates, my high-school counselor…they all talked about how much money college costs, and that paying for college entirely through student loans would leave me buried in debt until I was old enough to be sending my own kids off to college. But when you’re faced with a choice between staying at your dead-end job in the local pharmacy or signing your future potential income away for a college degree, you start to pack your bags and tell everyone that you know what it means to be over $50,000 in debt from the day you’re handed your diploma (even if the truth is, you have absolutely no idea what it’s like to make less than $30,000 a year post-taxes and owe nearly $100,000 grand to the bank and the state).

The fact though, is that for the next 15 to 20 years, I’ll have to weigh every important monetary decision – whether to move, where to buy a home, if I should get married, what job to accept – against how much money I still owe to the bank.  That until I’m 43-years-old, I’ll be hardly able to save money because I’ll have to weigh the benefits of a savings account against the benefits of putting that extra money towards the interest I owe to a loan company that out-and-out refuses to take my income into consideration when calculating my monthly bill – because, in their words – “we don’t care how much money you make.”

The fact is that even though countries like Brazil, France, and Germany all offer free college educations to citizens there, America still charges more for an education at a state school than some people will make in a year (the national average is just under $40,000 for a four-year degree at a public college, and over $100,000 at a private university, making the overall average cost of a four-year education $70,000).  And that doesn’t factor in students who will have to attend grad school, obtain their PhD, or work as an unpaid intern for years after they receive their diploma because a four-year degree alone can’t guarantee them a job.

So, as I watch all the things I could’ve done wash down the drain as I write another check to the loan company, here are five things I’d rather be doing with $70,000.

student loans
Unsplash

Travel the World

It sounds pretty cliche to sound that the first thing I’d do is go to Europe, but after one week in Ireland a couple years ago, I can say with absolute certainty that I would if I could.  For all I learned in four years of college, I bet there’s so much more I could learn if I spent a year travelling, meeting people and hearing about their cultures, speaking their languages, and just exploring the world all around me.

Buy a Home

Right now, that’s years down the line.  I’m only 23, single, and still working my first job completely unsure of where I’d like to spend the rest of my life living.  But five or ten years from now, I’m going to have a better idea of where I’d like to live, and maybe even who I’d like to live with.  With $70,000, I could move across the country and buy a home there.

Donate to Charity

Where I’m at in life right now, donating to charity is nowhere in my list of options.  The $5 I donated to a firm-wide charity fund at work the other day is about as much as I can afford.  I grew up with parents who each donated regularly to a couple of different charities, and that’s something I’d like to do myself now that I’m old enough.

Get Back on a Horse

From elementary through early high-school I loved horseback riding.  Once a week, my mom or dad would drive me to a local stable where I’d take lessons in English riding.  I participated in student-only horse-shows at my stable, went to summer camp with my best friend who also rode, and for a while I even convinced myself that I’d work with horses one day.  In the last couple years of high-school, I started having problems with my hip that one doctor attributed to horseback riding.  I learned later that the sport had nothing to do with it and I could go back to riding, but by then I was leaving for college and couldn’t afford the monthly dues to be a part of my university’s riding team.  If I had the money, I’d find a local stable and start riding again tomorrow.

Save Money

It sounds pretty ridiculous coming from a 23-year-old, but I’m at a point where I’m starting to realize how important it is to save money while you’re young.  Right now, I barely have a savings account and I’m about to empty it out to pay student loans, but if I had the money I’d start putting part of every paycheck into a savings account so that I don’t have to wait until I’m 80 to retire.

So, now I want to know – what would you do without student loans to pay?

How College Made Me a Better Person

We’ve all heard before that college is a time of growth for most people.  It’s the first time in our lives when we’re on our own and surrounded by so many people who are completely different from the people we’ve grown up around.  Each day, we’re faced with a hundred decisions we’d never even considered before.  But just because college means change, doesn’t mean that change is the same for everyone, just that you’ll come out a different person than when you went in.

Self-Improvement through College

More Open-Minded

Before college, I never knew a wide range of people.  I attended several very small Catholic grade schools, most of which only had one class of about 25 students for each grade, the majority of whom were white, middle-class Republicans.  Even when I reached high-school and my parents let me go to the local public school, I graduated with a class of less than 300 students.  So it wasn’t until college that I started to meet a variety of people with beliefs, education, and backgrounds different than my own.

While I’d like to believe I’ve always been an accepting and relatively open-minded person, I can’t honestly remember what my beliefs were before college, except that they aligned pretty easily with that of my friends and parents.
College introduced me to so many new ideas, ways of thinking, people, and cultures.  It was an experience that molded who I am and what I believe while introducing me to so many different types of people.

More Self-Aware

For many of the same reasons I became more open-minded and opinionated in college, I also became more aware of who I am as a person.

As a teenager, so much of who you are and what you believe is based on what your friends think, say and do.  You gravitate towards people just like you, and for the most part it’s easy to agree with what most of your friends believe.  For me though, college was more about finding who I am and what I believe.

As a freshman, I walked into my dorm room having no idea what I wanted to major in or where I hope to be four years later.  The major I was absolutely set on declaring on Monday was no longer even a consideration by the weekend, and it took a year and a half as well as a series of classes before I realized what it was that I wanted to be doing.  And even that decision – to become a journalist – had changed by the time I graduated a few months ago.


More Inquisitive

I’ve always loved learning, and the start of a new school year.  For as long as I can remember, writing and reading have been my favorite subjects in school, and I can remember days in high-school where I couldn’t wait to get to those classes.

It wasn’t until college though that my interests expanded.  The electives I was able to fit into my schedule were some of the most rewarding experiences I had in a college classroom setting, and they’ve led me to continue learning, to continue asking questions.
I always say that if I had the money, I’d be a professional student because I graduated a few months ago still wanting to take so many different classes: languages, Holocaust studies, art, photography, philosophy, religious studies… If I had the chance, I don’t know if I’d ever graduate.

So what about you?  How did college change you?

5 Things My Education Taught Me That Aren’t in the Textbook

This August will be the first time in (almost) my entire life that I haven’t found myself in the stationary aisle of Staples picking out notebooks and pens for a new school year.  I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t a student, and now, what seems like all of a sudden, I’m being forced to change the way I define myself.

We spend so much of our young lives wanting to be finished with school, to not find ourselves in a familiar classroom come September.  But now that that is a reality for me, I’m not sure what comes next.  Today, I’m going to indulge myself though – for your benefit of course.  I’m going to tell you the five (non-textbook) lessons I’ve learned from 16 years of school.


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Grades aren’t the most important thing

Or at least, they’re not the only thing.  What have you learned so far from all these years in school?  And I don’t mean who was President in 1943 or what the Pythagorean Theorem is (because I certainly don’t remember half of what I learned in math after the 6th grade, and you can easily Google every President the United States has ever elected).  I mean the life lessons, the things that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life.

What did your 2nd grade teacher tell you that you’ll never forget?  What did the green light in The Great Gatsby teach you about your life?  How did you change from that terrifying first day of kindergarten to now?  That’s the most important thing.


It’s not always going to be easy, and it’s not always going to be fair

That first time a boy pulled your hair on the playground and got away with it?  Well, that’s one of the biggest lessons you’ll ever learn in school – because life doesn’t get any easier after elementary school, and what’s fair isn’t always what happens.

It’s what you do with those experiences that matters – sure, the little boy who pulled your hair isn’t bestowing any great life lessons on you at the time, and you’re probably not a better person for it (screw that idea that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger), but you’re going to encounter much worse later.  Like a girl stealing your report that you spent weeks perfecting, and using it to get the job you wanted.  Now that’s not fair, but it’ll teach you who to trust, and that you have to work that much harder to get what you want in life because not everyone is going to play by the rules.


Take a mental health day once in a while

I’ll be real – this wasn’t ever really anything I ever struggled with.  My mom made sure of that by waking me up at 6am on a Tuesday and announcing that instead of spending the day reciting lines from a Shakespeare poem, I’d be exploring Washington DC and seeing the cherry blossoms with her.  And let me just tell you now – sometimes, those days “off” were so much more educational than class would have been.

I’m not saying classes and homework and school aren’t important – of course they are – but sometimes, a day to recharge is more important.


The really important classes are taught outside of class

I mean really, who hasn’t wished that their school offered a class in keeping a budget or nailing an interview? I know I did…several times.

You might night be able to get credit for it, but there are classes, at least in college.  Most universities have a careers department where they’ll help you write a resume, teach you how to get and nail interviews, and even practice with you when you land a meeting for the perfect job.  Departments like this are the most worthwhile part of that $15,000-a-semester tuition you’re paying, so don’t waste them!


You’re going to miss it when it’s over

All that structure – the knowing what comes next, and where you have to be each day – yeah it sucks sometimes, but you’re going to miss it when you don’t have it anymore.  Don’t hate it or rebel against it too much now because when it’s over, you’ll need to remember what it was like.

What important lessons did school teach you – both in and out of the classroom?

Post-Grad Realizations

I’m coming to you today as a college graduate.

photo by Jillian Lusch

On Saturday morning, I sat on the football field next to the same people I’ve spent the last four years sitting next to in classrooms, and one by one we heard our names called as we walked across the stage.

The thing is, I think I’m still in shock.  In one moment, I feel exactly the same as I did a week ago – a 22-year-old college student worrying about classes and grades, and the next I realize that isn’t who I am anymore.  Now I’m a post-grad (albeit one who still has months of school left to receive my paralegal license), and that means that in a sense, everything is different.

photo by Jillian Lusch

One by one, over the next couple weeks, most of the people who I’ve spent the last four years with will leave this town, whether to start graduate school, go home, or start their career.

It’s a crazy feeling to know that for the last several years, we’ve been able to walk a couple blocks and see one another whenever we want.  We’ve spent most weekends together, spent hours cramming for finals and writing 15-page papers in the library.  And now, at best we’ll see each other every couple of months.

photo by Jillian Lusch
four years ago, we started college together on the 7th floor of this building.  

I think that realization – that most of us are leaving this town in a few days and won’t be coming back – that’s more terrifying than the realization that I’m not a college student anymore.

How Pinteresting: Graduation Edition

For several hours yesterday while I should have been memorizing dead Roman Emperors and the monuments built in their honor, I looked at hundreds of Pinterest photos of graduation photos and decorated caps.  So, in the interest of putting off my last two classes I’m going to share some of my favorites today.

Here
I wish I knew how to Photoshop purely so that I could do this
Here
I love the bow!
Here
Let’s be real – a HUGE part of my childhood was Harry Potter.  Totaled, the books and movies lasted from the time I was in 1st grade, until my freshman year of high-school.  
Here
Here

What about you?  Did you decorate your cap?  Or if you haven’t graduated yet, do you think you will?

Why I Need Feminism

Last week, I linked to a post I really loved from [Witty Title Here], and I promised I’d have more to say on that later.  The thing is, I really do love that post.  I love the conversation it starts, and (almost) everything she has to say about Feminism.  The problem is, I’ve been struggling to write this post for a while now.  I don’t know how to say what I need to without the anger I feel about it shining through.

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This conversation is one that’s been had before.  I’ve been a part of it more times than I can count, having been raised by a mother and father who constantly reminded me how important my rights are.  How important I am.

When I started taking the SATs four years ago, I looked at more colleges than I can count.  I probably couldn’t even tell you all of the ones I applied to, because having two parents who had never gone to college themselves, they insisted I apply everywhere.  We drove all over Pennsylvania looking at potential schools before eventually deciding on one that had never been on my radar (that’s not to say I’m not happy here.  I absolutely love this school, and in fact plan on staying in this town after I graduate this weekend.  It just wasn’t my plan).

One of the biggest factors in my choosing this school over one my mom really wanted me to go to?  Safety.  That other school just did not feel safe, even with a hundred cops all over the place.  This one though?  This one felt perfect.  And for three years, I was never scared here.  I would walk home from work at 2a.m. alone if none of the bouncers were able to leave for 20 minutes (okay…maybe that was stupid.  I may be a little naive, but thank goodness I never had to be proven wrong).  On nights I couldn’t sleep, or when a big test had me stressed, I would head down to a playground right off campus, and sit on the swings.

This year though, that changed.  This year, if you know my school, you know there have been problems.  I can’t even count how many assaults I’ve received e-mails and texts about, and it got so bad my little town made it onto the 6o’clock news one night.  My campus is covered in “TIMELY WARNING”s, and frankly – I’m sick of seeing them.  I’m sick of reading about how not safe the women on this campus are (because while I realize sexual assault is a gender neutral issue, the ones being reported on a weekly basis at my campus are strictly female victims).  I’m sick of hearing that the men they knew, trusted, did this to them.

And then?  I lose my ability to communicate effectively when I hear someone say that she had any part in what happened.  I can’t think straight enough to formulate a response when someone says “well, she was drinking.  And girls these days…their skirts are just a bit shorter than I should think is appropriate.” You know what?  That has nothing to do with it.   And that simple fact seems like basic common sense to me, because if you can acknowledge that the men and women who do these things are mentally ill, then you surely can’t believe that the outfit has anything to do with it.

It frankly doesn’t matter if she was topless, because we are not animals incapable of thought.  We do not have a rape instinct that kicks in at the mere sight of skin.  We are human beings who need to be taught “don’t rape” rather than “don’t get raped.”

The only thing that makes her skirt or her blood alcohol content relevant is us.  We make these things important, because by pointing them out, we tell the predators exactly who they should go after.  We tell them that if they pick a woman who’s had a few drinks, or who is wearing a lot of make-up, or who is walking home alone…. we tell them that these are the victims they should choose, because a jury might say she was asking for it.  Might suggest she said yes, and regretted it in the morning.

As a society, we need to STOP excusing this behavior.  Even if you don’t think you are, even “well I’m just pointing out that certain behaviors can attract unwanted attention” – you’re absolutely right.  A short skirt does attract unwanted attention.  But not because they wouldn’t do the same thing to a woman in baggy jeans and an old t-shirt.  They would.

They picked that woman, because we told them they should.  And we need to stop telling them which victims are the most vulnerable.

Coming out the Other Side

As a little girl, I can remember my mom telling me that my confidence, my beliefs, my knowledge are the most important things in the world.  Of all the possessions I had, my Teddy Bear (ahem, still have), the My Size Barbie I’d gotten for Christmas, my Polaroid camera that I carried everywhere…  None of it was as valuable as who I was and who I am.  
I grew up a feminist, always knowing (okay…always trying to know) that as small as my life may be, that didn’t make me any less important.  That the experiences I have had – the beautiful moments, and the days that I thought I’d completely broken – would shape who I was, and that through it all I am strong.
With my college graduation just a couple of weeks away, I’m suddenly remembering everything about the last four years of my life – the days I didn’t want to get out of bed, and the moments when I did anyway.  The days when it was all so completely worth it, and the nights I felt like I’d rather be anywhere else.  Through it all, over the last four years, I have felt so. alive.  

I have always grown up knowing that these things are important, that “what doesn’t kill you makes you who you are”, but college has made that a part of me in a way that it never was.  It is a characteristic about myself that, despite all the things I don’t like about who I am, I love.  
This life has been hard.  This last year has been one of the most difficult I’ve ever had to face, but I made it.  Here I am, out on the other side, and none of it broke me down.  It made me who I am, and even when I’m not proud of something I’ve said or done, I’m proud of who I am.  

On Wednesdays We Eat Breakfast

With graduation coming up faster than a freight train that I don’t know how to get away from, my friends and I have started a new tradition: Breakfast Club (yea…we mix our movies up sometimes).  Every Wednesday morning, we make our way to the local diner and spend an hour or two eating the most delicious pancakes and french toast on the menu while we talk about everything – school, our futures, freshman year, work…

We’ve only been getting together for about a month or so now, but it already feels like a tradition that I’m going to miss like crazy after we graduate next month and some of us leave this town.  I think that’s probably because, even though the diner and Wednesday mornings are new, we’ve been doing this since freshman year when we would wake up earlier than we would have otherwise liked to on Sunday to get eat breakfast at the school’s dining hall.

Talking to these girls about well…everything…is a tradition in itself, with or without breakfast.  One that I’m going to miss too much come May.  I think that means it’s time to start talking about Dinner Club…

pumpkin bread french toast

And by the way, pumpkin bread french toast is the absolute greatest thing you will ever taste.  Go eat some.  Now.

What are some traditions you and your friends have?

When I Grow Up

In about a month, I will be walking across a stage to get my college diploma.  It’s a day I’ve always known was coming – there was never a moment when I doubted that I would go to college and graduate – but somehow, I’ve never actually been able to imagine it happening.  I can’t picture myself as anything but a student, and a month from today – I will be a college graduate.  A “real person.”

It is absolutely terrifying, and for the last several months I have done nothing but worry about it – about whether I’ll be able to find a job (here’s a hint: I haven’t. There simply aren’t any.  I should not have doubted all the adults who spent the last eight years telling me just that, but for some reason I thought they were exaggerating.  Future graduates: they were not.), a place to live, whether I chose the right major.  And frankly, my biggest concern even without my ever realizing it has been whether I’ll be able to find my place in this world.  It’s scary out there, and the thought of having a “real” job – one where I get paid on salary, not the money that strangers are kind enough to leave on the table, is a whole new reality that I don’t know if I’m ready to face.

For the time being, there are a hundred careers out there that I can imagine myself enjoying, and I’m just not sure if the one I’ve been planning on for the last four years is it.  Yesterday, Alice wrote a lovely post about all the things she used to want to be when she grew up, and all the things she wants to be now.  I think for today, I am going to take a page out of her book (er…blog) and do the same.


What I Want to be When I Grow Up
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When I Was Little

Van Gogh  

As a little girl, I would sit in my grandmother’s living room watching the news and drawing pictures for hours.  I spent years believing that I could be an artist one day.  I even had my parents enroll me in a drawing class…which is precisely when I realized that starving artist was not in my future, as I was an entirely incompetent artist.


Veterinarian  

It wasn’t so much a love for animals as it was a love for my cat.  I think that at six years old, I believed that being a vet would allow me to spend entire days playing with cats.  And let’s be real, that’s still my dream job.


Lawyer

Every year, my school held a career day where local professionals in all different fields would come in and talk to students about what they do on a daily basis.  Every time career day came around, I’d write “lawyer” in the little number one space where I was supposed to write my first choice (of course, I usually got placed in religious studies instead, much to my chagrin).  At some point, I don’t know when, I simply stopped dreaming of one day becoming a lawyer.  I think I realized that I was not the type of person who becomes a lawyer.


Author

When I wasn’t at my grandmother’s house drawing a thousand pictures of sunsets, I was writing best-selling novels that never made it past the first page.  I remember starting a novel about a man who had been falsely accused of a murder his friend had committed.  How my six-year-old brain concocted that one is beyond me.  Most likely, I was listening to the murder-mystery show my grandmother loved to watch and heard a similar story.

Even though I don’t have fantasies about becoming a New York Times Best-Selling Author anymore, writing is one of the few things I brought from my childhood until now.  I love to write, and managed to find a way to do it that allows me not to make it past the first page.


Now That I’m “All Grown Up”

Professional Blogger

Given my level of commitment (or lack there-of), I realize that this will not happen.  But I do have the occasional (read: almost daily) daydream of being able to make money off of this here little blog.


Journalist

This one’s a bit iffy.  I have a minor in this subject, and spent last semester working at the local paper writing articles.  I still freelance for them, and I do enjoy it.  But I’m just not sure if it’s something I want to spend 40 hours a week doing for the rest of my life…  Maybe this is just my ridiculous notion that real people can manage to find a job they absolutely love, and that doesn’t actually feel like work.


Paralegal

This just feels perfect for me – the grown-up that used to be a six-year-old dreaming of solving crime from the court room.  I’ve always wanted to work in an office, and this seems like the perfect middle-ground since I know lawyer is not in my future.

I recently (as recently as this week) enrolled in a paralegal certificate program that I can complete online in seven months.  I am so. excited.


Happy

Okay okay…this is cheating.  I know this isn’t a career path.  But as John Lennon once said, “you’re missing the point if you think happy isn’t what we all want to be when we grow up.”  Okay, maybe I’m paraphrasing….but I think you get the point.


What about you…what do you want to be when you grow up?