Five hundred thousand dollars. Half a million. The number is so ridiculous that it loses its meaning – like saying a word over and over again until it has no frame of reference. But the number is likely a little bigger than that now, with all the continually compounding interest on my student loans.

My Mountain of Debt

Half of my debt comes in the form of “private” loans not guaranteed by the federal government.

Subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans make up the other half. All of it is unfathomable and seemingly insurmountable. At this point, more than half of the student debt I owe is compounded interest.

How I Got Stuck With $500k In Student Debt

Even having lowered my overhead dramatically by moving onto my boat, I am unable to afford the approximately $4,000 per month in payments that will last for another 30 years.

While there are purportedly programs to help with federal loans, Sallie Mae continually misprocessed or denied applications for income-based relief. And the company is intransigent when it comes to offering alternative payment options for private loans.

Even with income-based relief, I would have no money left for food, health care, transportation, or other such luxuries. The real salt in the wound is that people like me – borrowers who are in default and who most need relief from their debt burden – are not eligible for any help.

How Did I Get Here?

How did I end up in such a predicament? I’ve asked myself that question countless times. I didn’t even want to go to college. I wanted to be a hairdresser – or perhaps go into fashion design. But my parents had both gone to college, as had my older siblings.

There was a strong sense of pressure and expectation for me to attend a good four-year university. And there was a clear prejudice against taking a service job or going into any field that involved working with one’s hands. I was young and didn’t have the confidence to say “no” to all those pressures from family and from society. So off to college I went.

At a small, well-respected liberal arts university, I double-majored in what turned out to be doubly useless fields: philosophy and history. Learning for the sake of learning is wonderful. I have a bottomless sense of intellectual curiosity. I would never discourage anyone from learning. But that sort of personal intellectual journey is no longer what college is about.

College has become a means to a piece of paper that allegedly entitles a person to a job.

How I Got Stuck With $500k In Student Debt. Looking back, I see they did it to save their son from a life of poverty, to leave options open for him in life.Personal growth and expansion of one’s mind and beliefs no longer have any place in higher education. We all thought that our one friend’s parents were heartless dictators when they insisted that if he wanted to major in studio art (which they clearly thought was a useless career pursuit), he should also major in business.

Looking back, I see that they did it to save their son from a life of poverty and debt. They wanted to give him options later in life.

Four years after not wanting to go to college, there I was – a magna cum laude and a double-major in philosophy and history. And yet, I had few options before me. I could become a high school history teacher, wait tables, or go to graduate school.

Off to grad school I went. Stay tuned for what happened next!

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.