When I was growing up, I always thought that education was the path to success. I didn’t know of another way; I only saw one road ahead, and that was education and hard work. So, when it came time to go to college, I didn’t think twice before signing on for student loans. In my mind, there was no other option.
For my undergraduate degree, I took out $23,000.
That part proved to be somewhat manageable, but years later, I started to feel the pull of higher education. I wanted to be a professor and teach and knew that I’d have to acquire a master’s degree to do so.
Through a set of serendipitous circumstances, I ended up getting into my dream school: New York University.
NYU meant prestige, legitimacy, and a huge network. But the price tag? $52,000.
I ended up taking out a total of $58,000 to cover tuition and some living expenses.
I was able to live on my savings and three part-time jobs.
After I graduated from NYU — after making minimal payments for several years — I had a total of $68,000 in student loan debt. I had so much hope and started a long round of job interviews. In New York, I went through 30 interviews in two months. I felt like I was getting closer to finding that dream job, but it didn’t happen.
My grace period was quickly coming to an end. Not only would I have to pay my $900 in rent (for a closet-sized room), I’d also have to pay roughly the same amount towards my student loans each month. I kept reworking the math behind my budget, income, and expenses. It didn’t add up.
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I could not afford to live in New York and pay back my student loans.
I was devastated. After all, I had left a full-time job, moved across the country and left my family and love behind for this.
After thoughtful consideration, I realized something had to give. So I decided to move to Portland, Oregon to be with my partner and also have a lower cost of living. While Portland proved to be cheaper, it was even harder to find a full-time job.
I struggled to make ends meet and took on any gig I could; I worked as a house cleaner, brand ambassador, pet sitter, and more.
After struggling for a few years, things started to change. I started writing about debt and helping others. Somehow, this has led to a career – writing about money. It’s funny how life works out sometimes.
Many people ask me if I regret taking out so much debt to go to school.
For a while, I would’ve said “yes”, it was a mistake. Now, in retrospect, it’s a bit more complicated. Getting into debt has oddly paved the path to my current career. I got to cross New York off my bucket list and make friendships with some of the best people I know.
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If I were to do it again, I may not have gone to my dream school. Like any dream, the reality of it is less glamorous than what you imagine. I hadn’t clearly thought of how my student loans would affect my future — where I live, my relationship, the ability to travel, my career, and more. Having such massive debt affected every aspect of my life.
Now I no longer think of student loans as the “good debt”. It’s debt. You have to pay it back. It doesn’t mean you’ll get a great education or a job after you graduate. It doesn’t promise anything.
I encourage everyone to pursue education, but take a look at the plus and minus sides.
I just don’t want others to make the same mistakes I did. It’s important to only borrow what you can afford and be realistic about your life after school. Your payments could end up taking a huge chunk out of your budget.
But this story does have a happy ending. At the time of writing, I have $14,000 left and hope to be debt free in a few months. It’s possible to get out of debt, but it takes a lot of sacrifice and an insane amount of hard work.