As American students now cumulatively owe about $1 trillion in student loan debt, Yahoo is publishing first-person accounts from those who are still paying and those who have lessons to share. Here's one story.
FIRST PERSON: I am 21 years old and hail from Pontiac, Ill. I now spend most of my time in Memphis, Tenn., where I am entering my senior year at Rhodes College. Rhodes is a wonderful private liberal arts college that has afforded me ample opportunity to seek fulfillment and reach for my career goals. Unfortunately, they cannot offer such a great service without a cost. Even with help from a generous scholarship and selfless sacrifice from my parents, I will graduate in less than a year with $27,000 of debt.
The sad truth is that my load of debt is not even a large one in the context of American student loans. Nonetheless, my hopes for a career will be undoubtedly affected by these loans. I intend to go to graduate school to receive a PhD. While many applicants will take what is called a "gap year" to prepare their application and to make sure they can boast of all their accomplishments as a senior, I must apply during my senior year of college.
If I am to take a gap year, I will have to immediately start paying my loans off without any stable career options. This means I am under considerable pressure to apply successfully to a graduate program with less preparation than much of my competition. A further problem is that I may get into schools that are unable to give me teaching assistantships to pay for my graduate tuition, though at this point it is still customary for PhD students in my field to have grant funding or teaching opportunities to pay for the whole of their expense.
With all of that said, I am thankful for these loans. They have allowed me to go to the school of my dreams and fully take advantage of my time there, temporarily unburdened by the need to make loan payments.
In the United States, student loans are a fact of life for those who are not born into exceptional circumstances. Despite my concerns with paying this debt and the fact it could ultimately alter what career field I pursue, it allowed me the chance to pursue my dreams. My ability to take out loans allowed me into a world that would otherwise only be accessible to the wealthy.
Moving forward, I think the net effect of student loans is still positive. They allow people from all backgrounds to seek the best education they can.
Colleges and universities bear an important burden, however, in not taking advantage of this system. Raising costs just because needy students can get loan approval will ruin a system that has been gradually becoming fairer.
Likewise, students like me must take responsibility and realize that it is not play money; after all the fun is over, the money has to be paid back. That responsibility remains first and foremost in my mind as I consider my education and career options.