This is a post by my husband Aaron. I’m thrilled that he has paid off his student loans and couldn’t be more proud of him! Here’s his story… :D -Anna
Is College Worth the Expense?…
It’s official, I’ve conquered my student loans, and I now have this piece of paper saying I am debt free!
It took me 10 years to do but I did finish paying it off a full 20 years ahead of time. Way back when I graduated and had zero money, I did some fancy refinancing and consolidation of my loans that extended the payments out over 30 years so I’d have a lower monthly payment. At the time, it was a good idea for me to consolidate and refinance because I was able to avoid deferring the loans again (interest still accrues on deferred loans, and I didn’t want to defer the loans anymore than I already had). After I refinanced my student loans I was able to pay my student loan bill every month on time which is something I wasn’t able to do before I refinanced them.
Flash forward to 8.5 years later of consistent payments and I was quickly getting no where, and the balance wasn’t dropping. It was only after I was able to pay quadruple the minimum due on my student loans that the balance finally started to go south. It took me about 10 years after graduation to get to a point in my life where I actually had a job that allowed to me pay all my bills and have extra money. After 1.5 years of paying aggressively towards my student loans, it finally vanished all together. Anna has mentioned this numerous times and I never really got it ’til I was in the middle of it myself, but as the balance started to drop and the end was nearing, paying off my student loans actually become fun.
I looked forward to getting the bill rather than dreading it, and I couldn’t wait for the day it was gone completely. Now that my student loans are gone I feel like a giant monkey climbed off my back.
A brief history of my college life…
I graduated from Penn State in 2003. I went to a satellite branch in my hometown of York, Pennsylvania so I could continue to live at my parents house. I graduated with a pretty useless degree in Letter’s, Arts and Sciences. To this day I can’t tell you want it is, but I hold a degree in this field. Truthfully, it was one of the only degrees that didn’t require taking a math credit above geometry, so I was all over it. It took me six years to graduate because I took a few semesters off to travel (I used the money I saved from living at home rather than living on campus to fund my travels), and I always worked a part-time job. In the grand scheme of things, taking the time off to travel to other countries and taking the time to get to know this country better was way more educational than anything I actually learned in college. I can’t speak more than a few words of German (even though I paid to take the class for two years) but I can remember every detail of what it’s like to actually be in Germany. One of the only german words I remember is die jugendherberge, which means youth hostel, which is good, because hostels are cheap… so if I visit enough jugenderberges in German to recoup the money I spent on taking German language classes, perhaps it was worth it.
I paid for my own college. I paid every cent of every class and every book, and this might sound strange when you are paying for your own degree (through student loans), but I would actually recommend not working at all (except maybe summers) when you are in college. I always worked at least 20 hours a week, but these 20 hours a week actually prolonged my schooling (by about a year) costing me, in the end, more money than I actually earned. One semester, for no good reason, I worked a full-time, 3rd shift job then went to school during the day. Working part-time I could only ever handle 12 credits. 12 credits is the minimum amount of credits you can take to be considered a full-time student (I always wanted maintain full-time student status so I could stay on my parents insurance plan). If I took 15 credits each semester I could have knocked off about 1 year of my schooling, but instead I chose to work for $8 dollars an hour at a factory. Perhaps worse than that though was that I let a part-time job dictate my college career. I mainly chose my classes not by what interested me, but what fit into my work schedule. This is not something I recommend.
So, the deeper question is…is college worth it?
I thought about this question at least once a month for the past 10 years every time I sent out that student loan payment, and the conclusion I came to, for me personally, is that no college wasn’t worth the cost. I did have a huge sense of accomplishment when I graduated and it felt great sending that last payment out knowing that I paid for everything myself, but in my situation, college didn’t really do anything for me. I don’t remember much of what I was taught and like most college graduates, I’m not doing anything even remotely close to the field I graduated it. I work full-time as a photo-stylist in a photo studio, not full-time doing Letters, Arts, and Science-y stuff (whatever that is). It could be argued that perhaps showing that I had the dedication to earn a college degree helped to get my foot in the door at places, but all my experience has come from actually working on a job, not from using what I learned in college. If I could go back and redo things, I would have chosen to attend a two-year technical school or wait until I was sure of my career choice, than start college rather than spending thousands on useless classes and ultimately a useless degree just because that’s what I was told I should do.
With that being said, for people who know exactly what they want to do and need a college degree to get there, by all means go to college. But for people like me, I’d recommend considering alternative ideas like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, or teaching English in a foreign country. All free, all great ways to gain life experience. It’s always good to invest in your future, but if I could do it all over again, I’d invest by actually seeing the world first and taking the time to figure out how I was going to fit into the world. That way, I would have been able to decide to attend college and work towards a degree and life that really interested me.
PayPal Co-Founder Peter Thiel is also an advocate of skipping college to pursue entrepreneurial aspirations and has developed a fellowship to encourage his idea. Additionally, New York City mayor Bloomberg recently suggested the idea of skipping college to become a plumber.
What are your thoughts? Should college be skipped? Is college really worth the expense? Is our society backwards with how young-people are encouraged to take on massive amounts of debt at such a young age to pursue their dreams or is our college education system working well? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.