Is College Worth the Expense? My Husband’s Story…

paid off student loans

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.

19 comments

19 thoughts on “Is College Worth the Expense? My Husband’s Story…

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  1. Trish

    I have a BA in psychology that I’ve never once used and I’m still paying off the massive amount of loans I took out to finance it. If I could do it again I wouldn’t go to college. I went because everyone tells you it’s the next step. It’s what successful people do. And I wanted to be successful. But I had no clue what I wanted to be successful AT. So I finally settled on psychology because it sounded okay-ish and I knew I’d pass the classes. I did feel briefly accomplished when I walked across that stage and got my diploma, but that high soon wore off once I realized my degree was basically junk in my hands. I think college is wonderful for people who need a degree to further their careers. Otherwise I’m just a staunch advocate for just going after what fulfills you, whether it’s college or not.

    Reply
  2. Little House

    I have to agree that unless you know exactly what you want to be, it might be a better option to skip college or choose a less expensive option – like a 2-year or trade school. I tell my students that, yes, college is a great goal, but really think about what you want to study and be “when you grow up.” Not everyone HAS to go to college to be successful.

    Reply
  3. Kristin

    I’m currently in college, and I’d have to say that while I’m not looking forward to paying off loans, and while I can’t say whether or not my degrees (English Literature and English Writing) will be useful or not in the future, I can say that the experiences I’ve had in college and the opportunities I’ve been given have been worth whatever debt I’ll have to pay off. Because of college, I’m able to be in the University of Pittsburgh varsity marching band – an amazing tradition and one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I also was able to become part of a service fraternity which has helped me meet friends I’ll have for life. The academic opportunities of being able to present my papers at conferences and attend career fairs with influential people have been worth it for me. Also, I was able to write three plays and have them performed as part of a Pitt program called “Red Eye Theater.” The feeling of watching my work be performed is a truly awesome one – one that I don’t think I would have had this early in my life without college.

    I’m not looking forward to paying off my student loans, but I can’t imagine myself trading all these experiences I’ve had for anything. I know that not everyone has the same college experience, so I’d say that whether or not college is “worth it” is 100% a case-by-case situation.

    Reply
    1. Anna Newell Jones

      So glad to hear you’ve been happy with your college experiences, which do sound amazing. Amd, couldn’t agree more, an advanced degree’s worth is definitely varies person-to-person.

      Reply
  4. Heidi

    Both my husband and I were college-educated, and had to pay it all on our own. None of our parents attended college, although my parents had experience that led them to “good” jobs. My dad was an immigrant, in his native country’s military, then the US military, and got a job with the feds due to that experience. Neither of us work in our fields of study–but at least we have paid off our school loans! LOL!

    Our eldest just graduated from college with a degree that still seems useless to me and my husband: philosophy. She claimed the instructors kept telling her that was a “wild card” to get any job you wanted–we see it as learning a skilled way to argue with people. Then we’d hear on public radio people with the same degree, paying tons of debt, and not getting jobs in that field–and finding the only use for that degree would be to get a Master’s and teach. This is her second degree–she got an AAS in a trade school, then went to a four-year college–guess what? Only a couple classes transferred.

    Now, she is unemployed, and still clinging to finding a “professional” job in this job market. We don’t say much about it, but feel it was a very expensive degree compared to ours–because it is unlikely she’ll use it. She says the experience alone in finding other like-minded people was a gold-mine to her, so I hope in a couple months when she starts paying off loans that she still feels that way.

    Our next child just graduated from high school–and is going into the military. He is hoping that his training there will get him ready for a “real job” when he gets out–he (like me and my husband) doesn’t like debt. We have five more kids to try to guide–but we do feel it is completely their decision, and we lay out options either way.

    In our situation, neither I nor my husband feel our education did us any good. The jobs we have gotten, while being satisfying, have had nothing to do with our education, and unlikely has to do with going to college at all.

    Reply
  5. Lucas

    College definitly paid off big for me but wouldn’t have actually been required to do my job if the goverment accepted ability in place of education. I went to main campus at Penn State (but had an almost full achedemic scholarship), so total loans were like $4k. My job however really hasn’t relied on much of what I learned either, and I probably would have been better off developing software for a company for 4 years to gain real life expirence. However working as a goverment contractor companies can only charge the government set rates based on the years of expirience and education of the employee so that that effectively sets a narrow range on the salaries. Without a 4 year degree they usually won’t even hire you. My company paid for a masters while I was working as well which was actually more usefull then undergrad and gave me ~15% raise. The main reason it was usefull was that the professors at the program I was in at GMU were almost all adjunct and had real jobs that they could pull lots of expirience from.

    It will be interesting to see what happens in the next 15 years before my kids go to college. My bet is on college becoming less important due to increased availability of on-line/self learning materials.

    Reply
    1. Anna Newell Jones

      It will be interesting to see how the advanced education system changes. Especially with there being even more scrutiny around colleges and with the different options that are being more and more available.

      Reply
  6. Candice

    I am currently a master’s student. I went straight from undergraduate college to graduate school. When I entered undergrad, I knew I wanted to become a scientist and that to get there, I needed at least a 4 year degree. My boyfriend is also in graduate school, for counseling. He needs a master’s degree in order to be able to practice as a counselor. Both of us had full tuition scholarships during undergrad and have few loans from there, but my tuition for grad school is covered while his is not. Not looking forward to those bills. I hope that investing 6 years of our lives and money will pay off for us . We’ll see. For many of our friends who have earned just a Bachelor’s, it has not paid off and that terrifies me.

    But I do believe that college works best for people who know what they want to do and know what level of education is required in their field. Don’t just go by what the college tells you, actually talk to people in the field that you think you want to pursue.

    For people who don’t know what they want to do, I would not recommend going to college, especially now that Congress has allowed rates on student loans to increase from 3.4% interest to 6.2%.

    Reply
    1. Anna Newell Jones

      You bring up a really good point of talking to people in the field you want to go into. I think a lot of times students get blinded by the hopes and dreams and idealistic version of what their chosen profession will be like (I know I did) and then when you talk to the college staff they feed that dream even more since they want you to enroll. Really, getting a clear picture of waht life is like in the field from someone who doesn’t have another motive is a great idea and will help more than any college staff member would be able to.

      Reply
  7. Theresa

    I agree that college is not for everyone. I would like to note that the ‘college alternative options’ you list such as the Peace Corps and teaching in a foreign country often require a four year degree, depending on the program.

    Reply
    1. Jen

      Hi Theresa… I came here to say the same thing. I taught English in Japan, and a college degree was absolutely required. Most schools also require a CELTA. I would think that schools that don’t require a CELTA OR a college degree probably also don’t pay, and it’s more of a travel and volunteer gig. I leveraged my teaching job and have a good paying job I love overseas, so for me it was worth it. I still wouldn’t recommend going into significant debt for college, but having the degree itself (in anything) CAN open doors.

      Reply
  8. Rachel

    My husband always knew he wanted to be an architect, and he took out $160,000 to get the right degree. However, now that he has graduated, there are no architecture jobs to be had, and he is delivering Sn*pple. He can’t pay the loans, and he is living paycheck to paycheck, while his co-workers (who never went to college) are doing really well financially. So, no. It was not worth it for him. I am working in my field and using my advanced degree… but most of my co-workers have the same job and the same pay without an advanced degree. I am not sure if I regret taking out the loans to get it. Something in this system is broken.

    Reply
  9. ashley

    i think it’s worth it if you go to a school that makes sense! i have a liberal arts degree that although, i’m not using it like i originally intended – i’m still able to get some traction and it’s allowed me to have the GREAT job i have now. i finished school in 4 years but my biggest downfall was, like you, working while in school (i also paid for my schooling and fun money and my sorority membership) and also i attended a private university. hello $26,000 a year tuition!! so i graduated with over $40,000 in debt. 7 years later i’m just starting to see my balance begin to drop but only by a few hundred dollars a month. but i’ll get there and i know my education got me where i’m at today. i just wish i went to a public university versus the school i went to! :)

    Reply
    1. Anna Newell Jones

      It can be hard to see the balance on those student loans go down so slowly. Hang in there, stay strong and know that the Spending Fast option is always there for you if you decide to bust through those loans.

      Reply
  10. Katie

    My parents always said that they wanted to pay for my college because neither of them had to receive loans for their schooling. This was great in theory, and they did the best they could, but I graduated from Ohio State in December with almost $25,000 worth of debt. I immediately started grad school at Loyola in Chicago in January because I needed my teaching license and everyone wants a masters anyways. When I graduate in the spring of 2014 I will be in almost $80,000 worth of debt. I never thought it would get this high but paying for my own grad school and having to ask for extra loans to live on (even while living at my parents house and working part time) it adds up. I say this only because I am excited to pay it all off. I know that both of my degrees with help me and are necessary for what I want to do. Crazy as it sounds I am also thinking about another masters degree and a PhD in the future. I love this blog and the Spending Fast because it gives me amazing ideas for when I move out next year and gives me the motivation to save, save, save and not get overwhelmed. My plan is to have it paid off in 3 years…thank you for letting me see that this is possible. Thank you!

    Reply

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