Why My College Debt is Worth It

My college education cost a lot of money. Not as much as many people’s, certainly, but much more than others. I’ve been out for four years, and while I’ve whittled away at my loans significantly, I still have a ways to go.

Yet for the stress and hassle my loans cause me, I’m coming to a point where I don’t really regret them. I recently attended a fundraising dinner for my alma mater, and listening to the president of the college recount the happenings there filled me such a deep sense of gratefulness. It was not the cheapest college I could have chosen, but it was absolutely the right one for me–I don’t think I’ve ever truly doubted that.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User khrawlings, Creative Commons

For four years I was taught by intelligent professors who cared about me as a student and a person, and I can clearly point to specific, lasting, important ways they shaped who I was, and am still, becoming. The friendships I formed in those dorms and classrooms and hallways taught me so much about who I am as a person, helped me to see more broadly, made me both laugh and cry. Both in the classroom and out, my faith was reshaped, challenged, and forced to take deeper root.

The whole experience, so much more than can be encompassed by classes or friendships or student activities, was deeply, incredibly formational. There is no other word I can think of that sums up my experience quite so well.

It’s not too much to say that the me I am today would be so much less if I hadn’t gone there. Any college I did or didn’t go to would have changed me, certainly, but none in the same way this one did–and it was the way I needed.

I sit in the fortunate, and somewhat unusual, place of having been consistently employed since I graduated from college, and to a level that has always allowed me to pay my bills–so I realize I write from a different space than many. But my side of the story, the one of having debt but learning to not regret it, is still a valid one. If I could have gone to college without accumulating debt, of course I would have chosen that option. Since it wasn’t one for me, I’m okay with the choices I made, even as I continue to pay for them (literally) in the coming years. Paying off  loans has also forced me to be a better steward of my finances than I would have to otherwise, and there’s value in that responsibility.

It’s tempting to think of all the things I could have spent that money on: a nicer car, books, somewhere to live, travel, non-Aldi food, and on and on. Those things are lovely in their own ways, but I don’t think lacking them has significantly lowered the quality of my life in any way. All of them are nice, but they’re things I’d be privileged to have or do–they were never guaranteed for me, nor are they absolute necessities. My education falls into the same space, really. It’s a privilege, not a guaranteed right, and it’s okay that it took sacrifices to get there. While it was not a necessity in a broad sense, it was undeniable beneficial in getting me to where I am today–not just in terms of a job (though having a degree did help there), but in terms of me as a person.

 

On clear, crisp spring nights, I still miss being at my college so much it nearly hurts. Those were the nights we stayed up far too late laughing on the lawn, laying in the grass even as the dew settled in. The memories will continue to fade over time, I’m sure, but I don’t think those will ever completely disappear. Were they worth the actual dollars I spent for my college experience? I’ve given up trying to determine that. Personal formation can’t be translated into cold hard cash.

 
Would I tell every graduating high schooler to sign on for a mound of college debt? No. But loans were my necessary means, and I’ve made peace with them.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s.

Dear College Graduate

I graduated from college two years ago, and yet as I begin to see the social media chatter of those who are finishing up themselves, the emotions I was feeling at that time feel close by. Even writing this, I can feel the excitement again–but mostly, the overwhelming uncertainty. From what I know now, if I could have given myself a letter that night, here’s what I would say.

Photo Credit: Flickr User tajkd, Creative Commons

Photo Credit: Flickr User tajkd, Creative Commons

Dear college graduate,

First of all, congrats! You made it! All that homework and studying and sleep lost has led up to this…a funny hat, a walk across a stage, and a pretty little piece of paper with your name on it.

Second, I’ll warn you right away: there aren’t any perfect words for a time like this. I could tell you to chase your dreams and to not let anything get you down, but those are vague, unhelpful sentiments. So let me tell you a few things I wish someone had told me.

  • There is no shame in doing the smart but un-fun thing to help you get where you need to be. For me, it meant living with my parents for over a year after I graduated. It was fine, but it felt weird to be trying to be an adult while living in my childhood bedroom. But it was what had to happen at that time. Living where you need to or taking the job you have to in order to accomplish something can be the smartest thing you’ll do.
  • Sometimes being a college graduate sucks, and it’s okay that you think it sucks. Feel what you feel. Maybe you thrive on the excitement of the unknown, or maybe uncertainty can leave you curled up in a ball, watching Netflix for hours on end. Neither of these feelings are inherently bad, they’re just different. It’s better to admit the way graduating is making you feel than try to act another way because you see someone else reacting differently. These are crazy times, and no two people will handle it in the exact same way.
  • The transition from student to…something else…is a strange one. It takes time and the willingness to be okay with one chapter of your life being over. You might think that once you find the perfect job you’ll immediately fall into the new routine with contentment and glee, and there will likely be some of that, but it’s a very big adjustment. Sometimes it’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s hard. Look for the wonderful, and be prepared for the hard.
  • The season will change. I promise you. Whether you’re in elation or despair, it will not last forever.
  • Now about that diploma. It’s nice, at first—it’s exciting to see your name there, declaring you have a “Bachelor of Science” or whatever your exact degree was. But there will come times when you will glare at that piece of paper, wondering if it was all worth it. The loans (if you have them) will come due, and you will wonder all the more. Someday you might get a job that will prove to you it was worth it, but maybe the proof won’t come in as tangible a form as a paycheck. Maybe it will be in the enduring relationships, the classes that have helped you look at the world slightly differently, the sense of accomplishment that though schoolwork does not come easily to you you graduated. “Worth it” comes in all shapes and sizes.
  • Find something to enjoy about where you are. Whether it’s extra time to devote to a hobby because you’re un- or under-employed, free food because you live with your parents, or basking in the fact that you no longer have to do homework, there is something good about wherever you’re at right now. Find it. Relish it.
  • Last, and possibly annoyingly, let me remind you that there is a plan here. You don’t always see it, you definitely don’t always feel it, but God has his hand on whatever it is you’re in right now. I’m not promising the plan will always feel like a plan or that the plan will always be good in the definition of good that you know, but it is there.

So there you have it. Welcome to the World After College. It’s a strange place here, and it might take some getting used to, but I hope you learn to enjoy it.

We’re glad you’re here.

Sincerely,

Brianna

p.s. What would you say in a letter to college graduates?

College Nostalgia

For the first time since I was very young, I’m not going to school this year. Even last year, though I had graduated, I returned to the classroom to TA a couple of English classes. While I was the one grading papers instead of writing them, September was still “back to school.” Before I started school myself, my older siblings were already in school, so my life has always revolved around the September to May cycle of the school calendar. Now, September is simply another month.

I keep seeing people posting about school supplies, moving into dorms or apartments, and seeing old friends. Pictures of joyful reunions, groups participating in silly games in the name of bonding, those delightful shenanigans that always seem to accompany the first few weeks of school when everyone is still energized from the summer and not bogged down with homework yet. Freshmen orientation has been going on at my alma mater this past week, and there is a piece of me that aches to be there. For the past few years, in some way, shape, or form, I was. Now, I’m just a graduate pining for days of yore.

This is not a new feeling for me–of wanting to repeat the good times, cling to the way things used to be. I’m fairly well versed in this subtle ache of nostalgia, yet I never entirely know what to do with it. It’s not entirely wrong of me to miss the good times I had in college or to want more of those moments. There is a balance though, of being able to look back and appreciate what was while not letting it cloud the goodness of what is, that I have yet to master. Maybe it’s one of those things you don’t ever completely master, but must continually relearn in different ways throughout the course of life.

Maybe it just takes a lot of time to come to terms with the fact that life only moves in one direction, and that is okay.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What moments in life do you get nostalgic about?

I Am Not My Title

It’s been nearly a year since I graduated from my label of “College Student.” Shedding it…losing it…those are fair ways to describe how I feel about it too. After being out of school for only a few months, it was somewhat understandable that I was having what I called an Identity Trial. Four years I had spent in college, and many more before that in various levels of school, always introducing myself as a “student at ______.” Student. It’s what I knew. It had become who I was, and I was okay with that.

Until it wasn’t there anymore.

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Photo Credit: Flickr User matthew solle

For most of the past year I had a few titles I wore part-time due to various jobs. They were fine, but nothing I hung my identity on, nothing permanent enough to get overly attached to.

And then. A full-time job, an office with real walls and a window, and a title. One that will be printed on my business cards and gets added to the end of emails. A title that says, “This is what I do, this is who I work for.”

But I am somewhat reluctant to pull this title on fully. It is what I do, but it is not who I am.

Maybe this makes me a bad employee. It’s not that I dislike my title or my company; I’m quite honored to have a job, and I respect and appreciate who I work for and with. But I’m realizing I do not want my job to define me. I want to approach it as a shirt, one I wear proudly and well when the time is right, but not as skin. This job, this title, any job, any title, does not define who I am as a being.

Some blurring between what I do and who I am is inevitable, nor is it necessarily bad. Because of who I am, I will do the job differently than others would–who I am shapes how I do what I do.
I work at least 40 hours a week and come in contact with a variety of fascinating people, thoughts, and ideas–over time, these will in part shape who I am.

But they are not the same. Who I am remains separate from what I do.

When I was a student, I was fine letting that be both what I did and who I was. Things are different now though, and I am choosing to not be my title.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. Does what you do define who you are? Why or why not?

2012: This Was The Year

2012.

This was the year I…

  • Interned at the place I’d been wanting to intern at since, oh, ever (or at least high school). And then they liked me, so they kept me part time after that. January 24 will be a year since it all began.
  • Graduated from college, with rather mixed emotions. Homework I was glad to be done with, but much of the rest of my college experience I was sad to leave behind.
  • Went on a trip. I fell in love with London, Oxford, and Edinburgh. I met some great people, saw gorgeous buildings and views, toured a castle, and had some mishaps along the way (such as throwing up in the South Kensington tube station, spending my time walking around Westminster Abbey fighting the urge to lay down on a tombstone because I felt so ill, and having nearly every single flight on my way home get cancelled or delayed). It was fun, it was fascinating, it was…illuminating.
  • Ran a 5k. Then, a few months later, I ran another 5k. For someone who has been known to say, “I only run when I’m being chased, and even then it has to be by something big enough and scary enough,” this was an accomplishment.
  • Rediscovered Twitter, and tweeted my 1000th tweet (and very nearly my 2000th).
  • Moved back home with my parents, and also shared that same house with my sister, brother-in-law, 2 young nieces, and their dog. Though it was nice to be greeted by my nieces running across the house when I got home, it was certainly…an interesting experience.
  • Graded papers (lots of them) and became even more of a grammar stickler.
  • Said “Yes” to at least 2 things I didn’t feel qualified for. Even as I continue to do them, I can’t say with total confidence I do them well all the time, or even some of the time. Perhaps it’s the way of some endeavors.
  • Posted a blog every day for a month. It was exhausting, but good.
  • Grappled with, and attempted to begin to embrace, the uncertainty that has been weaved in with nearly everything I’ve done in 2012, and will continue, in varying degrees, for the rest of my life.

And in all, and through all, God. Even when it didn’t feel like it, even when I didn’t take the time to notice, even when I doubted his plan for me and the way he is working things out in ways I cannot see. There was God, there is God, and there he will always be.

Today I found this meditation from St. Teresa of Avila in a book I’m reading. It is fitting for a year ending, for a year beginning, and for everywhere in between.

Let nothing upset you,
Let nothing startle you.
All things pass;
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough.

Happy New Year, and til next time…

~Brianna!~

p.s. What has this past year brought for you? What have you learned or done?

Just Say No: Guest Posting at Kuyper Life

Today I’m guest posting at my college’s blog, Kuyper Life. During my time at Kuyper College, I was one of 3 students who started up he Kuyper Life Facebook page, Twitter account, and blog, so it’s nice to be able to write for them again.

 

College is busy. I know that. You know that. You’re likely living that.

Classes, homework, friends, work, visits home, volunteering, spending time with family, working out…and on and on. So much stuff. More than that, so much good stuff.

Yet even good things can become overwhelming.

This past Sunday my pastor talked about the story of Jesus’ stop at the home of Martha and Mary, as told in Luke 10:38-42. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made” (NIV).

With Jesus’ 12 disciples with him, as well as other followers, the amount of preparation needed was likely quite a bit. Food had to be cooked, the house cleaned, and much more. It’s understandable that Martha got upset with her sister—having guests over can be stressful, particularly when it’s someone as well-known as Jesus. Besides, Jesus teaches about love and serving others—Martha may have thought her sister would do well to apply some of that to this situation.

Yet when Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her, Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha…you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (NIV).

Read the rest.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

Grace and Price Tags

Grace ended today.

Not grace as in God’s, because thankfully, that never ends.

The grace from my student loans, however…that ended today.

Having to take out loans was something I struggled a lot with; I once joked I was going to run away and join the circus instead of starting another semester of school, because I wasn’t sure I should take out the money. (None of my skills lend themselves particularly well to circus life, however, so I did end up finishing)

Perhaps one of my biggest complaints is that the systems feels broken. I paid all this money for a degree that will theoretically help me get a better job, then will spend bunches of years working the job to pay off the loans I took out to get the education I needed to get the job.

When I am tempted to begin a cycle of griping and “How will I ever pay this back?” and moaning, it is good for me to stop.

 

Look at the pictures that adorn my walls, pictures of friends I wouldn’t have met otherwise, pictures of love and fun and laughter

Flip through my journals, reminding me of the good times and bad I experienced in college that shaped me.

Scan the books that now adorn my shelves, rereading words on God and communicating and grace and words.

Skim the notes I took in class, picking up starred bits that hit me anew today and remembering professors’ quotes.

Remember the professors and staff who taught and encouraged me and invested in my life.

 

Oh.

My diploma is not made of 24 karat gold and studded with diamonds, as seems fitting considering the price tag of my education.

But when I am in despair over my loans, it is good for me to remember the things no price tag can be affixed to.

Relationships.

Life lessons.

Laughter.

Knowledge.

Community.

Love.

Faith.

 

Two weeks before graduating, I wrote an “I’ll miss you” to my college, and I’m thankful I did. It is a good reminder of the valid reasons my heart broke a little as I received my diploma, and now again as I square off with my pile of debt.

About a week ago I wrote, “I took out loans to help get me through college; I never thought they’d teach me about Jesus.” Though I would never recommend taking out loans to better understand Jesus and the concept of grace, I am reminded of the intangible takeaways from my college experience.

There are some things no price tag fits on.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

 

My Student Loans Are Teaching Me About Jesus

In a few weeks, I will begin paying off my student loans. When I check my account and see the numbers lined up, reminding me how much I took out to pay for my education and how much I have to pay off, it dismays me. I’ve written before of my fear that perhaps my years and money spent on college were in vain, and it is a fear I continue to face. Most days I can conclude that, yes, it was worth it, but there are always moments of doubt. Very, very slowly, I will whittle away at those numbers reminding me of the price behind my education and memories.

So what would it feel like if suddenly, all my debt was gone?

Each individual loan, reduced to nothing.

Remaining Balance: $0.00

$0.00

$0.00

In an instant.

 

I’d likely cry. Perhaps be inconsolable with relief and elation, imagining what life could now look like without the burdensome load of debt I have been carrying. There would be so much more I could do, free of these financial bonds. I could move out of my parents’ house, visit friends spread around the globe, save for unforeseen expenditures, and, I hope, begin to cultivate a more generous lifestyle.

What a gift it would be.

 

About a month ago, we sang the song “Jesus Paid It All” in church. The refrain goes like this:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

I’ve grown up singing the song once in a while, and have always found the words to be nice and the melody enjoyable.

 

But it takes on a new meaning when I am facing student loan payments, now only weeks away from being due.

 

 

Jesus will not be paying off my loans, but he has paid off something much greater than money.

The terminology we use to talk about finances shares terms with Christianity. Until now, and for a few more weeks, I have been in a “grace period.” When grace ends, my debts must be paid.

If my sins were turned into actual, monetary debt, I’d never begin to cover it. No matter how many hours a week I worked for the rest of my life, the pile would only continue to grow.

Fortunately, the grace of Christianity is vastly unlike the grace of financial institutions. It is grace that does not end, grace that knows no bounds, grace that overwhelms.

Grace that pays all my debts, even though I do not deserve it.

 

I took out loans to help get me through college; I never thought they’d teach me about Jesus.

 

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

 

p.s. Thoughts? Leave a comment.

Listen to the song:


 

To End Well

Many students are heading back to school very soon (or perhaps have already done so.)

For the first time ever, I won’t be. (Though I will be back at Kuyper College…more on that another time, perhaps)

So it’s only natural to think back on my time in school, and more specifically, my last year. As usual, things didn’t go exactly how I had planned, but the year turned out, overall, fairly okay. There are things I could have differently though; some things just better, and some at all.

Therefore, I offer these three humble suggestions in order To End Well. Not just a school year or school career, but whatever endings you may encounter.

  • Breathe deep, take notice, pay attention. Endings bring about lots of “lasts”–for the end of a school year (or school career), last classes, last walks down certain hallways, last meals in the dining hall, and more. Notice these things. And the second to lasts. And fifteenth to lasts. Be present for all sorts of memories that will linger long after the ending.
  • Leave well. As much as possible, leave on a good note; particularly when it comes to people. You never know if or when you might see them again.
  • Be present. Endings are often followed by a beginning, but don’t rob the ending of its worth. There is goodness there too.
  • Feel what you feel. If you are elated about the ending, be elated; if you are devastated, be devastated. Endings are complicated things that will likely bring about a myriad of emotions, and that’s fine. Don’t act elated if you are devastated, and don’t act devastated if you are elated. Own your feelings.

I did not do these perfectly; sometimes I failed miserably. And this list is by no means exhaustive–ending well looks different for each person. Yet these are things I have learned, and wish I could have done better. Perhaps my next ending I will do better.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~

 

(p.s. Are there ways to end well you’d add?)

 

Identity Trial

This post is a part of something bigger—a collection of posts, written by young people, simply sharing what we have to say. We are young (but we have words). 

 

Ask five twenty-two year olds what they’re doing, and you will likely get five different answers. From grad school to weddings, apartments to travels abroad, full-time jobs with benefits to babies, coffee shops to parents’ homes. A lot of these involve mild to massive amounts of change…which I don’t tend to be very good at handling.

Graduating from college and attempting to enter “the big kid world” has brought about significant changes in many aspects of my life (some of which I mentioned here). I’ve lost my familiar rhythms of life, the frustrations and joys of schoolwork, and perhaps one I’m struggling with the most, the label of “college student.” So although for most of my life I had a fairly strong sense of who I am, right now my identity is…a bit in flux. Not quite an identity crisis.

An identity trial, if you will.

At my core I still know who I am; my belief in God is firmly intact, and I have a sense that I would like to do something with my life that is bigger than me, but not FOR me. I still know my likes and dislikes, things I am good at and not good at, things that make me laugh and those that make me cringe.

But that might be about where my list ends. For the time being, I am learning who I am outside of the classroom walls I spent so much time in. I am learning that though I am not enrolled at a particular school, I can still be a student—just in different ways. I am learning that I still have much to learn about just about everything.

It’s an intimidating, uncertain process. I never expected to feel quite THIS out of sorts after I graduated; I knew it would be a change, but I didn’t realize how deeply it would affect me. I wasn’t even aware of how comfortable I had become in the label of “student,” and how disconcerting it would be to shed it.

The type of learning I am doing now is much more frustrating. There are no tests to study for, but that is because there are rarely cut and dried right and wrong answers. There are no long weekends or snow days in the school of real life, no labeled teachers in front of the classroom.

So for the next who-knows-how-long (probably forever, really) I am unsure. Intimidated. Tentative. Overwhelmed. And learning.

I may be having an identity trial, but I am not done.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~