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.
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…