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.

3407402643_7d11d2717f_z

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.

Advertisements

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:


 

Certainly Uncertain

I have this theory (only loosely formed) that Google is on the way to taking over the world, and I don’t even really mind. It’s the go-to search engine, their email system is great, and I LOVE my Google calendar. I have it synced to my phone, so I can easily add appointments on the go and set reminders for important things such as “Go to the Bank.” If it’s not in my Google calendar, I’ll probably forget about it. Whether it’s my class schedule, doctor’s appointments, or an Applebee’s outing for a friend’s birthday—in the Google calendar it goes.

So when you ask to see my Google calendar for several months from now, I’d probably show it to you. But it would be conspicuously empty. Maybe a national holiday here or there, or a wedding that I know about far in advance, but overall, it’s a vast wasteland of

empty.

Space.

No classes, no homework, no part time barista job to fill the time—nothing. My roommate and I joke that we’ll spend the summer watching the Olympics at her fiancé’s condo, and there is humor in our voices when we do it. Underneath though, there is fear that it will come true.

Fear that these years I’ve spent learning and growing not just in classes but in life will leave me with no visible outcome. No paycheck to help pay back the loans I took out to help cover the cost of this education that I couldn’t imagine myself not getting. It’s not like I had other plans—I’d never had ambitions of starting a career right out of high school. College was the logical option, but now I find myself, at times, questioning even that decision. Should I have worked some factory job for a year or so that maybe would have bored me to tears, but would’ve helped to cover some of the bills I’ll now face after the education is said and done?

I’m a planner, which is both a blessing and a curse. Friends turn to me for ideas and directions, assuming I’ll know not only what to do, but at what time the store opens, and to take the highway to exit 78 and turn left on Main. If I don’t know how to get there, surely my trusty Mapquest app does.

So I find myself in an unfamiliar place. Usually I’m in the know, of what’s going on and what time and where.

But now, I find myself certain of only one thing: uncertainty.

To find my only friend to be the one thing I usually try to avoid is frustrating, terrifying, and a little bit…hopeful.

Some of my friends have grad school lined up come fall, others are off to various parts of the world or are still finishing undergrad programs, and those fortunate few have a job lined up, even if it’s not in the field they’d like to ultimately pursue. When I look at them, with their future defined for the next year or five, I envy them a little bit: at least they know what’s on the other end of that walk across the stage.

But there’s a part of me that kind of likes not knowing. With no set plan, I have no way to fail at what I intend to do, because there’s nothing there. I’ll simply make it up as I go. This appeals to the spontaneous side that I know exists deep down inside of me, but that’s usually covered up by my tendency towards control. There’s an air of adventure to the uncertainty. I can do whatever I’d like, because I have no other plans to live up to. No one to disappoint or impress, no clock to punch or deadlines to meet.

I am both consoled and irritated by the words of Jeremiah, who assures me that the Lord has plans to prosper and not to harm me, to give me a hope and a future. It’s not that I don’t believe it; the knowledge that God has something worked out is what gives me the motivation to get out of bed, go to my internship, take my tests, write my papers. There is a point to this, even if I can’t see it.

I still have several months before I don that silly hat and walk across that stage, so it’s not as though this story is done; there is always more to be written. There’s a tension here, between embracing the uncertainty and being terrified of it. I will continue to live in the land of uncertain for an indefinite amount of time, but I will do my best to enjoy my stay here. To take the time to breath in the hope of good things, and to not be overcome by the fear of the uncertainty. And to take solace in that I am certain of not just my uncertainty, but of my God’s plan in it.

Til next time…

~Brianna!~