As early as I can remember, I’ve always had a desire to succeed academically, attend a prestigious university, snag the perfect job and make my parents proud. A consummate overachiever, my high school days were spent studying, participating in student government, and running on the track team (these things look good on college applications, you know).
I took the SAT and SAT II subject tests, collected glowing references from my teachers and wrote a pretty good 1,000-word, “pick me” piece for a novice essayist. I applied to my top choice colleges and eagerly awaited the mailman’s appearance each day.
The day that I got that first acceptance letter in the mail I was overjoyed with excitement — excitement that would last well into my college career. What I didn’t fully understand at the time, was that academic achievement isn’t always correlated with career success, and a fancy liberal arts degree comes at a large price.
When I finished my undergraduate studies, the economy was pretty bad. I didn’t get that, “dream job” I had imagined, so I volunteered for a year before deciding to go back to graduate school.
“No big deal,” I told myself. Just add the grad school bill to my collegiate tab.
Because I couldn’t work much during graduate school, most of my tuition, books, and rent were, “paid for” with student loans. I wasn’t an extravagant spender by any stretch of the imagination, but school expenses added up fast. By the time I completed my graduate program, the total amount I owed for both undergrad and grad school was more than $30,000.
For several months I paid the minimum payments on my student loans and went about my day-to-day life. “Everyone has student loans, how else could they afford college?” I told myself.
But when I finally came to my senses, I was terrified. I owed $30,000 in non-defaultable debt and I didn’t even have a job. I was angry at myself for borrowing such large amount of debt and I wanted out as fast as possible.
The day I accepted my first post-master’s job, I vowed to myself that I would pay off my student debt in less than three years. I aggressively attacked my debt, picked up side jobs and lived on a bare-bones budget.
I was willing to do make those sacrifices because I refused to let my debt get me down. I was determined to be a Student Debt Survivor.
Two years later, I paid my last student loan payment and permanently cut ties with debt.
Today, I live a mostly debt-free life (I have a mortgage). I don’t borrow money or carry a credit card balance, and if I don’t have the money to pay for something I don’t buy it.
I’ve learned from my student loan mistake and I blog to offer information, support and encouragement to friends and peers who are in the same situation I was in. With dedication and sacrifice, you can be a student debt (or any debt) survivor, too.