I’m Going To Try Justifying Student Debt To You

What’s your biggest regret? That’s a question I’ve been asked a lot. On dates, on job interviews, even to myself when I’m lying in bed late at night unable to sleep. More often than not, the first thing I consider is my choice in universities. The debt I’ve accrued. The situation I’ve put myself in. In my time as a psychology minor, we were taught the psychosis behind self-justification. This is the process of freeing yourself from a negative feeling or regret by justifying your decisions, even if those decisions don’t align with your beliefs. In my case, I fight for ways to mentally justify my education.

Growing up, I believed I could go to any university I got into, and being an AP Honors kid I always assumed places like Princeton or Columbia were saving seats for me. I attribute this to Disney movies where the main character is always deciding between two different Ivy League schools and what to wear to prom and I figured that was going to be me someday. Even when my parents were going through a costly divorce, as a sixteen year old, I never once considered the possibility that we couldn’t afford the cost of a private school education. In one of my famous bouts of teenage naivety that my family will never let me forget, I boldly and sincerely told my mom “I would rather kill myself than go to community college” when she suggested the idea to save money. My reasoning was that I deserved more. That I had earned more with my good grades and slew of extracurricular activities.

That’s why it was surprising when after all of my tantrums and rants in my spoiled teenage phase I decided on a popular public university in Texas. Not because of its prestige or its reputation, but because that’s where my friends were going. I tried my best to fit in and find my niche among the other 30,000 undergrads at the, unbeknownst to me, renowned party school. But I quickly realized picking a school based on who else would be there was a terrible mistake. I withdrew after only one semester and began researching schools that better fit me. In the meantime, I enrolled in a local community college to keep up with my credits while deciding where to go. On the first day of class I realized how ridiculous and narrow minded I had been a few years prior. It was mildly embarrassing to run into familiar faces and have to explain why I was back in our hometown, but that feeling was quickly abashed by the affordable price tag.

Just a semester into community college, I somehow reverted back to my entitled self. Looking around at my classmates I felt like I didn’t belong with them, as if I somehow had more potential than the next kid. In my research for schools I stumbled upon an incredible program at an infamously expensive private school in Dallas. With a small undergrad class of 7,000, intimate class sizes, and promise of success by associated, I applied and was quickly accepted. Without a single moment of hesitation I accepted and enrolled, not once considering its cost. It wasn’t until my senior year did I realize what I had committed to.

My parents are not rich nor are they poor. We lived a comfortable life, never feeling the need for a luxury lifestyle yet never left wanting either. My mom always called us middle class, but I knew we were better off than she made us out to be. My mom drove a big sedan to tote around me and my three brothers and we lived in a house just big enough for the six of us. As a kid I always assumed they would pay for my school outright. My dad had a successful business of his own and my mom never worked out of need but out of want. Later on, I knew I would have to take on most of that responsibility, which I didn’t mind. As the oldest child I enjoyed being independent and took pride in the fact. I applied for a credit card when I was eighteen and quickly learned how to build good credit. What I didn’t learn however, is the crushing weight that can be student debt.

Since my time at my university, I have amassed over $100,000 in debt. What’s even worse, I didn’t realize how much that really was until very recently. It’s difficult to even think about the payments I will have to make in the future without having an anxiety attack. It’s impossible to blame anyone but myself, but I still try. I blame the government for high student loan interest rates. I blame my school for not having a more affordable degree plan. I blame my parents for not having enough money to help me and the unrealistic expectations born from watching Disney movies. But at the end of the day, I ultimately blame myself. For believing I somehow deserved an education that I could never afford. For believing I was too good for a public school. And for believing that student debt wasn’t something to be afraid of. And because of my nativity and spoiled mentality, I am now terrified of what happens after graduation.

The weirdest part of all is that when people ask what my biggest regret is, I never say my choice in universities. And though the thought always crosses my mind I quickly recover and reply with a story about an embarrassing boyfriend or hairstyle from middle school. While my debt may keep me awake at night and give me panic attacks during the day, I can never say I regret my decision or if I would even change anything after looking back. The rational side of me attributes it to justification. Debt in all forms is followed with a negative connotation of failure or dependency. Being in debt means I am chained forever to my decision. So in the fear that if I admit my regret I will crumble into a million pieces, and a debt collector will gather my jagged edges in a glass jar as payment, I save myself instead. But the irrational side calls it fate. I was meant to go to that school. The network I have made and the things I have learned were all meant to happen and will someday pay off, monetarily or not. I can’t let me decisions haunt me, so I accept that they were the right ones at the time.

Now in my senior year with graduation just off the horizon I am keeping busy with three part-time jobs, preparing for the collectors to start calling. In this time I have learned the real value of a dollar and how to make one stretch. My budget may be tight but I admit that with a sense of pride. I love my school and who I’ve become in my time there. If my debt has done anything it’s made me a better, albeit anxious, person. I hope my story will help someone considering the cost of student debt. My advice is to make sure you can somehow justify the expense, whether it’s rational or not. Pick a beautiful campus, make a lot of friends, and get your name out there. Whatever you do, don’t let your debt be in vain. Otherwise, you’re looking at one very expensive regret. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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