I used to believe in the American Dream. I believed that I could be whoever I wanted to be, no matter what my hardships, no matter where I came from.
I can’t even see that dream anymore. The reason why? I am drowning in debt, much like millions of others in my generation. I’ve always considered myself to be practical, hardworking, and sound in my ability to make decisions. My credit is good, I make my payments on time…but a few days ago, a jarring realization struck me.
I have had a job since I was in fifth grade. Whether it was picking berries at a local farm, or cleaning the house of the lady down the road, I have been STEADILY working now for 15 years. In the year 2000 I was accepting any type of yard work around my neighborhood. What was I earning then as a 12 year old? Roughly $5 an hour. When I turned 15, I got a job as a busser at a local diner, and started working for $5.15/hr (which was the minimum wage at the time). At this point, I had no expenses to speak of: no rent, food, college tuition, etc. The only things I needed to pay for were my fuel to drive to school and my new clothes.
Eventually I was moved up to being a server. The wage stayed the same, but the tips increased. The diner was 24 hours, and on weekends I would work from 6 in the evening until 3 in the morning. My take-home tips would be about $90-ish per night, and once I crunched the numbers, I realized that I made about $16.50/hr at age 16.
I am now 27. I have a bachelor’s degree; I have traveled the world, I have 15 years of customer service work experience, and I am a driven human being. Yet, somehow, I’m still finding my only real job options to be in the $10-12/hr range. The only difference is that I now have to pay for rent, food, energy bills, water bills, my cell phone, internet, entertainment, credit cards, and DON’T forget- $440 per month on my STUDENT LOANS!
So here I am to discuss the five big reasons why I wish I had never gone to college.
1. College should not end up being double what is advertised.
With an interest rate of 6.8 percent on my student loans, I’m not paying $40,000 on my education… I’m actually paying roughly $80,000. That is staggering, especially when we think about the fact that it is STILL getting more expensive to go to college. To add to this, I attended a state university and I worked while I was in college, almost full time. I was living as economically as possible and still barely making my expenses. I also had multiple scholarships and some help from my parents. This is unbelievable!
To put this into perspective, I’ll tell you a fun anecdote. My boyfriend’s mother (who is now a teacher) paid for her college in its entirety by working a PART-TIME job while she was going to school. Things have changed a bit, wouldn’t you say?
2. It has made my generation into slaves.
The financial issue at hand is getting so out of control that I’m seeing some of my friends go into bankruptcy in their twenties. I am hearing my friends say, “I don’t think I can afford to have kids, because I have student loan debt.” Or, “I have to work a $10 per hour job because I don’t have enough experience to get anything that pays more.”
EXCUSE ME!!?? You have a COLLEGE DEGREE! In some cases, a MASTER’S DEGREE!!!!! How has our society dropped the ball on our smart and ambitious youngsters to this caliber? What is education worth to us?
My peers who sought higher education should not be wrought with financial hardship and question their futures because they wanted to better themselves. Something is desperately wrong with this picture!
3. Wages have gone down, while tuition goes up.
As an adult I have a lot of expenses. HOWEVER- I do not have a smartphone, I do NOT have kids, I went instate for college, and my car is paid off. I rarely go out, and I don’t smoke. I also live in a house that has very reasonable rent. I live as modestly as I can… And $10 an hour is STILL not a livable wage. The truth of the matter is that our small businesses are not getting enough traffic to pay us what we are worth, and corporate America has outsourced so much that they WILL NOT pay us what we are worth. The expectations are constantly going up, while the pay is going down.
4. It has made almost NO difference in my field of choice.
Initially I went to college to study psychology, and I ended up changing my major to pursue music as my degree. I know what you are thinking: “Why?” Well, I’ve defended this enough times to tell you that I did it because I wanted to become the best version of myself. I wanted to find a way to make a career at what I LOVE. I was told the age old story my whole life: you probably will not use your major in your job, but it makes a big difference that you HAVE a degree. WHY? WHY are we telling people that?
It’s nonsense. I have never gotten a job because of my degree. As a musician, if you have the chops to perform, you perform, no matter what your background. You know what I have gotten because of my degree and that mentality? Financial hardship. Period.
5. 18-year-olds who have no credit are getting SCAMMED.
Does it seem fair to sign away $100,000 to someone who has never even had to pay back$1,000? Some of these signees have never had a real job and are not GUARANTEED work after they graduate. Yes, we have loan counseling, but clearly it is not done in a way that is realistic. If counselors laid out the actual reality of loan repayment terms, I think a lot of those 18-year-olds would push the pen back into their lenders’ hands and tell them to shove it.
It wasn’t until my six month grace period was over and I started making huge payments on my loans that I truly understood what the next 20 years of my life were going to look like. Why do I need to pay for the college experience for 20+ years of my life?! Please tell me how ANY experience is worth that much time.
It’s quite disheartening to see the truth here in writing, but I’ve been thinking these things and sitting on the sidelines for far too long. I wrote this to shed light on the reality of a generation that is being left behind. If we are paying into our student loans for most of our adult lives, when do we start saving for retirement?
When do we purchase that house or property? What becomes of those of us who are diagnosed with medical conditions that require hefty medical bills? The bottom line is that we NEED to establish affordable education in America, and tell the colleges and loan companies that this is NOT acceptable. Something needs to be done. More people need to speak up. Any change we want to see in the future starts with us telling our stories.