Confessions of an Accountant: ‘I Have $130K of College Debt’

pay student loansIn our Money Mic series, we hand over the podium to people with controversial views about money. These are their views, not ours, but we welcome your responses.

Today, one woman shares how getting denied for financial aid left her with a massive amount of student loan debt that’s greatly impacting her daily life—and, potentially, her future. 

The day I filled out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, I was a happy high school senior who had just been accepted to Ramapo College of New Jersey, a public school where I’d be paying in-state tuition. I had chosen the college in part because I didn’t want to graduate with hefty student loans—and figured that I’d get a decent aid package based on my family’s financial situation.

My parents’ accountant helped me and my dad fill out the FAFSA, which determines how much we were eligible to receive in federal student aid through grants and low-interest federal loans. He was the one who first told us that he suspected “we made too much” for me to receive aid. But I refused to believe him.

The yearly tuition, as well as room and board, came out to $22,000 a year. My family’s income was about $85,000—a sum that was stretched thin. My mom was on permanent disability because she suffered from a condition that affected the discs in her neck, so my dad, who worked in the casino industry, had to cover living expenses for me, my mother, my brother and our grandmother, who lives with my family.

I didn’t expect to get a whole lot of financial aid, but surely, I thought, somebody would see that it wasn’t going to be feasible for my parents to help me pay for tuition in addition to all of their other expenses.

When I got official word from the federal government about my aid package, I cried. I had been denied any grants, and they really limited the amount of federal loans I could borrow—only about $7,500. I actually thought that I wasn’t going to be able to go to college. I didn’t have rich relatives who I could beg to help me pay for tuition, and I knew my parents couldn’t really help.

I was discouraged, especially since I thought I had done everything right. I studied hard and got mostly A’s in high school. I was going to a state school, not some fancy private university. How could the system have failed me—and how would I find a way to pay for college?

RELATED: 3 People, 1 Big Student Loan Debt: My Make-Ends-Meet Plan

  • Melissa

    I am empathetic to you. I went to a private and public college. I have close to $250K in student loans with a monthly payment of $2,000. I make close to $60K, but it is so difficult with those payments and a mortgage. I can’t find a way to consolidate that would benefit me, like you said. I hate that getting an education, which is basically a requirement if you want a good job, can put you in a state of financial stress upon graduation.

    • Rob Wilson

      Melissa, I just want to challenge you on one point for the benefit of others that might read this before they take out 250k in loans.

      Education is a requirement for a good job, but “college” isn’t. Given the technological landscape we live in, many people can learn what they need to learn online for free.

      Yes, it takes self motivation and discipline, but is it work 250k just to have someone supervise what you could be doing on your own?

      I’d argue that it isn’t.

      I’d like to encourage you to leverage the expertise that you paid for and start a business that will pay you much more than any one employer will pay you. It’s the only way that you can quickly free yourself of this crippling debt.

      Please connect with me if you would like advice and guidance on how start along that path.

      • KC

        please send me more info to badchic32@charter.net

      • serendipity

        Rob Wilson, Please stop playing on all of these peoples emotions. They do not need you trying to run a scam on them.

        • Rob Wilson

          Serendipity, are you serious? What “scam” would that be exactly?

      • Aja Parker

        Rob, you are awesome with encouraging some of us that have come to the same fork in the road! Thank you! Have an incredible day.

        • Rob Wilson

          Thanks for the feedback Aja! You can connect with me here: http://www.robwilson.tv

          I hope you have an incredible day as well!

      • Eastwestcoaster

        Really Rob, to be a biologist in my field a minimum requirement is to have a master’s degree. Not googling. Also, there are things you learn in college courses that can’t be learned through the internet. The googling helps with learning, but it won’t get you the degree that matters for moving up the ranks in local, state, and federal agencies. Your idea might work for a private company willing to take a risk and hire someone with a lesser degree and/or self-learned knowledge you describe. In my field, if you don’t have a master’s you’ll be left in the dust.

        • Rob Wilson

          Good point, I appreciate the dialog.

          Just to be clear, I did say that it would work for most people, not all. I appreciate the fact that you can’t replicate a lab environment or other areas that require hands on work. I certainly wouldn’t want to be operated on by an online educated surgeon.

          Second, I’m not suggesting anyone “Google” a degree. There are highly esteemed schools (Harvard, Wharton, MIT, etc) offering their coursework for free via Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC). Please check out edx.org, Coursera and others.

          Coursework from these reputable sources may not be available in your area of expertise, but for many disciplines, the information is there. For free.

          • Eastwestcoaster

            Rob, thanks for the MOOC suggestions. That is good for personal benefit and for your career, but to say that taking these free courses would work for most people instead of real in-person college courses, is a stretch. Most employers of places that pay a higher salary are looking for someone with a bachelor’s degree at minimum. This means taking classes that cost money through an accredited institution. Also, with some professions (such as mine), the in-person courses and field work are extremely important and can’t be replicated through online courses.

          • Rob Wilson

            Ok, please just hear me out.

            Yes, most employers do indeed look for someone that had a bachelor’s degree. But that doesn’t mean that they should, or that they will never begin to think differently.

            Times have changed. Colleges used to have a monopoly on information. That’s not that case anymore (again not in every situation, but many).

            Whether a class costs money or not is irrelevant. If I go to coursera.org and take the Corporate Finance course taught by the same University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business (a highly regarded accredited institution) professor that teaches the course IRL, and I do the homework and pass the exams, what is the difference?

            I would have achieved a lesser accomplishment because I didn’t pay for it?

            Believe me, I know what you are saying. The method I’m proposing requires new thinking on the part of both students and employers.

            Given the number of folks in this comment thread that are struggling under the weight of exorbitant student loans, I’d say that we are WAY overdue for a new way of thinking.

  • Lissa17

    I definitely understand this. I came out of college and graduate school with $80k in student loans, a good portion of which are private loans with 8.75% interest or more. My annual salary is only $24k, and I take home about $17,700. I have no choice but income-based repayment for my federal loans, and despite putting more than 40% of my take-home pay toward student loans, the balance just keeps growing as the interest is capitalized. The system is definitely broken, but I can’t see anything being done about it until the bubble bursts. We aren’t about preventative measures against anything in this country; we’d rather make a mess and haphazardly clean it up later.

    • Rob Wilson

      Lissa, the system is certainly broken. It’s almost criminal that no one talked to you about taking out 80k in loans for a career that was going to pay you $24k/year. Might I ask what line of work you are in?

      • Lissa17

        I went into Biology/Biochemistry. That was a solid choice when I started on that path 8 years ago, but funding for research is awful right now. Being a woman in math/science isn’t as competitive as they made it out to be. I am actually looking for a new job, because my lab position will be out of funding in one month. It’s tough competition.

        • Rob Wilson

          Lissa, one way you could make much more money would be in a sales position at a pharmaceutical company.

          It also seem as though, given your experience, that there is a need for a career coaching/mentoring service for young women in STEM.

          If you charged young women $80/month to be coached by you, you would only have to find 24 clients in order to replace your current income.

          If you’re interested, I’d love to help you figure this out.

          http://www.robwilson.tv

        • Eastwestcoaster

          Have you attempted to work for a an environmental consulting firm or agency, they will pay a lot more depending on your degree status.

    • Steven Wu

      If you can only get a $24k/year job after going to graduate school – it’s not the system’s fault, it’s yours. Especially in bio/biochem.

      The average UNDERGRADUATE student salary out of college is ~$45k. This includes people who majored in… history. You majored in bio/biochemistry which has a starting salary of $60k and $130k after 10 years.

      Having a graduate degree should only increase your income. It is safe to assume that you are doing something wrong. That or you decided to work for a non-profit “help the world” type job knowing it doesn’t pay much (kudos to you for being a good person).

      • Lissa17

        Wow, any shmuck with internet access can google average salaries, but those numbers are useless. I am in research, and funding for research is in the toilet. I have friends in industry jobs who are making $40k tops right now. You need to check yourself, and your judgmental attitude, before you wreck yourself. Those salary averages don’t include where you live, and cost of living either. Don’t make rude comments when you obviously want to seem like you’re full of facts, but you obviously don’t have a clue. Research money is scarce. Labs have had to let people go who have been there for years. There are people with more experience than I have competing for the same jobs, for which we are all overqualified. It’s a buyer’s market, so to speak. I don’t presume to know what you make, or what you SHOULD make, and I am intelligent enough to know better than to be that rude to a stranger.

        • Boston Research Admin

          I work in research administration at at top university in Boston (I am sure you can guess which one). I will be the first to say that Lissa’s assessment of science salaries is on point for academia. Salary scales for postdocs at this university are driven by NIH’s posted salary scale – the link to the NIH salary scale is here: http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-14-046.html Starting salary for 0 years of experience (and years of PhD do NOT count toward experience) is $40k.

  • EP

    Wow, this story really puts things in perspective. It’s really a shame the system failed here. But at least it’s instilling good habits for the future. I’d also think they should try to have a frugal wedding and put most of her income towards all that debt.

    • Eastwestcoaster

      The system isn’t instilling good habits, those are learned. The system is telling the new generation that they shouldn’t obtain a higher degree or be ready to face a ton of debt with no guarantee of a job. What kind of country are we to allow this to happen? Our parents didn’t have over 100K in student loans 20 years ago when they graduated. Our (Millenial) generation is being stunted because we are waiting longer to have kids, buy a house, or even just contribute to the economy because student loans take up so much of our annual income. My parents never had that much student loan debt. Then we were told to follow our dreams. I did that and now I have 180K in student loans, but have a job I wouldn’t have without my education. So, I have a decent job, but can’t afford a mortgage, new car, kids, etc. Does this seem fair? Something needs to be done in a regulatory manner, especially with private loans that seem to have their own rules.

      • Rob Wilson

        Amen!

  • cc11782n

    I almost went to Ramapo College, also for accounting! First off – congrats to Danielle on graduating, landing a job, attaining her CPA and getting engaged. Even though you have what feels like a mountain of debt to face you landed in a stabile career and found the man of your dreams ;)
    I absolutely feel Danielle’s pain. When I was entering college, my father had a year left to retirement, and with his commuting costs, the cost of my parents mortgage, plus food, etc. there was no way they could afford to help me with school – there were weeks when pasta was the norm because we couldn’t afford anything else. I lucked out in that I was accepted to the local community college on a full academic scholarship for the first two years of my college education – but FAFSA had denied assistance prior to that, leaving me thinking that college was not going to be an option for me.
    I did have to take out loans once I was accepted to Pace to finish up my 4-year degree. That was a huge matter of contention in our house – my dad was retired and didn’t want to co-sign. In all, I ended up with less in the way of undergrad loans since I only had to take out for two years – but now, to specialize in Tax, I needed to go back for my Masters – not cheap at all.
    I’m going to end up in the same position once all my loans come out of deferrment. Ive worked hard since 16, and will most likely, at 27, find myself struggling with the fact that loans and the necessities of food, shelter and a way to get to and from work will take up a huge chunk of my take home pay. More of my friends have had to move home because they can’t afford it all, and I think that’s one of the biggest factors that causes economic slowdown – we dont have disposable income to spend even if we wanted to!
    If we can apply for 0% APR credit cards for 12 months, why can’t we reconsolidate our loans with those terms for 12 months? Credit is optional, but loans to get a degree that you absolutely need to be considered for a job are not.

    • Blu3Whal3

      Sounds like that your father couldn’t afford to co-sign, let alone didn’t want to. A persons education beyond is his/her responsibility, not that of their parents. Just my opinion.

  • Kasey Marshall

    Wedding saving. Every thought about a really small wedding and then a potluck reception. Its not a fairy tale, but it worked for us. I would much rather put that money towards my student loans than my wedding. Just a thought

    • Julie R.

      Totally agree! We had a small backyard wedding with great catered food, elegant table linens, china, etc. The bulk of our 5K budget paid for lodging, food (pizza party, picnic, and tons of leftovers), AND a river rafting trip for our 30+ guests. Everyone had the time of their lives, our two families got to know each other, and we got back least 2K in cash and gift cards.

  • Mary

    I am in the EXACT same boat! I was the first of four kids to go to college and my parents make around the same as hers, so wasn’t able to receive much financial aid. With a little more than 100k in mostly private student loans, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live at home doing jobs with decent salaries. But I will have to move out soon to move to a bigger market and even though I have managed to save, I know how fast I’ll blow through it given the massive monthly payments. I applaud how you’ve managed so far but also understand the frustration and the fear for the future. What are we supposed to do? How do we fix a broken system?
    P.S. Congrats on graduating (that’s still a great accomplisment) and your engagement!

  • Bea16

    Finally – a well written article that articulates the struggle that so many of us (myself included) are feeling! I’m in the same situation (although a few years ahead of you), and live paycheck to paycheck (despite a great salary) with very little wiggle room for anything outside of necessities. The culprit? My $1,000 a month student loans (and sky-high rent for a VERY modest, closet sized apartment). My family made just enough to not qualify for financial aid, but not enough to actually pay for anything. I’ll be paying these loans for (what seems like) the rest of my life! Forget saving for a down-payment on a condo, or vacations with friends. There’s absolutely something wrong with a system that allows our students to come out of school, which is absolutely necessary to land a good job with a good salary, already behind and struggling under mountains of debt.

    • Eastwestcoaster

      We need to band together and demand change, or this is going to get worse! Our generation depends on it.

    • Apples

      No one forced you to take out loans. You could have left at any time to go work for a bit. Your struggle is real, but you voluntarily went for it.

      • Eastwestcoaster

        Yes they did. The government said that their parents didn’t make enough money, so they had to get private loans. Many jobs that used to require a high school education are now hiring college graduates and so on. The landscape is changing. This argument isn’t valid. They wanted to go to college to work at a meaningful job and contribute to society, so in order to do that, if you don’t have money to pay for it up front, your only choice is to take out loans. Very few people succeed in making their own business and this person wanted to go the route the most everyone takes to earn a degree to work in a fulfilling career. I’ve worked at jobs that only require a high school degree, not that they’re bad, but they aren’t what I wanted to do my whole life and I also wasn’t getting paid much.

  • Grace Conyers

    I wanted to let you know that your situation is “standard” from what I can tell, and better than that of some others. It’s unfair to say this when we are hurting so much from the system, but it’s the truth.

    I went to school at 23; I was considered ancient by university standards, but it was the only way. I made far less than your family did via the IRS records, and I was “paying” for school based on that alone. I got the same amount you did, but with one added bonus. I got work study as well. All this meant is that the government paid for half of what I may have earned through a job. So, I worked full time while going to school full time to pay for everything. It was tough, but even I didn’t have it that bad compared to some of my classmates.

    I went in with my male friend at the time. Our numbers on our financial aid forms were pretty much the same — except he made less money. He had no family contributions or anything else, either. But, the fact that he was not a preferred minority (their words, not mine) made it so that he received a full $4K less than I did. He ended up suffering greatly by the end of school, and in fact nearly ended up killing himself from the stress and unfairness of it all.

    Alas, despite of this, your outcome is similar to ours. I have $110K in debt, interest rates making things nearly impossible, and a sharp feeling of fear every day of my life. My friend has it worse as he chose to drop out of school rather than break from all the strain. So, now he has no degree in an economy that demands one and a full blown student loan repayment for nothing.

    I feel for you, and I’m proud of you. Not many could come out with this story in a day when these stories are not heard loudly enough. You’ve made a lot of good, and tough choices. I hope your ending is bright, and I hope it comes sooner than you expect. You WILL get through this. :)

    • Eastwestcoaster

      Wow, I’m sorry about your friend. I’ve heard this same story several times. We need to speak up, this has become an epidemic of sorts. Our generation who has gone to college is suffering.

      • Grace Conyers

        Thanks for the website! I’m looking into it, and I’ll definitely pass it along. I agree that students have gotten a short stick with high prices and precious few jobs as we exist. Some have it far worse than others, like my friend. Here’s hoping more voices make a difference. :)

  • EmmaJean

    I really sympathize with the author, and can only imagine what it must feel like to have such a crushing debt. But, I have to say: Sweetheart, do not have this budget-busting wedding. You are spending 40% of your monthly budget on one day of your life. You can still have a wonderful wedding, and set yourself up for a brighter future at the same time. Weddings are amazing celebrations, but they’re not worth facing a financial hardship over. Please take that money (or even half of that money!) that you have saved, pare down your wedding plans, and put it towards paying down your debt. I promise you won’t regret it. Trust me, you’ll still be able to enjoy a beautiful day (congratulations, by the way!), and you’ll have a far more financially secure marriage. In the words of Suze Orman: You. Cannot. Afford. It.

    • Yesenia

      that money can go towards a home ;)

    • Fizzy

      I agree. I had $6k saved up for what was to be my very small wedding. I realized that we really could not afford it because then we’d have zero savings after that. We went to the courthouse and had a quick beautiful civil ceremony instead. I was the breadwinner and was laid off only 3 months later. We would have been homeless without that savings.

  • Mary

    I completely understand what you are talking about. I graduated from in state college as a pharmacist. The lowest student loan interest rate I have is 7%, the highest almost 9%. The total debt… More than yours. I live paycheck to paycheck just so I can pour my entire paycheck after my simple living expenses right into loans. Forget shopping for nice things. My take home biweekly is $6000 and none of student loan are tax deductible even though my grad school loans are tremendously large! I was joking with someone, I can sit home and still manage to spend almost $80 daily, just from the interest.

    • Mary

      I meant monthly take home $6000

      • Grace Conyers

        That is truly awful! That interest rate is killer. I hope you see the end in site sooner rather than later.

  • Rachel

    I feel for you as well! My family was never well off when I was growing up (I’d say at most my parents were pulling in $60k for a family of four), and like you Danielle, I got good grades and was hopeful that everyone would see that we wouldn’t be able to afford college. Boy was I wrong. Everyone assumed that my parents would be fronting a large chunk of that bill. Nope. I got zero help from my parents. So I had to look towards loans.

    Even with going to a community college for the first two years (during which I also worked a job about 32hrs a week), and working as many hours allowed through work study at university, after I finish my Masters this year I’m looking at $130k in damage. Thankfully I’ve been able to qualify for the Income-Based Repayment option which has cut my bill down considerably since I’m now pulling two part-time jobs to make ends meet. Despite a better job-market than it was when I graduated, I’m still fighting for a full-time job in my field. I’m hoping to consolidate my loans before I graduate, and to take advantage of the government’s loan-forgiveness program for those working in a full-time capacity in non-profit areas.
    My boyfriend was blessed with his parents paying for college (which he’s paid back) and landing a very well-paying job. I’m more confident than I was with the plan I have, but you can tell my debt scares him.
    Hang in there! You’re not alone! I think the system really is majorly flawed, and that people need to see that having this debt for something that is essentially required today is crushing us.

  • Danielle S.

    I feel your pain but it doesnt seem you have your priorities straight and clearly not making the best financial decisions you could be making. How about postpone the wedding and use that extra 40% you are saving towards a house fud or to pay off your loans faster. I am 23 and my husband and i just eloped and are planning on having our real wedding a few years from now when we have more money. We have bought 2 houses together so far, one of which is an investment property and gives us monthly income- with an an fha loan and 3.5% down (in NJ as well). You should really reasses your situation. Seems like a poor choice to spend all that cash on one night you dont even get to enjoy. Better to start your marriage debt free. All the best- danielle s.

    • Eastwestcoaster

      How do you have money to buy 2 houses? Your in NJ, that makes sense, I’m in CA, no way can you do that here unless you have serious cash. I can’t even get approved for a mortgage because I’m at a contracted job that gets renewed, so they won’t accept my income and my income to debt ratio is horrible as well as my wife’s because we both have master’s degrees that cost a pretty penny.

  • Kelly

    I really appreciate seeing an article about someone tackling their student loans in a very “real” situation. I’m constantly reading articles about “how I paid 100k in student loans in 5 years” only to hear they make six figures +! It’s frustrating and I completely understand your situation because I also have a large sum of student loan debt with a modest income. I feel that being proactive and setting goals for your financial situation is the best you can do when you’re already stretched thin— then when that big raise comes you’ll be prepared to take the necessary steps to make higher contributions.

  • Dylan

    Thank you for sharing your story – it is refreshing to read an honest account of student debt and its effects that isn’t filled with self-pity and blame. I am really passionate about student debt, and am currently working on my doctorate in higher education, with my main area of interest bring student debt. It’s a shame that so many people can do everything right and still be left with crippling debt. Your story is a breath of fresh air because you aren’t blaming others for the debt you racked up in college, but are justifiably frustrated with the high interest rates you are paying.

    While it may not seem like it now, the budgeting skills you are learning now will serve you very well in the long run. If you keep at it, in less than ten years you will be out of student debt but your frugal lifestyle will hopefully stay with your forever. I feel very confident saying you will be ok – you’ve got a great head on your shoulders :)

    And to everyone who is criticizing her saving for her wedding – lighten up. What part of her story makes you think that she is irresponsible with money? She has moved in with her fiance’s parents, only buys necessities, and is still investing in her 401(k) and paying her school loans. Clearly, she is prioritizing her wedding because THAT is what is important to her. I say if having a nice wedding is important for HER, and she is doing everything within her power to make it happen, then good for her! It may not be what I would do, but I am certainly not going to criticize her for it.

    Best of luck to you!

    • Rob Wilson

      Dylan, I’d hope that your PhD thesis in higher ed is convincing people that they do not need to go to college.

      Colleges do not have a monopoly on information. A lot of the information people need to succeed in a given field is available for free.

      The best way to pay back student loans is not to take them out at all.

      • Dylan

        I’ve worked in college admissions and enrollment management for nearly 10 years, and I absolutely do not think that everyone needs a college education. I definitely think more people should learn a trade if that is what suits them. But your recommendations seem short-sighted and naive.

        Of course colleges don’t have a monopoly on information, and many people are quite successful without a degree. But having a college degree opens a world of jobs and opportunities to you that would simply not be feasible without a degree. A college degree has been the prerequisite for every job I’ve held as an adult, and I absolutely love the field of work I am in. I am getting my doctorate so I can do consulting work in higher education – what person in their right mind would take advice from me on higher education if I didn’t go to college?

        No, not everyone should go to college. But if you aren’t planning on going to college, you need to be extremely focused and hard-working to even stand a chance of being successful. I’ve seen no evidence that employers are no longer looking for college degrees (in fields other than sales) – it may not be fair, but I’d be very reluctant to start advising high school students that a college degree was unnecessary unless they were planning on entering a field that does not require one.

        That being said, there are ways to be smarter about the amount of debt you accrue. And the author of this article did everything right, which is what makes her situation so frustrating.

        • Rob Wilson

          Dylan,

          I know that you mean well, but in some ways you are part of the machine so it may be a little difficult to see the forest for the trees.

          Let me preface by saying that I have an engineering degree and an MBA from a top 10 school, so I am no stranger to higher education. I am proud of and thankful for my educational experiences.

          You may have thought that a “college degree” was a prerequisite for every job you had, but it wasn’t. You, or someone in your position, certainly couldn’t have landed a job as a chemist, with a degree in liberal arts, right?

          If we agree on that point, then it must be true that it is not the “college degree” in and of itself that is the prerequisite, it is indeed the knowledge and skill that is assumed to have been learned as a result of going through a curriculum.

          If we can continue to agree, then it must follow that if you can obtain the information and experience necessary to perform a function without going to college, one should be just as great an asset to an employer as someone who obtained a “college degree” often by taking many courses that have no value whatsoever to the employer.

          In the same vein, I believe your 10 years in academia may prove more valuable to you in your consulting practice than your PhD, though I could be wrong and I do not claim to be an expert in your business.

          My hypothesis is that the question is no longer “Where did you go”, but rather “What do you know?”

          It’s true that there may not be much evidence to support my hypothesis…yet. The MOOCs and other online tools are very much in their infancy.

          However, the lack of information doesn’t mean that a change isn’t occurring.

          I’m going to be conducting an experiment soon to test my theory.

          Remember how many people asked “Who in the world needs an iPad?” before Apple went on to sell 1 million of them in 28 days.

          Apple founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, as we all know, dropped out of college.

          • Dylan

            Rob,

            I understand the point you are trying to make, but the problem is that you are basing your advice on hypothetical shoulds/what-ifs rather than the current work environment that is in place in the United States. Would it be great if employers only looked for knowledge rather than degrees? Sure! But that is not how it is currently set up.

            You claim, “it must be true that it is not the “college degree” in and of itself that is the prerequisite, it is indeed the knowledge and skill that is assumed to have been learned as a result of going through a curriculum.” But the problem is – this is NOT true. Post some links to jobs that say, “We are looking for people with the skills you would develop with a bachelor’s degree, but we don’t care if you actually have one.” No, for most jobs, it quite clearly says, “Bachelors degree required.” I am not saying this is fair – I am saying it how the system currently works.

            You say that a college degree was not a prerequisite for every job I’ve held as an adult. This is a silly assumption for you to make, and makes me question the rest of your logic. I can say, with 100% certainty, that I WOULD NOT have been hired for any job that I’ve had as an adult without a degree, because it was, as I stated, a prerequisite. Could I have found jobs that I enjoyed without a degree? Certainly. I never said that a degree was necessary for all jobs – I said quite the opposite. But for the jobs I’ve held, a bachelor’s degree was required for all, and a master’s degree was required for some.

            Frankly, I am disappointed you went with the tired, irrelevant Steve Jobs example. If you look at the top 1% of earners in the U.S., I’d say many don’t have college degrees. You know who makes a lot of money? Athletes, actors, musicians, etc. These people all have a combination of talent/luck. Using Steve Jobs as an example of why a college degree is unneeded is about as relevant as using Brad Pitt or Derek Jeter. I would encourage anyone with an incredible amount of talent and opportunities to follow their dreams and forgo college. But for the rest of us? We need whatever advantages we can get.

            I applaud you for your desire to see things change – personally, I would love to see a bit of a decline in college enrollment and an increase in apprentice-like programs. I don’t think that colleges should be job-training facilities. But until things change, I am not about to advise people that a college degree is a waste, when all the published data says otherwise. If you have any research that supports what you are saying, I would honestly enjoy reading it, because it would likely be helpful for my dissertation.

          • Rob Wilson

            Only One-Third of Class of 2014 Grads Had a Job at Graduation – See more at: http://www.naceweb.org/s06182014/2014-grads-job-at-graduation.aspx

          • Dylan

            Did you even read or understand the methodology for that survey?

            It was a poll of students who had not yet graduated from college. Before even graduating they were trying to line up a job – and nearly 50% of the students who had applied for jobs had been offered AT LEAST one job. This, again, is without even graduating yet. So if nearly 50% of students who applied for jobs were offered a job for post-graduation, it is clear that employers value their degree. Check again for the numbers 6 months post graduating, and those numbers will be a lot higher. I can guarantee you that those 50% of students with a job offers were chosen over applicants without a degree.

            You are really not helping your case here. I think you mean well, but you haven’t given me any indication that you understand how to apply any of your theories to a real world setting, or that you can even put random statistics into context. Clearly you weren’t a liberal arts major ;) And for the record, it took me about 4 months of job searching after I graduated with a liberal arts degree to land a full-time job. This is a marathon, not a race – and the first few months of 40-year career mean little in the long run.

          • Rob Wilson

            No, I was not a liberal arts major. My undergraduate degree is in engineering and I have an MBA from a top school. Believe me, I know statistics very well.

            The difference is I work in the real world, not in college admissions. As such, I see and experience what it’s like in the real world.

            If you think that 50% (which is really 25% of the freshman class since 50% drop out) is a good percentage of students to have a job a few months prior to graduation, after spending tons of money and 4 years gaining an expertise, that’s just sad.

            Further, there is absolutely nothing in your rebuttal that backs up your argument that the “degree” is what’s valued versus the knowledge, expertise and experience gained therein.

            It’s not the degree. Employers want and need someone that can add value to their business. Since for many years, the only way to access higher education was on a college campus, employers have been conditioned to use that as their pipeline.

            I’m simply stating that in many instances (not all especially in the case of highly technical careers, medicine etc.), much of that information can be had at a much lower price than going to a traditional college.

            I mean no disrespect and I appreciate the continued dialog with you. However you sound a bit like how I would assume Blockbuster executives sounded before they allowed Netflix to bankrupt them. “Nope, we don’t need to ship DVDs online, let’s just keep charging our ridiculous late fees. It’s worked thus far!”

            Famous last words.

          • Dylan

            I’ve already said that I do not think that everyone needs or should get a college education. And I will be the first to admit that there are major issues with the current system. Part of the reason I am investing my own time and money in a doctorate in educational leadership is so that I can be part of the change I would like to see. You don’t invest money in a doctorate when you work in higher education hoping for a big financial payoff – you do it because it is your passion. So while I appreciate your Blockbuster analogy, I am not the least bit concerned that I fall into that camp. Higher education needs to change, no question about that. It’s an unsustainable model right now.

            I’m not disagreeing with your basic premise, but you are simply stating again and again that what employers want is knowledge, with absolutely nothing to back up your assertion, and that doesn’t make it so. The link your provided simply does not support your claims.

            The old system of human capital development of the 40s and 50s is gone. No longer do companies invest in employees, helping them move up the ladder. Now they want you to have that knowledge already and they don’t want to be the ones to give it to you. One of the most easiest (cheap and efficient, if not always fair or accurate) ways to accomplish that is to require a degree as a prerequisite. Employers absolutely miss out on well-qualified candidates because of this, but there are generally plenty of other strong candidates with degrees so the company is no worse off for it.

            Education is an extremely expensive and time-consuming investment, and it’s not the right path for everyone. But for the right people, it is an excellent investment.
            http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_chart_001.htm

  • Sarah

    Why is 40% going to a wedding? That is cray. Have a tiny wedding or wait to get married. It’s about the marriage, not the wedding, anyway.

    • Rob Wilson

      True, I just said the same thing. Glad to have a woman also say the same thing before I got slaughtered on here. :)

  • Rob Wilson

    Danielle, thank you for sharing this, as many other young professionals are in the same situation.

    I’d challenge you on the wisdom of using the money you’re saving by staying at your parent’s home for a wedding instead of using the cash to start a business to increase your income, or at least pay down the debt more aggressively.

    Sure, this may sound unromantic, but spending the money on your wedding will not help you solidify your financial future.

    If you are truly “petrified” about your financial situation, there are better uses for the cash you’re saving.

  • KC

    yea, I too had the dream to become a Certified Public Accountant after obtaining my 4 year degree in 2005 but it seems like I was only left with borrowing loans to obtain my CPA. I know all to well how easy it is to get sucked into borrowing so I decided to take a break and save my money. Hopefully before 2016, I will have the funds to complete my certification. Having the CPA behind your name open unlimited doors of certification.

  • Clark14

    Thank you for posting this. I am also in the same boat. I have completely maxed out of Federal student loans and currently paying tuition for my PhD out of pocket. The thought of marriage, children, etc. is something that scares me because I have no idea how I will be able to afford anything once I start repaying my student loans. Fortunately, I am in a profession (public health) that may qualify me for loan repayment options. However, I can’t afford to pay them back right now as $12,000/yr goes to tuition. I found out that I have multiple lenders, so I am exploring my options about consolidating, to start the repayment process.

  • Name

    Thank you for sharing your story, I believe it helps to know that we are
    not alone. I also funded my college education with the combination of small
    federal loans and much larger private loans, both with similar interest rates
    to yours. I spent every semester in the student financial aid office reviewing
    my options, filling out paperwork and receiving the lovely FAFSA letter stating
    that my parents made far too much money and that they could pay my way through
    college (between 40-50k with 5 children – two in college at the time – lol). I
    never quite understood the system, I had to file FAFSA as a dependent of my
    parents, even though I lived on my own, filed my own taxes and was not covered
    under their health insurance. After college, the economy was going bust, I left
    my home town in search of work and landed a great job (albeit a college
    education was not a qualification for the position and as you can imagine the
    salary also reflected this). But what do you do when the economy is upside-down
    and you find yourself competing against people who are overqualified, educated
    and far more experienced than yourself for work. I have worked my full-time job
    and several part-time jobs since graduating and have been treading the
    financial waters of debt ever since. 7 years after I graduated from school,
    without missing a single loan payment (at times interest only) and I am finally
    chipping away at the principal loan amount, have an emergency fund to cover one
    month of living expenses and can afford to visit my family at least once a year.
    If I could find the darn re-wind button on life, I would self-educate/study
    finance & find work experience before seeking a degree from the University
    and 10-20 years of debt.

  • Yesenia

    I can very much identify. I’ve been working hard to pay off other debts so that when one of loan payments skyrockets in December, I will be more equipped to make the payments. It is unfortunate though because it has delayed long-term goals I do have so I’m strategizing and got a pt job to help. I’d rather work harder now and then be able to relax more later on. Best of luck!

  • kim k.

    Thank you all of you for posting this information! I have a 17 year old daughter who just graduated high school and community college with a 4.0 and scored very well on her ACT. I am disabled and her father had to change professions at the age of 50 because of the recession. He makes half of what he used to 50,000 a year, combined 62,000 and supporting a family of 4. my daughter didn’t qualify for much and she lost out on the 10000 a year presidential scholarship because as they stated she is not a ”preferred minority”. I can’t help her because I had a cancer scare that depleted all of our savings and put us in 15000 in credit card debt because of medical bills that we had to charge so we would not ruin our credit rating.I feel better knowing that we are not alone. The information that all of you have posted will help us to navigate this education nightmare. It’s so sad our education system is so very broken. We are grateful that PSEO gave her a head start so that she will only have to navigate 2 more years for her bachelor’s degree.

  • heather

    Thanks for sharing your story! I’m also paying off my student loans while saving for a wedding, but my main focus is on paying off my loans so we can actually live the life we want. Have you considered foregoing a big wedding and putting that money toward your loans instead? I know it’s tough to go against the norm but we are planning to spend less than $10,000 on our wedding by having it out of our home state and only inviting close friends and family. We will then have a party in our hometown where we can celebrate with a larger group.

  • Jennifer

    No one owed you anything, not the government or your family. There are other ways to apply for scholarships for school. You also don’t NEED a college education to survive in this world. People need to realize this and stop whining because of the debt they took on for an education when half the time they cannot find employment. You know what happens when everyone has a degree? People with degrees are not a special commodity anymore.

    • Rachel

      While you don’t NEED a college education to survive in this world, if there’s a particular field you want to work in, it may very well be required. I’m in the Library and Information Sciences field, and most of the job postings I see require a Masters degree, not even just a Bachelor’s or Associates. If you don’t have the degree, you don’t get considered. While I know this is a hurdle, the field needs a level of specialized information. This can either be gained through a higher education degree or years of experience. Either road works, and it’s up to the person to judge what they would prefer doing. Personally, I would rather get that education, attain the job I want to work in faster and pay off my loans rather than spend years (if not decades) working up the ranks from the bottom up. But, to each his own.

    • Sam

      Yup, and you don’t need the government to pay for your retirement. Let’s do away with Social Security, medicare, and medicaid. I’m not going to see a dime of it anyway so what do I care.

  • Katie Joy

    What a scam our culture has created by convincing people that student loans are “good debt”… Thank you for sharing your story. At least you finished your degree and have your CPA, some people get the debt and quit. I hope that those in the generation behind us see this for the scam it is and come up with better plans.

    We have become such a culture of credentialists – it’s really pathetic. Wish there was a great way to fight it.

  • Pt

    My son received financial aid probably because I had no savings and neither did my son. I had sole custody and my ex husband, his father did not pay any child support so was not included on the fafsa. My wages were also low and my budget stretched. But I have noticed that the grant amounts decrease as you get closer to graduation and more money is available in loans, both subsidized and unsubsidized. He is still waiting for the financial aid notice for his senior year and is unsure why it is later than usual.

  • dr.bosslady

    LearnVest, I love you. Melissa it takes courage to share this story. Unfortunately, it is very unethical and irresponsible for this site’s editors to promote myths and self-pity. I am a college administrator and am becoming increasingly annoyed by people saying they don’t get financial aid, when they do in fact get student loans. Federal student loans ARE financial aid. They provide low interest options for students to go to college. Federal grants are not the only types of grants. States offer grants, too. There is an aspect of financial aid that students and their parents own: scholarships and grants. Relying on federal financial aid is like relying on social security to retire. Your error (and your parent’s error) was that you tried to make the financial aid fit your budget instead of making your budget fit the aid you were allotted. PLEASE, people! Stop doing this. Students should go to colleges they can afford, period. I really hope that this website and all other financial literacy outlets start promoting living within your means even if it means going to a less expensive college. To then, discuss how you had to move in with your boyfriend’s parents to save money for a wedding demonstrates that perhaps you still haven’t learned how to be happy with what you can afford. Why not pay 85% towards your student loans? You’re entitled to make the choice, but why complain about it?! Further have you investigated working for state, local or federal government or nonprofits and taking advantage of loan forgiveness? Shame on you, Learn Vest for this one-sided pity fest of an article that has no educational value.

    • http://immigratingwithapurpose.com Immigrating With a Purpose

      I think your post, though insightful, lacks empathy and has a willed short-sightedness. We’re at a historic moment where numerous commentators are beginning to see how significant and over powering student loan debt is for many in my generation (see: http://nyti.ms/1grc0WB).

      Yes, by definition, loans are a part of a financial aid package. That doesn’t change the fact that students are drowning in them, delaying “adult” moments such as starting a family, buying a house, trying their hand at a new business (that may contribute to the economy), etc… because they’re shackled to a financial decision they made from 18-22 before they had ever even EARNED the amount of money they would be expected to pay back. I think it’s hard for a 20-something year old who has not worked full time to understand just how much $100,000+ is. Thus, “we’ll start paying it when we get a job” turns into “I’m paying it, but it’s not enough.”
      To your suggestion of not saving for a wedding and putting more towards her loans, I hear that but people also have a right to enjoy at least a little bit the fruits of their labor.
      To your austere suggestion of putting 85% towards student loans, I’m doing just that. This school year I’ve spent 15% MAX of my salary on myself and others (that’s including food, clothing, trips,gifts, etc…). The rest has gone to loans. I have to keep living at this rate for at least another three years to pay off my student loan debt. It’s doable for me because I’m teaching internationally (read: housing paid for), don’t have kids, and don’t really enjoy shopping. That’s not doable, sustainable, or even feasible for the average American.
      You also said to go to a college people can afford. College prices have been skyrocketing. Period. It’s becoming impossible to pay for college tuition even when working…which leads us back to loans. I myself worked full time while working on a graduate degree at a school I could afford (read: Brooklyn College). I finished with no new debt, but was barely able to afford part-time in-state tuition as a teacher (read a job that offers some loan forgiveness after five years and with stipulations, as you also suggest looking into). Let’s tell the whole story here.

      http://immigratingwithapurpose.com/2014/05/29/confessions-of-an-accountant-i-have-130k-of-college-debt/#more-1700

      • Katie Joy

        A freaking men. Thank you!!!!! I’m so disgusted by the system, I really can’t see straight!

    • Sam

      When I went to school in 2001 my interest on my loans was 3.5% (about) and my loans plus a little out of pocket covered everything. My brother and sister who is 5 years younger then me is in the boat that this person is in and my parents had two children in college when they went. There is something massively wrong with the system, starting with amenities at these universities that no college student needs. Oh

      And tell me, in a state where the awful state colleges run over 15,000 a year what is “affordable” for those students. YOU are in error and clearly have no clue what families are going through.

      Oh, and my MORTGAGE is at a lower rate then my loans for my masters that I’m taking out right now, by over 2.5%. The point of FEDERAL LOANS was to provide LOW INTEREST loans to students and to provide enough to cover what aid doesn’t cover. And my credit rating is will above 800.

      • Katie Joy

        My mortgage is also at a lower rate than my student loans. The system is BROKEN.

    • Katie Joy

      Shame on you for being a part of the problem that is colleges that suck up federal aid, bloat their campuses with “administrators”, and hike up their tuition at a far higher rate than inflation (like triple to quadruple). The system is broken. When “everyone” needs a college degree, the value of a college degree declines. Your condescension and lack of empathy disgusts me. We have convinced my generation that the “only” way to get ahead is to attend college. It’s a lie. That. Is. A. Lie. And my generation is headed over a cliff.

    • flours

      I may not agree with your entire post, but the one thing I agree with absolutely – go to a school you can afford…I suppose the concept of working full-time and going to school part-time is just plain wacky…it took me 8 years, but I finished debt free with no money from my parents…I also went to community college first and got an associates degree and then transferred to a four-year school for my bachelors. The associates allowed me to get a job that paid slightly better than minimum wage while i was still going to school.

  • Michelle

    Danielle,

    I was in the same boat as you – my parents “made too much”
    for me to receive any meaningful financial aid, while at the same time they could not afford to pay for my college. To attend college I had to take out many private loans to cover the remainder of my tuition and expenses. I recently refinanced a portion of my student loan debt through a company called Sofi at a much much lower interest rate (I went from 8% down to 3.7%) and I wish I would have done it years earlier. I just made my first payment last week and it felt great to see so much more of my payment going toward my principal balance than before. Also, I know the variable interest rate seems scary, but Sofi caps the variable rate at around 9%. They also told me that you can switch to a fixed rate if rates start going up. If I were you I’d try to take advantage of the low rates while you can (either through Sofi or another company) so you can pay more off in the short term. By the time interest rates go up, perhaps you will have paid off most of your loans by then.

    p.s. if you sign up with Sofi through this link they give you $100 if you end up refinancing with them: http://friends.sofi.com/3Pw9V

    Just a suggestion, hope it works out for you! I know it is hard now but 10 years may go by quicker than you think…

  • LaToya

    I also have approx. $130,000 in debt. My payment isn’t as high because my interest rates are lower, but they are on a 30-yr plan. I make $45,000/yr and am single and responsible for caring for an elderly parent. I pray that one day I can live with someone to save on living expenses to truly crack down on my student loans.

    Thanks for sharing. At least I know I’m not in the struggle alone.

  • http://immigratingwithapurpose.com Immigrating With a Purpose

    Thank you for sharing your experience. Like some of the other commentators wrote here, I think there is (and has been) a growing problem with students needing to take out loans to get a college degree (and, allegedy, secure a better job), but barely being able to live off said job’s salary because of the amount of student loan debt. I’m in the same boat myself. I’m teaching abroad now to save on living expenses and pay back the loan companies. That being said, this NYT article gave me some cheer. The fact that over our lifetime we’ll earn $500,000 more than a non-college graduate is reminding me that, like you said, we can be thankful that we were even able to find a job right out of college that put us squarely in the middle class.

    http://nyti.ms/1hsxnlG

    We’ll keep on keepin’ on!

  • http://260daysnorepeats.blogspot.com Iris

    It’s scary how many people can relate to this and are in the same situation. I have over 200k in college debt, a mortgage called my BA. I put almost 90% of my salary to paying down my loans each month and thankfully have a supportive family and fiance that help when needed. When I think about it, I feel like dead weight I can’t contribute to a household, save money for the future, etc. I wonder when someone is going to offer better consolidation options so we can all move forward.

  • MoMo Willy

    Why are you saving for a wedding when you owe so much in student loans? Your priorities are messed up!

  • http://www.maatrisingankh.com Traverro Harden

    40% on a wedding fund when you’re already coming out almost half of your income towards college loans. I think it might be a GREAT IDEA to downscale for the wedding and make it big for the 10-year anniversary since you’ll be done paying down your student loans by that time. When I was younger I made emotinal decisions like that but as I’ve matured, I learn to put things into a wider perspective. Thanks for sharing your story.

  • Meg

    Danielle, great job sharing your story. Two quick points: one, you DID receive financial aid, that’s what low-interest federal loans are. They are much better than all of your debt being privatized, high-interest loans. Two, if you didn’t receive aid, it’s because students with greater need than you did. Unfortunately, it’s a zero-sum game. While it sounds like you certainly could have used some support to make a smart investment in your education, someone with greater need than you/your family was the beneficiary instead.

    • Katie Joy

      You know who REALLY benefited? All those unnecessary administrators at the college. And the greedy “non-profit” (LOLOLOLOL) university.

  • Rob

    I can help you pay off ALL your student loans even if you are in default!!! Ask me how!!

  • justsaying

    No sympathy, getting married let alone having a whole wedding was not the best idea financially.

    • Krystal Kelley

      I felt the same way when I read that she is saving for a wedding. Seriously! She’s saving good money just so she can blow it on a one day symbolic ceremony. She should save for her future and get hitched at the court house. Totally falling into this silly belief that she has to have it all.

  • CPA with a plan

    While I do appreciate the authors’ decision to be honest about a difficult subject matter, I have to call BS on taking out $100k in private loans for an ungrad degree. There are LOTS of other ways to get a degree – work study, part-time jobs, going to a community college for the first two years etc. Personally, I worked the entire time I was in school for an accounting firm. I carried 18 credit hours through tax season AND was doing an internship. I may not have had a life that semester, but I survived. I moved home the year after I graduated not to save money, but to study for the CPA exam. I paid for the review class out of my own pocket (Becker in case anyone cares), and passed the exam on my first try. Not because I’m some sort of genius – but because having to pay for it myself made me that much more invested in the outcome.

    Also, if you read the FAFSA formula, you would know there are ways to get out of having to report your parent’s income: be over 24 when you go to school, married, or a veteran. I know most people aren’t willing to look at the military as an option, but between the new GI bill (with housing allowance and books) as well as being an independent student, you probably would have not paid a dime at all. That is what my husband did, and he got a $130k degree for less than $10k- which he paid in cash because he saved all his money when he was deployed.

    I agree with the person who posted about going to a school you can afford. If you have to take out debt, and you put your head in the sand about just how much you are borrowing over your time in school, you cannot afford it – plain and simple. If you want something bad enough, you will get creative and figure out how to make it happen. Don’t rely on handouts.

    • Krystal Kelley

      Great points. There is something to be said for community college and going into the military for a few years. I guess neither goes with our traditional mindset of what our college experience should be like, but when getting a good degree should be the ultimate focus, then it’s time to get creative and flexible.

  • MWD

    In a sense I got lucky but lucky is sad when I get out of Med school with more then 200,000 in student loan. It’s all federal but my interest is still 6.5%. Federal loans for school have a interest rate higher then a mortgage now. Not sure how controlled that is… I also have about 50% of my income going to loan repayment. I actually don’t qualify to buy a house (despite the fact that so many people assume I’m wealthy since I’m a doctor). If not for my husband inheriting money and not having to take out much loan for college, we would not be buying a house at all. It’s all on him. Even then though, we had to look long and hard to find something we can afford. In may area, even condo’s and town homes often exceed 300,000. Who can afford that?
    Anyway, got side tracked but even if you get a federal loan now, the interest rates are out of control. I’ve heard it’s even higher now then when I was getting them. Some big changes need to be made, especially when people with these loans, barely getting by, are now not even allowed to declare the interest on their taxes…
    Dear Government: I’ll pay higher taxes that you want, please just make my loans go away, I’ll even take a pay cut- In the end, I’ll make more…

  • Krystal Kelley

    Wow. This is definitely an endorsement for community college for the general education classes. I feel her pain. I did undergraduate studies out-of-state and later graduate school at a private university. My student loans are high too. To make it worse, following the tax changes of 2012 I now “make too much” to write off the interest I pay so I can’t even call it good debt, but I don’t make enough to really put money into savings other than my 401k. I’d love to put money into a savings account for easy access, but I’m caught in between making too much but not enough. I am truly thankful to God, that I was able to buy a house last year that is on target to appreciate enough this year so that I can wrap my student loans into a 2nd mortgage. This will allow me to write off the interest I pay and reduce what I pay monthly. I’m looking forward to saving money too and putting more away in my 401k.

    • Rob Wilson

      @krystal_kelley:disqus don’t forget that you also have the ability to make more money. If your current company isn’t paying you what you’re worth, you should find a company that will….or start your own.

  • Tarah Marvell

    Your story is basically the exact same as mine. Check out SoFi for consolidating those private loans. I did mine with them and they will save me thousands over the life of the loan. https://www.sofi.com/

  • Krystal Kelley

    Danielle,
    Please make the wise financial choice to forego the wedding and use the savings to build a future with your husband. Don’t let cultural norms push you to spend good money on a one time event like a wedding. Get married at the court house and go on a honeymoon. Instead of plunging your into a wedding that will not yield a return, Invest in your marriage because it should be for a lifetime. Sock away annual bonuses and portions of your raises to have a nice 10 year anniversary. It’ll also be a great reward for a job staying together through tough times.

  • Eastwestcoaster

    Thanks for raising the awareness. I’m a biologist that is making what would be called a decent wage, but a lot of my money goes toward paying off my student loans because of the way in which the system is right now. Its insane that most student loans for income-based repayment force you to pay 15% of your gross income before taxes and it doesn’t factor in cost of living for utilities etc. or private student loans in which I, too had to get for my first years of college due to my parents still claiming me as dependent until I went to grad school. There needs to be more regulation and people like us, there are thousands, need to band together and keep making our voices heard. It seems as though in the US, if you are what is called middle-class (parent’s barely able to pay for a minute fraction of your college tuition) that the higher level of education you get, unless you get a full-ride scholarship (which is competitive and really tough to get) that you will end of paying more for student loans. As opposed to people who either have a high school or bachelor’s degree (in-state) that had to pay less are better off if they can find a decent paying job at the moment because they have less debt to pay back. The system is backwards and it seems to not reward those who strive to obtain a graduate level or higher education to better their career like I did. I’m living month to month and I work at a decent job because of student loan debt. Anyways, thanks for writing this.

  • Apples

    You live in a HCOLA, or your parents do-because $85,000 is double what most people around this slightly rural area make. Unfortunately you’re family fit in the middle between lower income and qualifying for grants, jobs, and more federal loans and the higher incomes that usually prioritize saving for college. That 100% sucks. But as a recent college grad, I can say I would have needed $800/month in your situation (paying interest) with my bills (rent, food, fun), and that’s plenty of working lower-wage jobs, so you weren’t slacking. But any summer money that could have gone with it? No one forced you to not take a semester off to earn money, or stretch the learning to 5 years and work really really hard all those summers (like 60 hrs/week or more). I just want to point out there were other options.

  • Apples

    Also-absolutely zero merit-based scholarships at any point? Seriously?

    • Fizzy

      That’s what I wondered about too… I was in a similar situation to her in college, but I applied for every scholarship in existence and ended up with $8k a year in various private scholarships. It made a huge difference.

  • HollyWin

    I don’t see anyone here talking about private scholarships. When I graduated in 2006, loans only compromised a small percentage of how I paid for college. I had upwards of 20 private scholarships that I applied for either through my University or just by searching and applying online for every obscure scholarship I could find. Some of those scholarships were only $100 per semester in aid, but others were thousands of dollars … and they all added up. Loans are not the only way to pay for school! It takes effort in the search and application and essay process but there are scholarships that are geared towards students interested in music, sports, leadership, volunteering, as well as every industry under the sun.

  • MiddleClass

    I know exactly how you feel. Same story, Im an accountant, and same background and education. Only difference is I graduated in 09. My advice over the last 5 years, is build your skill set and look for new opportunities. Eventually as you move up through your career, the debt will appear as a much lower percentage. the highest amount of earning growth happens in the fist 10 years of your career. Still struggling but making the best of it.

  • Nikki

    I’m glad you shared your story, as I am in the same boat. My parents also made too much money, although we were never well off and I had siblings too. While in school (a state school) tuition went up 14% each year, and the school began to build a new stadium. So my loans had to go up each year.

    In addition, I chose to go to law school as I wanted to practice law and the investment seemed sound. In my first year, the market crashed and legal jobs took a huge hit. But what do you do when you’re already $50K in debt from one year of school (in addition to undergrad debt)? I stayed in school and graduated with about $175K. There were very few jobs by the time I was out and I took something paying $45K a year, just to put something on my resume.

    I’m now making a little more, but the legal market isn’t what it used to be and many of my federal loans are between 6.8-9%. Since graduating, I have accrued about $30,000 and it keeps growing by around $9,000/yr.. I’ve started to focus my energy to paying off my undergrad debt off and will have to continue to pay my fed loans under IBR. I have realized that because of my debt, buying a house might not be in the cards (I live in CA which makes it worse), getting married may happen at a courthouse, and I’ll be lucky to have one kid.

    People say our generation is lazy and irresponsible for taking out these loans, but it’s interesting to hear how many people didn’t qualify for financial aid/scholarships or went to a state school and still had to take out $100,000 or more. What other generations don’t acknowledge is how much the cost of school has skyrocketed, loans are no longer out at a reasonable interest rate (even federal), and how student loans are a big corrupt business (anyone else notice Citi, Discover and Great Lakes are tied together or how Salli Mae can’t process you payment application on time). I don’t know if things will ever change, but I have a feeling the economy is going to bust again when we can’t make major life purchases.

  • Violent Shadow

    Being an accountant myself that graduated in 2008, I find the author’s situation hilariously ironic. There are 3 mistakes that she made:

    First, she decided to live in the dorms with a meal plan and financed all of it on her student loan. Sorry, but living on campus is a TERRIBLE deal. Better to find a cheap room off campus and make your own meals.

    Second, she didn’t attend a community college first. The cheaper tuition would’ve really helped reducing her student loans.

    Third, it sounded like she bought all of her textbooks through her college bookstore. Sorry, but she’s an idiot for buying through them. When I buy books, I go online and look for used and/or international editions. I’ve always managed to keep my textbook costs under $250 each semester. Plus, I always sold them afterwards usually recoup about 50% of my costs.

    Would it shock you that I got a Bachelors AND a Masters degree in accounting with only $25,000 in student loans? And most of the time, I didn’t qualify for grants OR subsidized student loans. I didn’t receive any support from my family either (they offered but I declined). I had to work my tail off through college to manage this.

    And finally, does she really need to spend lavishly on a wedding? Come on! Take that money and pay down those loans!

    • Pat Rice

      Exactly! Couldn’t have said it better, especially the wedding part. Evidently, she is the one responsible for her situation.

      • jessief

        I do hope that she comes back to read the comments so she finally learns a lesson from her mistakes.

  • Theo Mendoza

    I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I filled out the FAFSA. I was under the impression that once I finish college I can start making the big bucks. My ignorance is going to haunt my wallet for a long time. But fortunately I can pass what I learned about student debt to my daughter who just graduated high school. I don’t want her to make the same mistakes I did.

  • RobertSF

    There is definitely something wrong with America’s higher education system, but there is also something wrong with too many Americans, who despite the internet, seem unable to research anything.

    Ramapo College is part of the New Jersey State University system, so it’s true that it’s not “some fancy private university.” However, it’s not the cheapest state university either. Its tuition is $6,700 per semester, but tuition at New Jersey City University, also a member of the state university system, is only $5,400 per semester.

    There is also community college, or “county college” as they are called in New Jersey. Every county has them, and tuition there averages about $2,000 per semester. The first two years of general education can be completed there at a much lower price. There would also be no room and board costs since the student would still live at home.

    There is also the option of waiting until the age of 24 to go to college. At that age, family income is no longer a consideration in the financial aid calculation. If the student is working in food service or something similar, her income will be low enough to qualify for Pell Grants and possibly state grants. Also, she could save money during the years she was working but still living at home.

    Combining all these options would bring the cost of the degree low enough that loans wouldn’t be needed.

  • commonsense1

    I am an accountant who graduated with $45K of student loan debt. I also received no grants and only about $7,500K a year in federal loans. My school also estimated the cost of attendence around $22,000K. The key is being financially responsible. This is definately not an accountant I would go to. I worked summers to pay rent and had roommates and even shared a room for a couple of years to keep the room and board cost down. In addition you should never be buying next text books and you can usually buy or sell used ones at much better than bookstore prices to/from students taking the classes the following semester. I also ate pretty much nothing but ramen, peanut butter sandwhiches, and egg sandwhiches to keep grocery costs down. As to the “extra” credits you had to take for your CPA exam, the CPA exam now requires 150 credits to sit for it most states, (instead of 120) but most people do this through masters degree.

    The cost of education is ridiculously overpriced BUT a big part of that issue is people willing to spend that money. They will charge that much as long as irresponsible people are willing to take out hundreds of thousands of $ for a degree.

    • commonsense1

      I also might add in reference to the well paid internship. This is usually during the spring semester of school and college credit is given for it. The big 4 accounting firms pay somewhere between $27-32 (minneapolis area). The hours for the intereship are usually 60/hr plus weeks and interns are paid time and half for overtime. So over the course of the spring intership they tyipically make around $40K