My 30th Birthday Present to Myself: Pay Down My College Debt

Nora Zelevansky

Birthday-cake-with-candles-litIn the LearnVest Personal Stories series, everyday people share the details of their money lives, discussing the individual choices they’ve made and how it’s impacted their financial journey.

Today, a filmmaker and education-policy advocate talks about the journey that led her to launch an ambitious plan to pay down her college debt.

A few months before my 28th birthday, I had a near-existential crisis: I realized that I’d been in debt for almost 10 years. I was 18 when I signed my first promissory note for college, and as my birthday approached, I began to wonder what I wish I could have told my younger self about the financial responsibility I was about to take on.

Thinking about that answer started me on what I now call my “debt mission”: Pay off $42,436 in college debt by the time I turn 30.

2 Degrees, 7 Loans: My College Debt Script

At 18, I left my home in Miami to get a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. I had received scholarships, but I still graduated with about $25,000 of student loan debt.

After graduation, I won a doctoral scholarship to use toward a Ph.D. program of my choosing. I had up to three years to take advantage of it, so rather than dive immediately back into academics, I decided to use those full three years to make sure that a Ph.D. was the right choice—and have some post-college adventures dabbling in film and photography.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t do everything that I’d hoped during that three-year window because of my debt.

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