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

Nora Zelevansky

College LoansIn 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 in 2007 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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