I have been dreading writing this post. Not because it will lay bare all of the stupid choices I have made with money over the years but because of the sheer length of time I expected it to take to write it. I have a problem with procrastination. I procrastinate doing things which in turn causes anxiety. Sometimes this is a good thing. I work well and find a clear mind under pressure. Sometimes it is a bad thing and I just never get done what I need to get done. However, the great thing I have found about my thirties is that I no longer aspire to be someone else. As in, I no longer aspire to be someone that doesn’t procrastinate. I no longer aspire to be someone that likes to go to the gym. Instead, I create systems that anticipate and plan for who I am. I walk to and from work because I know that I won’t go to the gym when I get home. And I write blog posts I don’t want to write in bullet format to prevent myself from procrastinating the narrative. So here it goes…
College (~$65,000/4 years) – I went to a private college in the northeast…er…ivy climbs down its hallowed halls. While some folks would like to use the debt I accumulated there to justify cheaper educational options, I remain unashamed of my choice to attend this college. It was a life changing experience, and while I admit that I could have possibly received a similar education elsewhere, I only regret squandering the enormous amount of resources I had available to me out of ignorance of them. Hindsight and all that. The university’s financial aid package was actually very generous considering the total cost of attendance for one year is over $50k. However, I was a senior in 2008 and my family’s financial situation was not what it was when I began attending. Instead of taking a semester off (which would have been good for my financial and mental health), I took out $30K in student loans (included in the number I reference above) in an effort to finish my last year “on-time.” (Following the recession, attitudes towards time off from school, expensive schools, and gap years changed). Despite this, I performed poorly, failed a course, took an incomplete, and walked but did not graduate until several years later. Shame as it attached to my education, student loans, and my career path began to form here…
Interim/7 years (Interest begins to accrue…$$$) – Several years spent abroad, running a small business that was ultimately a breakeven at best, working at non-profits, etc.
Finishing College/Personal Loan (~$11,000/2 classes) – Unfortunately, the private university I attended did not allow you to transfer courses from other colleges/universities towards depth and breadth requirements. And as I was no longer eligible for financial aid (I had more than 120 credits), I had to pay out of pocket. To graduate, I only needed 2 courses. However, at $5,000.00 per course, I did not have the means. While I had saved very little, my best friend put her head down, made sacrifices, worked jobs she didn’t really like but for which she was well compensated, and accumulated quite a bit of savings. (I have long envied her discipline and practicality about her career). When we talked about me finishing she immediately offered me the money. More shame attached here…
Graduate School (FREE99) – I went to graduate school for a masters degree in the humanities with the intention of eventually getting a Ph.D and becoming a professor. By this point, I was more than ashamed of how much student loan debt (and interest) I had accumulated, and I vowed that I would never take out another student loan again. I went to a lesser know graduate school (This is the key to getting an assistantship at the masters level. You have to go to a school without a doctoral program in your field,) and got an assistantship that provided full tuition remission, a small (very small) stipend, and health insurance. While it wasn’t much and certainly didn’t let me pay down much debt, it meant I could get my degree for free. Throughout graduate school, I really hustled (I did everything from raking leaves, to working at a book binding factory, to twirling a sign outside of a furniture store on a hot summer day) to make extra money and managed to graduate with my MA without taking out any additional loans. In fact, because I won two small (very small) graduate scholarships that covered my university fees, I didn’t actually have to spend a dime of my own money on this degree. For that feat, a bit of my shame was alleviated.
What should I do with my life? (Time/Interest continues to accrue…$$$) – While I loved graduate school, the work in my field often left me feeling like me feet didn’t touch the ground. I enjoyed having esoteric conversations about the meaning of particular words, but I often felt selfish and like no one really benefited from my work or time on this blue marble. I also had real concerns about the sacrifices I would have to make to become a tenured professor. I saw many folks sit on the job market for years or languish in years long postdocs, VAPs, or as adjuncts, barely getting by. My thesis led me down a more practical path and after much thought and consideration (more than a year), I decided I was going to go to medial school. (Didn’t see that one coming did ya?)
College Redux ($35,000.00) – Unfortunately, as a humanities major, I didn’t have any of the prerequisites necessary to apply to medical school. And because I already had a BA, I wasn’t eligible for most grants or scholarships. So, despite my earlier promise to myself, I found the smallest, cheapest state school I could find, moved, and promptly took out $35,000 in student loans (after being convinced by academic advisors that I could “easily” pay it back as a physician). I told you, repeated stupidity.
What should I do with my life? Redux (2018/2019) – So here I am, years older, 35,000 additional dollars in debt later and I’m not so sure. Not because I don’t think I couldn’t get into medical school or become a physician. I am hard working, reasonably intelligent, and persistent. But I met many physicians during my premed journey. Some were happy and genuinely seemed to love what they do. But many seemed unhappy. They told me of the innumerable sacrifices and what they would do if they didn’t have medical school debt. They cautioned me to think about my choice and what I would need to sacrifice to go to medical school and to become a physician.
So I balked. Last year, instead of applying to medical school, I took a job at University A, in a role for which I was overqualified but well paid, and delayed my career for what I said at the time was just “a year longer.” I was miserable. While I enjoyed working with students (I had taught in graduate school as an instructor of record and loved it), I hated almost everything else. But I worked hard, performed well, and my boss’ boss gave me a really good reference. Here, at University B, I do work that is much more in line with what I want to do: there is academic rigor (I get the intellectual stimulation I need) and my feet touch the ground (there is significant community outreach and service).
I still think about applying to medical school. As a physician, my service would come with some degree of job security. And if I am nakedly honest, it would also justify the time and money I have already thrown at the endeavor. However, as each day passes in my new role, and I see how meaningful the work is, and how few personal sacrifices I will need to make (like delaying having children, or needing to move to a distant area of the country to go to school), I see my path changing. While I still don’t know exactly where my path will lead, I know that I don’t want debt to be apart of it.
Note: During the “interim years” I deferred all of my federal and university student loans. While the university loans did not accrue interest, the unsubsidized federal loans did accrue interest. I paid only minimum payments on all private student loans. Yea. I know.