When I graduated college in 2015, I was not in a single dollar of debt. The same was true when I finished graduate school at the end of 2016. I was amazingly burned out and broke at the end of both milestones… but I was not in thousands of dollars of debt like many of my peers were.
There are a number of reasons why I am not in any school related debt. Many of those reasons has to do with luck. Here they are:
- I was born and raised and still live in New York City. What does this have to do with debt you may ask? Students who apply for financial aid get FAFSA, which is a grant. Students in New York also get TAP. So that meant I had access to two grants that I was eligible for to help me pay for school.
- I did not dorm or leave the state to attend school. Out of state tuition is INSANE. For anyone outside of the United States, a student that leaves their state to attend a school has to pay much more in tuition and for a dorm room. There are a set of fees for in state and out of state students.
- I did not study abroad or participate in extra programs. Some of these cost a lot of extra money and I couldn’t justify going into debt for a semester abroad. My financial situation at the time meant that any of the cultural enrichment I could have gained from being abroad would have been cancelled out by the debt. That being said, I am insanely jealous of anyone who studied abroad. I’m happy for them, but so so so jealous.
- I decided to attend a CUNY school for both my bachelors and masters. CUNY stands for the City University of New York which means it is a public school system. CUNY used to be FREE once upon a time and it’s fees and tuitions have skyrocketed over the years (however the number of well paid adjuncts and tenure track professors has decreased), but it is still much more accessible to me than any other school system in the city (and in the country). So when I say I decided to attend, I mean that I crunched the numbers and realized that CUNY was one of my few viable options.
- I didn’t have much work life balance so that I could maintain certain scholarships. This means I didn’t really join any clubs, I didn’t attend a lot of events, and I didn’t hang out with as many people as I would have liked to. I studied. I worked. And then I studied some more. It meant scholarships, but it was also the start of some chronic health issues.
- My parents attended college. They attended decades ago in the Caribbean in a school system that was different than the one here in the United States, but I had someone who understood the pressure I was under. They didn’t know how to get scholarships, but they gave me a vocabulary that in turn showed me that I had to look for scholarships.
My take away has been that I graduated without student debt thanks to a combination of strategy, some privilege, and some luck. Some of the things that got me through school were 100% my personal efforts. Working while being a full-time student and actively applying for grants. It wasn’t easy, and it meant that I didn’t leave college with a friend group like many people do.
There’s a student who is putting in as much effort as I did and will still end up in major debt.
But being in debt is not a character flaw, especially in a country where basic necessities can bankrupt you. It’s kind of insane that it’s an issue. It’s also insane that things none of us can control (such as our family’s socioeconomic status) establishes our quality of life and that it’s becoming increasingly harder to get out of a bad situation.
So if you had to take out loans to afford an education, you’re not irresponsible. You’re just trying. And you deserve to have your best chance.
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