(College) Horror Stories

They tell you to follow your dreams and your heart, and then the rest will follow too. In order to make your dreams come true, the first step for high-school graduates is to head off to college, the now-mandatory step for those wishing to attain a successful life.

But, as has been written in other places, the ugly truth they don’t share is that college is an expensive proposition and is filled with students who just got accepted because that’s what you do when you’re finished with high-school. Yes, of course, college is very valuable and does serve a great purpose. But, universities are happy to cash checks from incoming freshman who aren’t quite sure what that purpose is, at the same time still trying to figure out what their purpose is.

A new undergrad has got to choose a major fast. Following the formula “What is the one thing that you would do for the rest of your life for free?” is recommended. This popular calculation always results in a glut of fashion design majors, aspiring sports agents, premed course work or a degree in psychology.

The rub they don’t give you is that all of these fields are highly competitive. To make it, you’ll have to dedicate yourself beyond the large field of your also ambitious peers. Loans and sacrifices will have to be made. Better be sure this will make you happy, because by the time you graduate, you’ll be so in debt that you will literally be doing your dream job for free! That is, if you can actually land it. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but from what I hear, you won’t be able to.

Take James for example:

I went to a top 20 law school…I was very concerned about the debt of the private school but everyone advised me it was the best decision to go to the top 20 law school.

I now owe $150,000 in pure student loans and $30,000 in credit card debt from my 3 years of law school, that’s after a $12,000 scholarship, $5000 from summer jobs and probably $10,000 in family assistance. I make $30,000 a year working as a highly skilled lawyer in a specialized field. I enjoy my job and am thankful for a good education, however, the $40K tuition at the private school means I won’t pay off my loans until I’m close to 60, even if I can eventually get the “average” lawyer salary of 70K-90K.

By the way, I never had debt until I did the right thing and went to grad school. Also, I always had a roommate during school, still drive the same 15 year old car, have the same 5 year old laptop, and buy most of my clothes at Old Navy…when they have a sale! I would love to have student loans less than $50K.

— James

In many ways, James is lucky. Although he’s trapped in an enslaving system of debt and can never stop working, he actually finished his schooling and landed a job that he likes. Most aren’t so lucky. A lot of would-be music producers are currently working at Enterprise Rent-a-car.

The System
College is a vital part of a system that’s designed to grind you up and spit you out.

As M.G. says, the problem is deeper –

It isn’t so much the debt that is the problem, it is the absolute disconnect between education and employment. My experience as an undergraduate was that there was essentially no effort put into making us employable, helping us find employment, or helping us know what the ramifications of our decisions would be in real dollars and cents.

— M.G.

For an increasing number of students, college is a place to prolong the transition from teenager to adult. The excuse “I am/was in college” can now be used to explain away almost any bad decision made – You knocked up some girl? But, “I was in college”. Can’t remember what happened last night? Man, “I’m in college”. You can’t hold down a job, pay your rent, and/or be a functioning member of society? It’s OK, you’re in college.

But, what happens when college is over?

Quit whining, Indentured, Over-Educated Servants, or its Debtors’ Prison for you!!

— Your Bank Overlords

At the very least, on the part of students entering universities this fall, a large amount of sobriety is needed.

The financial institutions lending money don’t have your best interests in mind, although interest is on their minds. Their hope is that you continue paying interest (and not principle) on student loans until you cease to exist. Universities have a racket of their own – outrageously priced textbooks, rising tuition costs, and an environment that automatically feeds in a new crop of students after many in last year’s freshman class flunk out.

That means have a plan going into college and more importantly, a plan to get out. Although most advise against it, it would be better to wait a few years to attend college in order to actually settle on a major and a desired career. At the very least, be sane enough to sit down and calculate the costs of the college experience by making a realistic budget.

College requires maturity. Sure, some have the ability to slack their way to a degree, however, most don’t. Before you enter, you must have good study habits and a sense of responsibility. This is directly related to the ability to provide for yourself, rather than rely on your parents or others. If I could do college over again, I’d take at least a year to start paying my own bills and being responsible for myself. Finally, don’t be afraid to consult people who’ve survived the experience and have also been successful post-college to get their expertise.

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