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Debt Up to My Neck

Posted: 09/06/11 02:20 PM ET

There are some things you just don't skimp on: ketchup, for instance. Anniversary dinners, toilet paper. In my mind, education was always one of these splurge-worthy essentials. So despite the very blue-collar upbringing I had (my mother is a bookkeeper and my dad, a truck driver), I enrolled in Allegheny College, a private, four-year liberal arts school nestled in a small Pennsylvania town of bars and churches.

Now, four years later and $40,000 in debt, I'm still going to school, this time at more urban (i.e. more expensive) private school, Sarah Lawrence. As if my mounting debt and larger-than-life-interest rates weren't bad enough, I'm going to school for creative nonfiction writing -- a field I've loved since high school and came to appreciate in undergrad, but which offers little direction or lucrative endeavors after these next two years of grad school.

I am lucky, though. I've had some sort of serendipitous circumstances -- financial and otherwise -- which have encouraged me to pursue my unconventional career despite the insecurity of the future job market and steep cost of tuition. While there may be no room for writers like me, I've still been given space. I've been published here and there. I've had excellent mentors. I won a writing award. I cashed in my Roth IRA savings for a plane ticket to Greece, a gamble which helped write my senior thesis.

The problem with me is that money never seemed important or essential; I always thought I could make whatever I wanted a reality through talent and initiative. But really, I have so many loans -- subsidized and unsubsidized; Perkins and PLUS -- at so many different and variable interest rates that I can't keep them straight or find them all listed online in one clear, concise venue. The whole borrowing experience is vague and confusing and seemingly more innocuous than I know it will be once I graduate. And that scares me.

But why are my poor peers and I being punished for wanting to do what we love in the first place? Is my generation not one of information-hungry self-starters? Are we not the focused dreamers raised on Harry Potter and ADHD medication? Really though, why are we encouraged to make something of ourselves -- whatever we want -- and then punished for the rest of our lives with bills that far outweigh the original cost of tuition?

I'm all for paying high prices for good value -- and my education was certainly of quality -- but I'm not in the market to be abused. From interest rates to the ease of borrowing, to confusion of terms and steadily climbing price of college tuition, I guess I have to thank all of the higher education system while I have the floor to speak. To the loan companies, the banks and private colleges: thank you. I and my peers will forever be indebted to you.