08/15/2011 06:27 pm ET | Updated Oct 15, 2011

Student Debt: Only A Little Scary

With the rising costs of education, student debt seems to be as much a graduation requirement as course credits and thesis projects. Three months ago, I graduated with a degree in Biology, and $41,500 of debt (not including accrued interest). How am I coping? It's simple: pennies pinched, fingers crossed. Sure, it's a scary amount of money to owe, but it could be worse. My sister is about to matriculate law school at the University of Colorado. She'll "only" owe six figures after graduation because she can claim state residency after a year. Still, I have no regrets. I loved my college experience and wouldn't change a thing about it.

For now, debt is a necessary evil for the overwhelming majority of students that don't win full scholarships. The rising student debt goes hand in hand with rising tuition costs. At my alma mater, my senior year cost nearly $6,000 more than my freshman year.

That's one expensive graduation robe.

The price change did not reflect an increase in the quality of my education (it was already high) but I learned the increase was needed to make it sustainable. Last February, Hamilton College's VP of Administration and Finance, Karen Leach, explained the fate of every dollar in the budget. Student tuition only covers expenses for 65 percent of the academic year. The rest of the year is funded by generous alumni donations. Interestingly, the largest expense is not from construction or maintenance, but rather, labor. Faculty, administrators and staff members need benefits like health insurance (conveniently, another service with rapidly rising costs). You can't cut labor costs without sacrificing the quality of the Hamilton experience, which boasts a 12:1 student-faculty ratio (including some of the best professors in the country).

It made me feel a little bit better about the small mountain of debt on my horizon, because all that money was used to invest in my future. It took a few loans that I'll have to start paying off in 3 months, but think about it. When you buy a house, you take out a mortgage. You may even take out a loan on a new car. Why not take out a loan on your future?

Yes, times are hard, the market is weak, and it seems CNN would be better off replacing its news ticker with "We're all screwed," but that ridiculously expensive degree you've earned can help. Talk to your career center, talk to alumni in your prospective field and keep those fingers crossed. Then, make sure you donate something, anything, to your alumni office. Every little bit goes a long way to giving a student more financial aid so they can take out fewer loans.

And to the new Hamilton parents driving up next Saturday: rest assured, your money is being well spent. Oh, and don't be alarmed by the people dressed in crazy outfits. They're the orientation leaders, and they'll carry all the heavy boxes from your car.