The current value of my childhood home is probably less than amount of money I have borrowed in student loans. The fact that I am $100,000 in debt is so humiliating that I almost did not write this, and I feel like the size of my debt spiraled out of control before I realized how dramatic it was. Originally I chose to come to Tulane University because it was far from home, prestigious enough, and offered me a better financial aid package than my first choice (though not quite as good as my local state school, UNLV, which would have basically paid me to go there.) Freshman year went as planned, and between my scholarship, Stafford loan, and savings, my parents and I paid everything without trouble. Then the university raised tuition, and my mother took out a Sallie Mae Parent PLUS loan to help me pay it.
We have needed to take out alternative loans every year since. My junior year I studied abroad at the University of Durham in the United Kingdom, which is an experience I wouldn't have traded for anything, but is also what really got me into trouble. I was still paying Tulane tuition (which had been raised again, of course) and had the high cost of living in the U.K. on top of that. The ironic thing is that if I had paid what regular international students pay for tuition at Durham, it would have been cheaper than my Tulane tuition. Now for my senior year, the cost of attending Tulane has increased by $10,000, to $50,000 a year. Has my scholarship increased accordingly? Nope. My parents also split up the summer before I went abroad, and I no longer receive financial support from my father. The only increase I received in financial aid was a Perkins loan -- yes, another loan, just what I needed.
People ask me why I didn't just transfer to a cheaper school, why I studied abroad, and why I have taken on this massive debt to stay at a school that I have come to hate because of the apathetic administrative bureaucracy, particularly the financial aid office. I have met professors and friends at Tulane and Durham who changed my life and they are worth it. I also didn't want to suffer the shame of facing all my friends at home after being so proud that I was going someplace better than UNLV, and I didn't want to have given Tulane all that money and then not end up with a Tulane diploma. I'm not stupid, but I'm still not sure what I've gotten myself into and all those zeros are overwhelming. Hopefully if my mom keeps working her second job and I keep driving my jalopy Toyota around for the rest of my life, we can pay it off before I'm 80.