02/21/2011 11:07 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

$33,000 in Debt


My single, full-time working mother doesn't even make $33,000 in a year. Even though I've worked since the first day of freshman year, I've only managed to make it to my junior year at Wichita State University by the seemingly saving grace of student loans.

As a first-generation college student, a college degree would be absolutely impossible without them. My family can't always cover their own mortgage, so I don't expect them to help me pay for tuition at the small, public university I attend in Wichita, Kansas. And WSU is one of the most inexpensive four year schools in the state.

While I know students everywhere are bearing the weight of student loan debt, I was unprepared for the reality that clicking the accept button on the financial aid page was addicting and often necessary. I find this terrifying since I live in a city with a relatively low cost of living. Loans were not only how I paid for my tuition, but how I caught up my rent, how I made those annoying car repairs to keep it running, and how I bought food, soap, and the one new outfit I allowed myself each semester.

I have so many regrets. My journalism major holds a bleak future making me wish I would have taken more credit hours freshman year when I had scholarship money or not gone on that spring break trip that caused me to miss work. It's too late now; I feel like I am barely treading water to reach the 124 hours required to graduate.

While I know eventually I'll make it across the stage, my biggest fear is not being able to manage money responsibly once I do. I lived below the poverty line before coming to college and I wish I would have learned from that.

Against common sense and people's advice, I have credit cards that are now both at their limits. I took out pay-day loans to get me from one minimum wage paycheck to the next.

I'm hoping one day I'll see what college has given me besides a $33,000 bill and I hoping Sallie Mae takes $50 payments.