11/12/2012 09:19 am ET Updated Jan 12, 2013

Student Loans: The Haunting Reality

When I took out my first loan, I felt like a kid in a candy store. There it was right in front of me, free money! Then you take out another, then another, and soon you are over $15,000 in debt without breaking a sweat.

Usually the number is even higher. $15,000 is what I needed to get through college, after going to junior college for two years and receiving a lot of financial assistance from the university. For others who do not choose the junior college path and do not qualify for other forms of financial aid, the number is insane. Borrowing money is a daunting decision. Once you take out that loan, a part of your future has been decided. Payments will start a year after you finish college, which sounds like a long way off as a freshman, but sneaks up fast once you become an upper classman. With the economy the way it is, you may not find a job within that one year "grace period." Even a small loan payment means making great financial sacrifices. If you do find a job, those payments will mean that you may not be able to save for a wedding, a house, or that trip to Europe you were dreaming of taking once you got "settled" in life.

Loans are a BIG decision. They can change so much of your future, dediding where your money will go years after you have graduated. For me, it will mean that I will have to put off that trip to Europe, give up my dream apartment and be struggling financially for a while. I will be sacrificing a part of my future happiness for education.

But, when it comes down to it, I would make this sacrifice a hundred times over. There was no other way for me to pay for college. Living without studying literature was not an option for me. Although a degree in literature is deemed "useless" by many, I cannot imagine my life without my professors, books and papers. The joy that a life of consistent reading and writing has brought me is indescribable. It was my dream as a little girl to study literature at a quality university. A strange dream, perhaps, but a dream none the less. In order to fulfill this dream, I would have paid any price.

My advice post-first loan naivety is this: Think, really think about why you are going to college. To me, it was worth sacrificing some of my future to live a dream. However, if college is simply fulfilling a requirement, this sacrifice may not be worth it. Then, there is the other more logical argument: A college degree means a larger salary. This is still true. But, going to school based on this logic and this logic alone may not be the best choice. Educated and uneducated people alike are often unemployed.

Don't let money stand in the way of your dreams. But don't just cash in loans because you think you "have to go to college." Although I believe that the pursuit of knowledge is one of the noblest and purest pursuits known to man, it still remains an option, and an expensive option at that.