An Ivy League Grad Talks About How Student Loans Defer The American Dream


When Michelle Holshue graduated from the University of Pennsylvania she ended up on unemployment and food stamps. Not quite what she expected after taking out $140,000 in student loans. Does this story sound at all familiar? NPR interviewed the young woman, who shares her describes the new student-loan infused version of the American Dream.

An excerpt from the NPR piece: Buried In Debt, Young People Find Dreams Elusive

It ‘Isn’t Supposed To Be So Hard’

Holshue says she used to tease her father, calling him cheap for buying in bulk. Now, with a stack of coupons clipped to a refrigerator magnet and a closet full of toilet paper, she’s following his example. Despite careful shopping, she says she often has to put food on a credit card.

But even though she’s just scraping by, Holshue says she’s still living her dream. “It’s really hard,” she says. “Living the dream isn’t supposed to be so hard.”

Cliff Zukin, a senior research fellow with the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University, recently surveyed young adults who graduated from college between 2006 and 2011.

“Part of the American dream is that if you work hard, and you get an education and you apply yourself, you’ll be successful,” Zukin says.

But today, says Zukin, one-third of college graduates say that adage doesn’t hold true for them.

Young adults do report being slightly more positive about their own financial success, relative to their parents, Zukin says. But even so, he says, it’s troubling that more than of half of survey respondents say they “don’t think they’re going to be as successful as their parents were.”

Kids And Homeownership Seem Out Of Reach

Holshue says she expects to be paying off her student loans until 2034 — when she’ll be in her 50s. Like many who responded to the Rutgers survey, she does not see owning a home in the near future, if ever.

And much to her mother’s consternation, Holshue doesn’t see how she’ll be able to afford children.

Still, she says she doesn’t regret going to college, or her career choices.

“Even if I was a nurse working in a different specialty, I could definitely make a lot more money,” Holshue says. “But because I wanted to help those who need the most help, I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices.”

And of course, she says, sacrifice is part of the American dream, too.

Read more here.

As is often the case, the best part about this article was what I got to read in the comments. A lot of people kind of reamed this girl! They said the article was another ‘boo-hoo’ story from someone who went to a school she couldn’t afford.

Now this is clearly not an issue for our beloved celebs, but for those of us with hella student loans (myself very much included) is it our own fault? Or did we get duped (or Bush’d) out of something? Others wrote in that the so-called American Dream needs to be redefined, or done away with altogether.

I never complain about my student loans (although I do shed an occasional tear in the privacy of my own bathroom) because I loved my college and felt it was worth every penny/Stafford loan. But I’m curious to hear what you guys think, especially considering that this is an ongoing topic. Congress recently passed a bill allowing interest rates on student loans to remain flat, but that’s only for a year. And some people even say that this is a bad idea because it will only encourage students to borrow more.

This problem runs crazy deep, but I’d love to hear what you guys think.

  • Queenie

    Getting a college degree is still a privilege, not a right that everyone “deserves” just because they stand upright and breathe air. To that end, there are plenty of more moderately priced colleges and universities to choose from.

    It’s not sound financial advice to make any large purchase you can’t afford – i.e. house, car or education. I don’t agree with the interest rates that are charged for obtaining private school loans, at all, but it you can’t afford the re-pay, you can’t afford to go to that school. Period.

    • Queenie, thanks for commenting. And I think you make an interesting point, about a college degree being a “privilege.” Right now, I don’t think people see it that way. It’s more like an assumed next step.

    • Nat

      So it’s a privilege?Yet just about all employers are looking for ever more ‘education’-and dismiss those who have valuable hands on experience and job skills.When someone is an expert in their field,but only holds a 4 yr degree,and they aren’t hired unless they have a masters-there is something wrong.So much emphasis is put on what amounts to ‘a piece of paper with pretty writig on it’ yet true work experience seems to have less value

  • Sofia

    Preach! This is NOT a boo-hoo story. this is a real problem. there are TRILLIONS of dollars of student loan debt in this country right now. and that is NOT going to get any better any time soon. I made sure to go to a public university because I knew I wanted to go to law school (and there is absolutely no way you can go to a good law school which you need to do to get a job in this economy without shelling out $40K a year. hell, even shitty law schools cost that much) and I knew I’d need a lot of loans and wanted to make sure it was somewhat manageable. But just because Michelle chose to go to an expensive private college does not mean its her own fault. Its been instilled in us all that if we want to accomplish the american dream we have to go to the best colleges. She did what she had to do to get the best possible education, just like the rest of us, and we shouldnt be punished for it.

    Something needs to be done in this country to help students. There are very few students who won’t need to take out loans. I come from a family that’s pretty well off but that doesn’t mean my parents can afford to pay for college and grad school for all three of their children. Its a very real problem. I know so many people who question our decision to go to law school like “why should i go to grad school. i might as well start making money now instead of SPENDING money and being in debt” well if we all thought like that we wouldn’t have doctors, lawyers, and other professionals. Sorry, rant over lol

    • Sofia, thank you for a thoughtful comment. I think you’re bringing up a lot of great points. On the one hand, we see college education as a necessity (many of us) but then there’s the seeming impracticality of it all. IF the idea is to go to college to get a job to make good money.

      I went to college to learn about poetry. Mission accomplished. Loans outstanding, lol.

  • Diane

    I’m sorry, but I have little sympathy. I was accepted into a variety of high-end universities after high school, but my family didn’t have much money & so I chose a state college that I could somewhat afford. Could I have had a better career w/ a big-name diploma? Not necessarily. I paid student loans for 10 years even though I went to a less expensive school w/ scholarships & grants. I didn’t complain because I made the choice. So have these kids.
    I guess they weren’t math majors.

    • Diane, math is an important factor here. I do, however, remember a poster outside of my guidance counselor’s office that had a list of factors that should NOT impact your decision about college and money was definitely on that list. A lot of students are encouraged– not mathematically– but in a sort of vague, you’ll eventually pay off your loans kinda way. And maybe that’s one of the problems. Thanks for an honest comment.

  • Megan

    Yes, going to school is expensive, but many people go in hopes of getting a job. It’s not our fault if we graduate college and do not get a job in our field. We try. You don’t know when you go to school that you won’t be able to afford it. I don’t know ANYONE who goes to college that can afford to pay the bill when they graduate with the job they have before hand. I know several who go to college that have never worked. You go to school EXPECTING to get a job in the field you are studying. How many of you went into college with a good job?

    • Sofia

      So true Megan. You’re going to college at 18. WHO has money then? none of us. its why we’re going to college in the first place. because when we get out we expect to get a job (and the better the school, better the job. or so we’ve been told) that will help us pay for it. If you already had a great job, the opportunity cost of going to college would be too high and you wouldn’t go. College is an investment in your future for a reason. But now its because a bad decision to go to a good school? It shouldn’t be like that.

    • Megan, thanks for commenting. And you’re right. We all go pretty much expecting to be broke for the next 4-7ish years. The scary part is being broke for quite some time after that. And for a lot of people, that’s the reality.

  • Sarah

    I think there is not enough good education about how student loans can affect your life, or even how difficult it is to pay for college. What I learned in high school was basically get loans they are easy to pay off, low interest rates, etc. A lot of the information you receive can be difficult to understand, and I personally had no one to go to for help. My mom wasn’t around, my dad was all over my ass to go to school but thought it was my responsibility to understand everything, and get it done. He also provided no support unless I begged for, because I couldn’t buy food or pay my rent.

    I also had no one to co-sign on my loans, so I couldn’t take out very much at all. To get to the point, I had to work 35 hour weeks and try to go to school. It didn’t work. My grades dropped, I got booted, and couldn’t afford to take classes anywhere to prove I could be a good student, now I’m trying to get into good standing with my loans and barely staying afloat. The collection agencies don’t care, and never have any answers when I ask if they know of any assistance I could get.

    I do understand that I may have had other options, but I made some mistakes. I’m human, but the real world’s not very forgiving to those people who didn’t have a lot of guidance.

    • Sarah, thanks for sharing this comment. I think what we’re seeing here is that college is turning into way more of a financially responsibility than a lot of us expected. We thought it was about going to classes and studying and now there’s this whole other very serious, life-altering dimension.

  • Jay

    I was lucky enough to get both my undergraduate and graduate degrees covered by scholarships and fellowships, but most of my students are not so fortunate. It kills me to see these kids (or, more likely, their parents) shelling out tens of thousands of dollars for degrees that are essentially useless. I wish so much that these students and their parents would see through the scam that is the higher education industry and start to reject it. Then we could finally start changing some things. I would love to see vocational and trade schools flourish in the coming years.

    • Jay, you bring up something that I always think about– the “essentially useless” factor of certain college educations. One of the questions we’re all asking is “Is it worth it?” I’m grateful that I went to school not really expecting to make a ton of money afterwards (or knowing that it would take much more than a BA to do so), which is what I like about liberal arts. It’s a way of saying ‘come to school to learn and don’t expect a whole lot after that.’ But this idea of going to college and immediately achieving financial success does not work anymore for most people.

    • Kate

      Great response Melissa! I so agree with you and I find this article incredibly refreshing and thought-provoking. I feel much the same way you to about the VERY expensive education I received at top-notch undergraduate and graduate schools.

      Should it have been so expensive? Heck no! I blame that on government-backed loans artificially inflating the price of education and causing it to be more and more of a privilege. If the government got out of higher education, I think prices (and the amount of assistance schools are willing to give to poor and middle-class students) would correct themselves!

      As a public school teacher I see many of the same things Jay mentioned, but it does not in any way erode my support for an excellent, fully-rounded liberal arts education. I DO support the rise of excellent community colleges and in fact would like to go on to even further graduate education to become a community college leader myself. And I want to uproot my husband to go to a top-three school in that field, and may end up taking out even more huge loans to do so!

      But the truth is, it is scary. Food stamps are a scary prospect, and I know now why my MOST intelligent and gifted students are refusing to even consider non-vocational colleges this year. “What can I learn there that I cannot learn from my friends?,” they say. And I can’t give them an answer they will accept.

    • Kate

      Whoops!!! I meant Melissa, not Shannon! Sorry!

    • Kate

      Whoops!!! I meant Shannon, not Melissa! Sorry!

    • Debho

      Well, come on down to Australia then. It’s all about trades and hands on work here. Once you leave high school you either go to work, get an apprenticeship for a trade or go to uni to study medicine, law, teaching etc. We don’t just go to uni to spend four years learning about something that has nothing to do with a career, we go to commence our chosen professions straight away. It seems to me that college is just another four years of high school when you could be out there already earning while you learn. While we still have to pay to go to uni, it’s nowhere near as steep at the fess in the States.

    • Kate, thanks for the comment. The vocational issue is a great question. In a perfect world I suppose there would be a balance in the way we value all types of education. But I think (I THINK) you can still encourage your students to study what they are interested in at whatever school; regardless of what it is I’d like to believe that eventually hard work in any field pays off.

      Although, that’s kind of what we’re debating here :)

  • Alison

    I think it’s very interesting that students are being accused of financial negligence simply for buying what their boomer parents sold them about higher education being the best means of achieving success.

    What about financial institutions lending out (at exhorbitant interest rates) a jaw-dropping amount of hypothetical money that doesn’t physically exist? Is that at all ethical?

    • Alison, you’re bringing up a great point– who is responsible here? Parents, students, or the institutions? If we start with the institutions (and we probably should) I think we’ll see that there is a flaw in the student loan/higher ed system that makes it almost impossible to ‘succeed.’ And it’s because of what you’re bringing up– this “hypothetical money that doesn’t physically exist.” Thanks for sharing this comment.

  • jennifer

    I signed a contract with the military so I could get most of my school paid for. And even though I have my B.A. good luck finding a job with it. I’m going to go for my M.A. but until I get a doctorate I probably won’t really see anything from it. Too many people are getting degrees so it’s becoming harder and harder to find work with one.

    • jennifer, thank you for commenting. You’re right– the BA does not hold the significance that it once did. Which means more school for a lot of people. And that (to me) isn’t a bad thing at all. The trade-off via student loans is what’s become the issue.

    • Nat

      Bingo!The bar is set ever higher-yet extra education doesn’t automaticaly translate into a better employee.And many young graduates can’t afford or don’t want to bother with entry level jobs-the type of job that the previous generation used to get in the door and ‘learn’ the skills to climb the ladder.

  • Carl

    I went to a state school, the smallest (and cheapest) public university here in Michigan. My loan debt is roughly 33,000 which compared to many people isn’t much BUT, I’ve already had to defer them twice because finding a job (of any kind) has been so difficult, and I’m living at home with my mom while I look. I have applied to EVERY job I come across and get no luck. It’s frustrating, to say the very least. I’d love to move to an area where there’s more job opportunities but there lies the problem: I need money to move and survive, but I can’t get money without a job. And without any of that, I can’t pay my loans. Vicious cycle.

    • Carl, thank you for commenting. I’m sure this is a difficult time, but that’s what Moms are for, right? The cycle is vicious and I think it will take some practical AND imaginative thinking on everyone’s part for this to change.

  • Jai

    As a student currently in post-secondary, the argument about education and student loans really is a trap. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you enter the workforce immediately after high school and start a job/career that doesn’t pay very well, people will criticize you for complaining about your wage/salary when you “should” have gone to post-secondary. However, if you do as Michelle Holshue has done, and actually attend, people will criticize you for attending post-seconday when you “couldn’t afford” to.

    • Alison

      Very well put.

    • Jai, you’re absolutely right. I think that mentality can be attributed to our beloved American Dream. We assume that anyone can make it– no matter what– if they try really, really, really hard. But that’s a lot easier for some of us to say– and do– than for others. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this.

    • taniaq

      Jai, I totally agree!

  • KJ

    I’d like to hear everyone’s thoughts on the “experience” side of things. I’ve read a few comments on the importance of college and a lot of people say that it’s only about money and that if you have money, don’t go for the maturation process. It’s worthless.
    That kind of thinking drives me crazy… Had I not gone to uni, I’d feel like I’d never progressed out of the childhood/teenage phase of my life and into a life that’s my own, in a city that I choose and with the help of people my own age. It’s not all about $, uni is the time when you become an adult.

    • KJ, that’s exactly what I meant in my comment to Sofia. Some of us go to college just to study the things we’re really interested in (like poetry or philosophy or writing) and we know full well that it will be next to impossible to make money with that degree– even in a perfect economy! And those of us are a little less affected by what’s happening because we weren’t expect much more than a really good, somewhat enlightening experience.

      BUT a lot of people don’t get told to go to college for the organic experience that is knowledge, lol. They’re told that college = money at some point or another. And I think that’s a HUGE problem/lie. Thank you for bringing this up!

    • KJ

      How about a mandatory four year liberal arts degree prior to commencing any other, more specialized degree? Too radical? ;)

      So you want to be an engineer? First prove that you have a basic knowledge of politics, world religion, development & underdevelopment, social science, English, and a language of your choice.

      How different the world might be with this requirement…

    • KJ

      PS – Shannon, you always get the best discussions going.

    • KJ, I love it! But I’m hella biased. And I had a prof at SLC who thought all of us should have been required to take an economics course so we all could benefit from a broader education, I suppose.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying the posts! When I finished writing this one I thought this is ridiculous. This story really has nothing to do with pop culture or celebrity. It’s not even one of my artsy ones with pretty pictures, lol. But I fig’d I’d give it a whirl and I’m glad that so many of you had so many thoughts on this. Thanks for sharing your comment, KJ.

  • Ashley

    Students are having harder time to pay back loans then ever. Every school is expensive and require loans, grants, scholarships, saved money and etc. Some people are lucky enough they don’t have to pay it back or very little. More people are going off into the deep end by sleeping with rich people just to pay off school or get through school. America needs to have better education system K through 12 and in college. Government should also invest more into education.

    • Ashley, I like that you bring up an important point– that the education system has serious flaws beginning as early as Pre-K. And I saw a story on the news recently about girls and their college tuition sugar daddies… madness! Thanks for commenting.

  • Stef

    I think one of the many aspects in this issue is how students spend their money. I recently finished grad school at a private university, and my sum total of loans to pay back from both grad school and undergrad is about 30k which is a lot, but still a lot less than some of my graduating classmates who have well into 6 figures worth of loans. They also have cars, smartphones, a really nice apartment overlooking the lake, and go out every weekend to the trendiest bars in town. For the last 6 years while I’ve been in school, I have had the simplest phone I can find, no cable tv, the pleasure of walking everywhere I had to go or taking public transportation even though it meant I had to get up more than an hr and a half earlier than I would have needed to, etc. College may now be a necessity in the job market, but the college experience is a privilege. If every cent of that loan money went towards school and the bare necessities then less loans may need to be taken out for many individuals. However, if they prefer to eat out frequently or even have a few beers every weekend at the bar then it adds up.

    • Stef you brought up something NO ONE wants to talk about– mainly me! Which is another reason I don’t like to complain about my loans. Because I totally blew one large private loan in particular in ways that were completely irresponsible. I know many students do NOT do this but I’m definitely guilty and I’m glad you’re bringing this into the convo. Thank you Stef.

  • taniaq

    A college is a business. Plain and simple. Some colleges/universities are not all about educating the future youth of America, and it’s sad. Over the past 20 years, college education in my opinion has gone done hill. This is a result of greed on part of the college institutions, and the lack of standards at accepting students. Sadly, a bachelors degree doesn’t mean much anymore because anyone can obtain one. As result, some people feel forced to get a masters or a PhD degree in order to find a job. Now these people are drowning in debt.

    I’m not saying getting a college degree is a waste. However, this country really needs to do something about the sky rocketing tuition prices. It’s sickening! I went to the University of New Hampshire (a state school) and I’m from Massachusetts. I was considered out of state, so I had to pay more for out of state tuition, which I thought was ridiculous. I feel like if you live in a region such as New England, you should be allowed in state tuition instead of out of state. Luckily, I got a job when I graduated and now I only have 7 years left on my loans. Not everyone has this luck though. It’s sad when people can’t obtain the American dream and are stuck paying for student loans for 20+ years.

    • taniaq, I agree that higher ed institutions are businesses on many levels. It’d be helpful if we all had a better idea of precisely how the money is being spent, but everyone is still very much dependent on them. Or at least, that’s how we’re taught to think. Thanks for sharing your thoughts (and yeah, I always loathed that about out-of-state tuition!).

    • taniaq

      I feel like a good portion of the money is going to higher ups, making the campus look more attractive for potential/incoming students, and building more dorms so that colleges can accept more and more freshmen each year.

      I also wanted to add the idea of co-operative education. If more schools were equipped with co-op programs it would give students work experience and let them know if they like what they are studying. They would also have a better chance of finding a job after graduating.

  • When you say “gypped” you’re referring to gypsies…. is that your intention??? Weighty word to be throwing around…

    • jessica, of course that wasn’t my intention. But I should know my origins better– thank you!

  • Hannah

    I think there needs to be improvements on both sides. Higher education should be more affordable and constant tuition rises in an economy where people are making less money rather than more is something that should be addressed. However I think that education or more thought should be put in by the student taking the loan. Taking a loan is one thing, but you have to be practical on if you are ever going to pay it off. Personally I think taking 6 figures plus of loans is shooting yourself in the foot. Did you really need to go to that school, were you taking student loan money and blowing it on the newest iphone or laptop? And I understand, at 18 being handed so much money is overwhelming and we are all going to make mistakes.

    What I think would be beneficial would be a financial classes on not just loans but managing money in general. People might not be so quick to sign a document they didn’t read.

    • Hannah, I love the idea of the financial classes. I remember we had to take a student loan “exit interview” when we graduated and the idea was to help us prepare for what we were getting ready to pay back. But I did think that it would have been interesting if we’d had some sort of mandatory session like that earlier.

      However, somebody could argue that all of that info is in the loan documents, if you read closely enough. So it’s tricky! Thanks again for commenting Hanna.

  • Erica

    I’m going to throw one (controversial) thing out there because I haven’t seen it yet…parental assistance with paying for college. I didn’t read all the comments, but I read enough and didn’t see it.

    I’m fully aware that many families scrape just to get by and can’t save for their kids’ college. I know that I am DAMN LUCKY my parents saved as much as they could to send my brother and I. But I’ve also heard their frustration when their peers freak out about kids’ college and how all of a sudden it’s a burden.

    I think tuition bills are always a burden but it’s the lack of planning (if you’re financially able) that is making it tough. It’s like when people don’t save for retirement and all of a sudden in their 50s they’re complaining about how much it is going to cost.

    When my parents get upset about hearing other parents complain about tuition bills, they always say the same thing “when you have a child, you have 18 YEARS to save”. But a lot of people (who could have afforded to save) spend frivolously, then freak out about the cost when their kid is a HS senior, then expect assistance.

    Do I think the system is broken? Absolutely. Do I think college is too expensive? You’re damn right. But I’ve also been raised by financially conservative parents who believe that when you have a child, it is your responsibility to give them all of the tools to be successful. You do what you need to do to help get them off the ground, then you back away and let them either succeed or make their mistakes.

    And just to clear this up, if I’ve really angered anyone: my parents aren’t rich. They don’t have Bachelor’s degrees. They work hard, and they save all they can. We didn’t have the nicest clothes, and we rarely went to restaurants/to the movies/insert other activity that costs money.

    And that money they started saving for us to be able to go to college from the week we were born? It wasn’t a guarantee – it was something we got only if we fulfilled our duties as students. My brother got a 4-year scholarship but didn’t study enough his first semester. His GPA was below the scholarship’s requirements, so he lost it. That broke the free college deal with Mom and Dad, so he had student loans to re-pay. The deal also was for four years. I changed my major at the end of my sophomore year and that put me on the five year plan. So, I graduated with loans for that 5th year, also instead of the full ride I could have had.

    Again…I’m super lucky. But I see that it IS possible. My parents came from nothing – they were poor and started with no money. My Mom had to choose to stay in catholic HS when her parents couldn’t pay it or switch to a public school. So she took a job in a bra strap factory to pay her own way just to be able to graduate from her high school. When they got married, they bought one pan a week for their kitchen because that’s what they could afford (and it was on sale/a special deal with S&H stamps or Boscoving, or something). They came from nothing, they didn’t ever buy anything they couldn’t afford, and they saved enough to send 2 kids to college (one private, one public) because they see it as the right thing to do when you choose to have children.

    It’s possible. And maybe, given our culture’s tendency not to save and expect help (see: the current social security crisis), it should be part of the discussion.

    • Erica, I’m so glad you brought this into the discussion. And thank you for getting really specific about how your parents made this work! I think you are far more right than many of us (and many parents) are willing to admit. How many parents really made education THE priority in their household? How much are we willing to sacrifice (even little things) for education– which we all claim is so important? Great, great point.

  • Melissa

    I graduated May 2009 with $30000 in loans. I just finished paying off all of it a month ago. And it feels wonderful being 24 years old and not having to worry about that ever again. All my other friends still have a long way to go with $24000+. I did it by living at home, working two jobs, and putting every paycheck into paying back the loans.
    This is just my story. And I don’t feel bad bragging about it.

    • Melissa– you should be proud. If you worked hard to make it happen, it’s yours to brag about :) Thanks for sharing a student loan story of triumph!

  • gpgirl

    it’s so different from here.. my parents were the ones who sent me to school and majority of students here as well.

    we also saw a lot of foreign students in the university maybe coz the education here is more affordable than in their country.

    • gpgirl, where are you from? America is indeed notorious for really good, really expensive universities.

  • fmx

    Thanks for seperating out the white paragraphs into sections makes it easier to read.

    • fmx

      They teach us you can’t have a future unless you go to college so your highschool etc. can get more funding from the government for having higher college student entry quotas. A university will never say ‘no’ to a student (grades permitting) if they are willing to shell out money from a source or loan, or a student eager to learn. Nobody is there to say ‘no’ to a student and say, this costs this much, and you can’t afford it. Education cannot be discriminating in this way, so instead we tell them swim to the other side and see how much you owe.

    • fmx, great point! I definitely looked at my financial aid officer a few times and asked if she thought I should take out another loan. And what could she say? She has no way of knowing if I’ll be able to pay off the loans, and no way of knowing if I’ll graduate without them.

  • J

    Shannon, I have to say I think you’re one of my favorite bloggers EVER. It’s incredibly refreshing to see articles related to current events that encourages discussion regarding our society in the midst of all these fun articles about celebrities. Thank you so much. You.are.AWESOME.

    Additionally, with regards to the student loan situation I always found it very sad. Our society actively encourages these children and young adults to take on “good debt” by going to college, and then when the economy tanks and all of these unforeseen issues come up everyone blames them for being short sighted. It’s not an issue of being short-sighted; it’s an issue of lying to generations and generations of Americans. Lying to them and saying that the only way to achieve the American dream is to take on this massive amount of debt and then punishing the for pursuing this dream. Punishing them because they had the audacity to hope that their hard work coupled with the promises of an earlier generation would lead them to a more stable life. It’s unfortunate that so many kids fell in this trap. So many schools fail to teach their students basic finances and then people blame these kids saying that they should’ve known? They were kids with romantic dreams that were encouraged by their society,teachers,and schools. They trusted the adults, and now the adults poo-poo them for not having the “logic” to consider finances? They did, but some of the factors in their calculations were wrong because you gave them the wrong numbers and equations. Such a pity. Even a nursing student (“health care” jobs have always been toted as the safest path).

    BTW: I am also a student who applied only to cheap state schools and passed over the elite universities because of cost. I don’t think I’m better than my friends who decided to go to a Ivy League university and who ended up with more debt. I was just very lucky because I had factored in grad school when calculating my costs and knew I would have more debt for a longer period of time than most of my fellow students.

    • J, I am so glad you’re enjoying these posts. I hope you get this comment– It’s been a couple of days and I’m just getting to respond to some of you guys! I love that you used the word romantic and I love this notion of ‘good debt.’ I really wish we could all explore this one lie in particular concerning college education as the sole path to success. Granted, I say this with a degree, so I clearly bought into that on some level. And I want to know why!

      Thanks again, J. I love writing for such a dynamic, intelligent group of readers. You.are.AWESOME.

  • kristin

    i have very little sympathy for these people…

    i went to one of the best schools in this country which was private and also one of the most expensive schools in this country. i had scholarship offers from other schools but chose to go to the best one instead. this was a CHOICE i made.

    however, my parents did not save to pay for a 50k/year school for me and for my two siblings, so i have a ton of student debt. my parents make enough money that i do not qualify for need-based aid, but asking people to pay 200k for an education is ridiculous as well. (x3 for the three of us? we certainly did not have that luxury)

    1) be smart about it… my brother was in college a year after me and then i qualified for need-based aid but we were on top of knowing what and when we qualified for aid.

    2) and this is the most important one… get a job to pay it off. the woman in this article went into a field she knew wasn’t going to pay enough for her to pay off her debts… well then of course she’s going to have a tough time! i think americans are spoiled when it comes to life paths because guess what, doing what you love is a luxury unheard of in virtually everywhere else in the world.

    i chose to go into financial services, where i know i will be able to pay off my loans in a reasonable amount of time… but that was because my parents guided me in that direction.

    i’m sure most people here are not very financially savvy… but i will try to explain the most annoying thing i find about americans (i was born in nyc.. very american myself!)

    the gist of it is, we are raised to believe we can have everything. that’s not true. we can have anything, but not everything.

    as someone who studied math in college, i find it so frustrating when i see americans complain about how hard math is. yes, it is hard. that’s why people who study math or engineering or science (etc) get paid more… because why am i going to pay you more for skills that everyone has?

    and now everything is international… you have people in other countries who are willing to do all the “hard” stuff for much less… as much as it sucks for you, that’s the world we live in now. (you see it in the attitude of individuals [“why are the chinese stealing all our jobs?”] to the government as a whole [note that china is one of the biggest buyers of us debt])

    it’s easy and almost the american way to blame wall street (where i work) and our parents and the student loan system etc…. but you know what? america was based on capitalism and a republic government (we chose democracy)… people need to learn how to compete in an international world, and guess what? it’s not easy! it’s YOUR responsibility to know what you’re getting into.

    • kristin, thank you for an honest comment. I like that you point out a certain reality– that “doing what you love is a luxury.” There’s some real truth to that! And there’s a certain amount of awareness that a lot of us are lacking; I think it’s fair that you point that out.

  • ames

    my first time post on pitnb after reading for years… i think everything i want to say have been said… but still.

    i know this won’t be a popular opinion, but i disagree with the statement “living the dream isn’t supposed to be so hard.” it IS supposed to be hard. i wanted to be an artist since i was young but also wanted a college degree. i knew being an artist means i can’t realistically be in the financial situation i want to be in, so i made the choice to forgo the “hard life” and go into engineering, doing art on the side as a hobby. even then, i worked 3 jobs at a time in high school and college, just to cover my living expenses, and will be paying back my $50k/yr tuition in loans for a long time. but i can still live comfortably while i’m paying back my loans on the set plan.

    now, i’m not saying this is the way everyone should live, but i want to point out that living your dream likely means you have to sacrifice elsewhere. and you can’t blame your counselors, banks, president, or anyone else for the fact that you didn’t think about practicality.

    • ames, I’m so glad you decided to comment on this one. I had EXACTLY the same thought when I read that line. And I’ve also had those moments alone in the bathroom where I’m thinking ‘There’s no way it’s supposed to be this hard.’ But then I remember that I am the one primarily responsible for where I am right now and it is going to be hella hard to do the things I want to do. And that’s ok.

      So yes, I think you’re right about the ‘dream’ consisting of plenty of sacrifice. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts on this ames!

  • Sabrina

    I never understood the point of taking a loan to get an education. I am french and always felt blessed to be french because here I received a scholarship to go to university (the amount is based on the incomes of your family). I just got my master (is that how we say it in English?) after 5 years at university. I found a job in Paris, don’t earn much money but at least I am happy not to be burdened with a loan to pay off.
    It seems to me that in the US, if you graduate from a state school, your degree is devaluated and some doors can be closed because you don’t come from a top school. It doesn’t really work like that in France. Of course, we have private school but you don’t pay 50k/year, it’s at most 15k/year. And the thing is, here, we prefer work experience instead of degrees.
    The US should really modify their educational system because punishing people by forcing them into taking loans to have a better future doesn’t seem fair and right. Education is not a business, not a priviledge. It is a right that everyone should get access to, no matter your incomes. Like we say in french “les enfants sont notre avenir, donnons leur la possibilité d’avoir le plus bel avenir possible”. Translation: the children are our future. Let’s give them the possibility to get the brightest futur possible.

    • Sabrina, merci beaucoup! Je pense que vous parlez la verite.

      Ok, that’s all I got for French today :) But yes, America could learn a lot from France, but it would take a major dismantling of our system to make it so that good education is a right. That doesn’t mean it’s not possible though. Thanks again for commenting.

  • Steve

    I can totally relate to this story. My parents were unable to afford to help me with college. In fact I had to go to work right out of high school to help them out. I started taking night classes at a community college while working. I never stopped working while going to school but the money I was making was only enough to pay for every day expenses. Now 10 years later I have two A.A. degrees, a B.A., a teaching credential and an M.Ed. I have around $60,000 in student loan debt and I have not been able to get a job as a teacher for over four years now since I graduated. There are no jobs around.
    I’m beginning to believe that dreams are only for those who can afford them.

    • Steve, thank you for commenting. I think you’re bringing up a good point– the dream isn’t free. It definitely costs something and I think a lot of people are saying that now, the price is too high. And there’s some truth to that, although (optimist that I sometimes am), I can’t help but think– odd against us or no– anything is possible.

      Thanks again for sharing your piece!

  • Kat

    I don’t get what keeping the interest rate flat is a bad idea. How will it encourage students to borrow more? As for student loans, where I live we don’t even have that privilege of student loans per say. I wish I could “borrow” money from the government for my classes. I don’t think there should be a interest rate on it.

    • Kat, I think what some people are saying is that if students think its cheaper to borrow, they’re more likely to borrow and at greater amounts. I’m not sure if that’s true. But the banks have to put interest on it, otherwise it’s free money!

      Thanks for commenting, Kat.

  • o0Stacey0o

    I too have nearly $130,000 in student loans and was forced to leave my university of choice just so I didn’t near the 200 mark. We are force-fed that we MUST go to college from an early age, and that we won’t be able to find a job if we decide otherwise. So you go to college, and must find a way to pay for it. Its SO EASY to get student loans. So scarily easy. Tens of thousands of dollars just thrown at you with a few clicks on the computer and a signature. At 17 and 18, you have no clue what loans mean, and your aspirations of getting a high-paying job as soon as you graduate are fresh and invigorating. But reality sets in the closer graduation comes, and you realize, oh my god, I can’t afford this payment. And what makes it worse is that our parents or relatives have co-signed for many private loans (which I had, co-signed by my father), so their financial future is now strapped down by yours. People aren’t taking this loan epidemic seriously enough. If you want the housing market to pick up, or any market to pick up in the next 5 years, there NEEDS to be some kind of bail out or forgiveness for ALL students facing massive loan debt. If gamblers can bring their gambling debt into bankruptcy, why can’t students take their loan debt? I have ONE bill right now, will my car purchased out right and living at home, and that bill is for my Keybank Private Loan of almost $1,000 a month. I currently tend bar, and have two degrees: Women’s Studies and Philosophy. I don’t know if I’ll ever own a home, or when I will be able to move out of my fathers house. I am 26, and completely relate to this article. Thanks for posting about the issue!!

    • o0Stacey0o, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think, even though we’ve got a lot of opinions here, we’re all relating in some way because it is an issue. And I think it is important to consider personal responsibility (as many people have brought up), but also to consider what you’re saying about how easy it is to get a loan. I friend of mine used to call it (college/the student loan process) “insta-debt.” Just add water and you’re buried in it! Somehow, that has to changed, even as we all change the way we think about money.

      Thanks again for commenting!

    • vumpryrbeel

      I’m sorry for your situation, but what person in their right mind believes a Woman’s Studies and Philosophy major will be able to pay off over $100K in debt? Why should my tax dollars go to forgive the debt you foolishly took? I worked 2 jobs through college and got scholarships based on good SAT’s and a 3.8 GPA from high school and didn’t take any debt, I also majored in engineering because that is something where you actually expect to get a good paying job. Sorry to be insulting, but really how is that fair for people like me to pay for the mistakes of people like you?

    • vumpryrbeel, your comment is totally fair and many people ask that question today. Because the truth is, in America, we are all always paying for mistakes other people make! We are also paying for their misfortunes and their family members’ mistakes and somebody at some point paid for your scholarships– well-earned though they were. We’re all putting money in to a bunch of things (many things we do not know about) and all hoping it pans out! I do not believe there should be complete and total student loan forgiveness, but I do think someone should be able to study what they like and still, eventually… at some point make a living, lol. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  • testing

    I spent three years in the student loan industry, two doing tech support for the marketing team and financial aid officers. The last year I spent working on the repayment side after everything changed to direct loans and there was no more need for marketing department. I have dealt with the banks who gives the loans, the students who apply for them, the financial aid officers who certify them and the people struggling to pay them back. From these experiences I have a few thoughts I’d like to share.

    1) People need to stop blaming the banks. Most of the student loans in America are through federal loan programs, the government, not the banks, decided the terms and conditions of the loans. The real villains in the scenario are the school’s financial aid offices. These people claim to be advisers or counselors who are trying to help students afford college. In reality they are a bunch of grifters who work for the school and whose sole job is to get tuition money for the students from whatever sources they can.

    2) Students need to educate themselves before making the decision to go to a school they can’t afford for a degree that isn’t worth the debt. To get a federal loan it is required that a student do entrance counseling, but that process is overly simplistic and it is too easy for students to pass the “test” without learning anything. But there are tools available, our websites had calculators where you could put in how much you took per semester and see what your total would be when you graduated and get pretty accurate repayment estimates (both in terms of how much per month and how long until paid off) Again, this comes back to the financial aid officers who do not give students anything resembling an accurate picture of what their financial future looks like.

    3) For a lot of people college just isn’t worth it. Literally every single day for a year I would talk to somebody with over $40,000.00 in debt from an online school, that would come out to about $460 a month for 10 years to pay off there is no online school worth that, and the interest costs increase exponentially if you can’t pay it off in the 10 year standard repayment plan, any deferments or forebarances will just cost you more and more.

    The reality is before anybody decides to take on college debt they need to research how much debt they will need, how much it will cost to repay it and for how long…then compare that to the pay increase you can realistically expect from getting. I’m sorry but an associates degree from University of Phoenix is barely worth the paper it is printed, let alone $40K in debt.

    • kristin

      well said!

    • testing, YES! And thank you!