What We All Wish We Knew About Student Debt Before Picking A College

Go. It’s your dream school.

They’re the words many a high school senior hears as he or she makes decisions regarding the pathway to college. The senior is 17 or 18 years old, has never lived alone, never worked a job outside the service or retail industry and is alive with the excitement and passion that comes with college.

The high school senior might have no idea what $30,000 looks like or what it takes to make that kind of money. He or she doesn’t know the difference between a subsidized and a non-subsidized loan and doesn't know how to budget money appropriately.

Why would the senior know any of these things? He or she is but a kid. Still, the counselor will say, “Go. It’s your dream school.” The college recruitment officer will say, “Take out a loan. Go for it. It’s your dream school.”

In 2012, my year of college graduation, 71 percent of students entered the workforce in debt. The average amount each borrower owed back was $31,000 dollars. That is the equivalent of a down payment on a decent apartment or a house in many areas of the country.

Do high schools offer classes in investment and finances? Are teenagers given crash courses in student loans before they swear themselves off to them? In New York City, you can’t rent an apartment unless you can show that you make forty times the rent.

The broker will turn you away immediately, unless you can provide a guarantor.

No one encourages you to take out a loan because your dream apartment is out of your budget; they’ll just close the door on your face.

Yet, incredibly expensive private schools tout themselves to financially incapable young people with images of dreams and beauty and excitement and opportunity, whilst neglecting to inform them of the realities of money.

I don’t think anyone should be denied an education because of how much money his or her family has. I do think that if colleges were serious about their reputations and about recruiting the best students for their schools, they would begin to allocate their funds to make that possible.

If they don’t, it’s the moral obligation of counselors, and even recruiters, to inform prospective students of the realities of student loans and the hardships of beginning to pay back such incredible sums of money. Doing anything less is criminal.

It’s the purported misguidance of a group of naïve, impressionable individuals; it’s dishonest and it’s wrong.

College was one of the most beautiful times of my life. It was four years of unabashed, joyful living. While stressful and filled with hard work and emotional struggle, it provided me the opportunity to exist in an environment that cultivated my intellectualism.

It provided me a community of students and professors who felt the same way I did about literature. It breathed me new life and gave me inspiration and lifelong friends and the opportunity to travel.

I wonder, however, if that joy would have been as joyful if I knew that graduation meant I would be swearing my next 10 or 20 years to grapple with debt.

I had well-informed financial advisers around me. I had my parents, who put away my thoughts of expensive private schools quickly by showing me tuition rates and taking the time to explain to me what it actually meant to borrow 50,000 dollars.

It’s not fair to advertise expensive colleges to young people and practically manipulate them into accepting debt with fantastical images of “dream” schools. It’s not fair to hit these same students with astronomically high interest rates and inflict upon them the chance to ever declare bankruptcy based on these loans.

College is supposed to be an opportunity to expand your knowledge, engage in intellectual material and to begin to understand the world around you through an exchange of ideas. Instead, much of it has turned into a business and a money-making scheme that's designed to swindle the American youth with falsified images of success and beauty.

How do we solve this? It begins with honesty and an introduction to reality before a child can make the decision to borrow astronomical sums of money. Is a given college prestigious enough to likely offer a large return on investment? Is there a less expensive school with a similar degree of prestige?

Is community college an option for the first two years before transferring to a renowned four-year public university? Is it necessary to stay in a dorm and thus, pay double, if you could commute, instead?

Are these questions and topics points of discussion in high schools across America before seniors embark on choosing a college? I doubt it.

Older generations need to invest in the younger ones. It’s the only way the country and the world can continue to progress. Investment in younger counterparts begins with information.

For the student debt crisis to ever resolve, something has to change when it comes to how we recruit our young people for college.

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