Managing Student Loan Debt: A Recent Grad's Story
I graduated in 2008 from a small, private university with a little over $60,000 in student loan debt. About half of that debt was from federal loans, and the other half was from private loans. I had majored in business and thought that I'd be able to get a high-paying job right out of school and pay off my loans pretty quickly. What I realized pretty soon after I graduated was that there weren't any jobs. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, six months had gone by since I graduated, and I still hadn't found a job.
Eventually, I started working in the retail industry and saving up a tiny bit of money because I lived with my parents. I decided to enroll in an alternative certification program to get certified to teach math in high school. I had minored in math and felt pretty confident I would like teaching it. Plus, I heard there was a major shortage of math and science teachers. After completing my alternative certification program, a teaching job at a local high school opened up, and I started teaching 9th grade algebra.
Compared to what my friends from college were making, I was actually doing pretty well in terms of salary. I was able to make payments on my loans, pay for my apartment, and even buy a car. I didn't consolidate my loans because I wanted to pay them off as quickly as possible. Because of this, I ended up paying around $700 a month for them. So, money was tight.
I liked certain aspects of teaching. I especially liked working with high school kids. They're so inquisitive and full of optimism. I didn't like the way the school I worked for was run, however. We were basically forced to teach to the standardized test, and we were treated like children by administrators. After three years of teaching, I was beginning to feel burned out.
Fortunately, through a state program, I was able to receive $5,000 worth of loan forgiveness every year I taught, since I taught in a low-income school. After three years of teaching, I had gotten what I owed for loans down to around $30,000. Frustrated with teaching, I decided to consolidate my loans and look around for another job in the business world.
This May, I took a risk. I quit my job as a teacher, and I spent all summer looking for a new job. I applied to hundreds of positions. I went on five different interviews. I networked with everyone I knew. Unfortunately, I still haven't had much luck finding a full-time job. I've been doing some freelance writing lately and waiting tables to pay the bills, but I've had to defer my student loans again.
I'm pushing thirty, broke all the time, and frustrated. I've done what I can to pay off my student loans, but they continue to be a burden. I worry about not finding a new job soon, about them continuing to collect interest. My private loans just seem to be growing and growing.
Still, I acknowledge that I've been pretty lucky. For the past three years, I did have a job that allowed me to support myself and work toward paying off my student loans. Many of my friends haven't been so lucky. They've struggled to find jobs and had to default on their loans. Many of them regret going to college, and I often regret not saving money by attending community college for my first two years in school. Almost everyone I know wonders why the cost of education is so high.
If you're reading this, and you're saddled with a mountain of student loan debt, I do want you to know there's hope. The job market's getting better, and you will eventually find the job you always thought you would get when you graduated from college. It will just take time. Right now, let's just hope that the higher education industry, government, and private lenders listen to our cries. Let's hope that they do something to change the situation before it gets worse.
Karen Smith is a versatile freelance writer who also maintains her own business degrees blog. While her writing focus is trends in small business, she also enjoys writing about the challenges of job searching, continuing education, health, and more. Karen welcomes comments below!