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Question 2

Do you think that your college education was a good investment?

Photo prompt #2: A picture from graduation.

Would I do it all again?

If I did get some kind of Cosmic Do-Over (assuming I didn’t retain knowledge of the future that would allow me to tip off the appropriate authorities about the impending financial implosion and also make a few well-placed sports bets that would take care of my student loans quite handily), I probably wouldn’t change too much.

I would definitely still go to Brown. I loved being able to chart the course of my own education – a mixture of English and American literature and science – with minimal interference. Plus, there is a genuine sense of community and curiosity on campus. Folks there had a deep and abiding passion for what they were doing, whether it was making ketchup, singing Gilbert & Sullivan, or building synthetic biological components. Going back for Commencement always feels like going home.

This isn’t to say that an Ivy League diploma is any guarantee of immediate financial success. Some of my classmates are living at home; others have penthouses. I think most will turn out pretty okay. One of the weirder things about life after college, for me, was seeing this diversion in the lives of my friends. We used to all live in the same dormitories and drink the same crappy beer; now some of us jet off to Europe while others chew their fingernails and hope that the rent check will clear. You start to drift off into different orbits.

If I did it all over, I’d still probably go to journalism school. While I don’t think a graduate degree is necessarily a prerequisite for gainful employment these days (compare my bank balance with that of my plumber or electrician), I think it was a solid starting point for the path I did want to take. My undergraduate experience in journalism was limited to drawing cartoons for the school newspaper. I saw graduate school as a methodical way to wean myself off of the academic writing style that I’d become a bit locked into.

Instead of going straight on into grad school, though, if I had a do-over I might find some way to do a gap year program that wouldn’t break the bank — teaching abroad, working on farms, that sort of thing.

Of course, that would then put Alternate Universe-Me contemplating higher education in 2009, in the midst of the most violent throes of our recent financial turmoil. So AU-Me definitely has a higher probability of moving back to California with my parents for a while, where from there I suppose any number of things could happen: I get my old job at Disneyland back and am perpetually disgruntled behind a fake smile. I tutor children for the SAT. I get too deep into the illegal ferret trade and have to flee the state. And so on.

That, of course, is the problem of time travel and wishful thinking. The hero can never go back and just fix one thing. It always leads to unintended complications and repercussions.

Still, there’s the debt. I think I made good, solid choices in my education, but the debt remains.

When I was unable to make payments, looking at the balance of my student loans felt like standing in front of a vast wave about to come crashing down on my head. Now it feels like an annoying yet manageable chronic illness. But oh, what a pill to swallow!

I don’t think I’m quite qualified to spout off about how we should fix education in this country — something along the lines of certain European countries where there’s vocational tracks for secondary school and free college tuition sounds nice. But I don’t think the average American really wants the system — or any of our systems — to change, he just wants things to go back to the way they used to be.

At least there’s one thing those of us twenty-somethings mired in student debt have going for us: They can take back your car or house, but your education can’t be repossessed. Though I’m sure Congress is working on it.

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