Twelve 20-somethings chronicle their lives for WBUR. Learn more.
On an intuitive level, Macalaster was the only school that didn’t feel “wrong” in terms of overall fit. Academically, Mac was rigorous and had strong programs in my areas of interest. Financially, Mac had a 100 percent need-met policy. Culturally, Mac was small but incredibly diverse. Geographically, Mac was as far as I could get from home.
In that last sense, my college experience probably saved my life. Going to school halfway across the country from my self-destructive family — away from the open aggression and silent tension of my parents’ failed marriage, and away from the harrowing ups and downs of growing up with a parent with an un-diagnosed personality disorder — let me, for the first time, live as if I wasn’t walking on eggshells.
Macalester became a safe space for trial and error as I bumbled through the messy process of learning how to live without trauma. My college years became, as they become for many, an incubation period of rapid growth and development. In that sense, my college education is one of the best investments I have ever made.
I’m so intellectually driven that I think I would have gone mad without some sort of further study after high school. As proof: I ended up double-majoring in International Studies and English, and double-minoring in Hispanic Studies and Human Rights and Humanitarianism. Along the way, I found my sense of political consciousness and some of the few, close friends I’ve actively maintained contact with in the busy years post-graduation.
Now, a little over three years after graduation, I am happier and healthier than I have ever been.
So, if I look at my life holistically, I wouldn’t do anything differently.
But, from a strictly financial perspective, I wouldn’t necessarily advise others to do the same.
If you haven’t already gotten a Bachelor’s degree, I would consider trade school. Mostly because I feel that if you have already gone so far as to get a Bachelor’s, a graduate degree is more or less required to succeed in finding meaningful, financially viable employment.
Now, when I was in school, Mac cost less than it does today: closer to $40,000 than $50,000. And the 100 percent need-met policy with regard to financial aid — which continues to this day — meant that it was actually cheaper for me to attend Macalester than it would have been for me to attend one of the many local schools in Virginia, which had no such policy. In other words, the net sum of the debt I willingly and knowingly took on during my undergrad career was actually substantially less than the national average.
That said, it’s still more than I can comfortably handle given my current cost of living, salary, etc.
If I could do it all again, I suppose there is one thing I would change: I would have waited to take the GRE, which turned out just to be a lot of money spent on a test that my graduate school never even asked for the results of.
I do think that getting my graduate degree will increase the range of opportunities and salary levels available in my current career. I also believe that it will open doors to other career paths.
Depending on the path I end up taking or staying on, getting my particular degree may be a horrible decision in the long-run financially. On the other hand, it may also be the key to better financial health.
It is, in the meantime, more than “worth it” to me. I am glad that I didn’t go straight into grad school after college. I wouldn’t have ended up in the field I’m in now, where I find that being simultaneously grounded in a personal practice, professional practice, and academic study has lent an incredible sense of integrity and unity to my life.