Twelve 20-somethings chronicle their lives for WBUR. Learn more.
There has been a lot of debate since the recession hit and with the rising controversy over student loan debt about what is the exact value of a college education and the question “is it worth it?”
Let me begin by saying, I think the criticism is one hundred percent valid. College tuition has risen dramatically without check, and I think the entire industry needs an overhaul. The student loan business (which has been reformed to a degree) has made it too easy for people to get bogged down in loans they can’t hope to pay back and has allowed colleges and universities to raise tuition without the normal market check that most industries are subject to — that at some point the product is too expensive and people stop buying, which causes the price to go back down.
With the abundance and ease that one can get a student loan, there’s almost never a point where a prospective student says “enough.” To me, the question wasn’t, “Is this too much?” The question was, “What’s another ten grand when I already owe so much?”
College is not for everyone and there are plenty of meaningful and important careers that do not require a college degree. Maybe our society does value a college education too much, to the detriment of those other careers. The way society looks at a college degree may lead people who wouldn’t normally want to go to
college to take out loans they will never be able to pay back for a degree they will never use.
We’ve all met those “undeclared” undergraduates who never quite find something that fits. Heck, I went to law school with those people, who were there because it was something to do while they figured out what they really wanted to do. Unfortunately, they rack up major student loans while in the process of finding themselves.
I think we should put more value on those other paths.
Parents shouldn’t pressure their kids to make a decision; maybe let them explore more before submitting themselves to the never-ending pressure that is six-figure student loan debt.
Now, for me. I went to college and then got my graduate degree.
Was it worth it for me? I’m going to err on the side of yes, it was. Yes, I racked up enormous debt, the vast majority of which came from law school, which I “paid” for myself. And yes, I was unemployed for a while and I’m now making less than what I expected when I initially matriculated.
But, despite it all, college and law school was not just a solution to ennui or the result of a lack of direction. College was something I had looked forward to since I was a little girl and law school was not a decision made lightly but a decision made because of a sincere desire to be an attorney. While the path might have been bumpier than I was expecting, I am a fully employed attorney at this present moment, so it wasn’t for naught.
I loved college and it was absolutely the right choice for me. Going to college, more specifically Syracuse University (go Orange!), was the best decision I’ve ever made in my life and I would do it again in a second. I got an amazing education and made lifelong friends. To me, college was more than just classes; it was being on my own, learning to get along with people who grew up differently, being introduced to different cultures, traveling the world. I became an adult in college; I became me in college. I BLEED orange. The Syracuse University community was so much more than just a place I got my degree. I love my school.
As for academics at Syracuse, I was able to get a well-rounded education. I loved my majors and I think they set me up well for getting into law school. Beyond my majors — Broadcast Journalism and American Studies — I was able to dabble in different areas as well, including a Constitutional Law class that was, ultimately, my first introduction to what a law class would be like and, was the first sign that I really liked studying the law.
If I could go back, I don’t think I would change anything about my college experience (except for maybe take that History of Primetime Television 1960-Present class. That sounded amazing).
Now, law school, that’s where I got my debt. Was law school worth it? That gets a yes and a no.
As I mentioned earlier, tuition for universities and law schools has risen dramatically and the return on the investment has dropped considerably since the recession, because, as tuition has kept rising, average income and rate of employment has fallen precipitously. I put my self into major student loan debt for, as it turns out, only a marginal increase in salary compared to if I had pursued a career in broadcasting (assuming I was employed).
At the same time, I would be lying if I said I regretted going to law school. I realized when I was in college that journalism was not my path and I was drawn to law school. I loved my classes and I’m proud of my degree and the work I put into it and into passing the bar. I really love the work I’m doing as an attorney and, as much as I loved being a reporter in Syracuse, I don’t think I would be as satisfied with my work if I was in broadcasting.
At the end of the day, it’s more important to me that I’m happy with my work and I’m satisfied with my life. I might have some major student loans but I can manage the payments (thank you, IBR repayment) and I have faith that things will only get better. I will get raises, I will continue to pay my bill, and maybe even save some.
Of course, if I was contemplating this question five months ago, when I was sure I would never get a job as an attorney, I might have a different view. I thought about it often. Should I get my teaching degree? Get a PhD? Give up and live with my parents forever? Fake my death to escape my loans and start over on a remote island?
But, at my core, I’m a positive person and I can’t help but feel like things have to work out. I’ve worked too hard to be a failure. I can’t be bogged down in debt the rest of my life, right? God, I hope not.