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Question 2

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

Photo prompt #2: A picture from graduation.

Paying back my student loan debt is single-handedly the biggest source of anxiety I feel around my financial security and my ability to build a new career in the future — and right now I’m only paying back my undergraduate loans, never mind the forthcoming graduate student loan debt I will take on.

I am six years out of college and still $45,000 in debt. I currently pay $500 a month in student loans. While this may seem like a reasonable amount for a 29 year old to repay each month — and it was at one point when I was still working my way up in the political world, each year making more than the previous — my current financial situation is vastly different than it was before. I’m making $20,000 less this year than in years past, while still responsible for making the same payments.

While I feel fortunate at times, because I know there are so many people out there my age with a six-figure student loan debt who can barely make interest payments, such a large monthly payment is absolutely stifling when you are trying to change careers and build a business.

Five hundred dollars a month means that I have to work an extra three to four shifts at the restaurant — time I could better spend studying for my nutrition course, applying to graduate school, or working on building my health coaching business. Five hundred dollars a month means less money I have to put into building my health coaching website, creating promotional materials so I can begin attracting potential clients, or even obtaining legal advice so I can get my business off the ground. I often find myself day dreaming about what my life would be like and all the different ways I could utilize that money if I didn’t have this debt hanging over my head.

It may come as a surprise that, despite all the stress and anxiety associated with repaying my student loan debt, I truly believe my education was worth every single penny. My education opened up doors that I could have never even dream would be in front of me. My education allowed me to be around a group of motivated peers that pushed me to reach my fullest potential. It provided me with a network beyond the campus walls, encouraged me, and gave me the support to pursue my passions to the fullest.

I would have never been able to reach the heights of my career without the support, encouragement, and prestige of my university and the wonderful professors that I had the honor to call role models. While I may currently be pursuing a different path in life, I think I would have always been left wondering ‘what if,” if I didn’t have the opportunity to explore the world of politics. I owe a lot of my success to the strong educational foundation I received at American University.

The one thing my student loan debt has done is give me great pause when it comes to graduate school.

I’ve started obtaining part of my Master’s degree in communications from Johns Hopkins University, but I am unsure if I want to continue with this program. The significant financial and personal investment one has to make to attend graduate school has made me reevaluate my graduate career.

As I struggle to pay off my existing student loans, I want to make sure my graduate degree will actually advance my career and not just be another ego-boosting piece of paper from a good school that pushes me further into debt. I will likely return to graduate school, but may put it off for another year so I can build my business and gain a little more financial security, so that hopefully I won’t have to pay my whole education in student loans.

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