I attend college as an art major on thousands upon thousands of dollars in student loans, as many other students do. It is the only way that I can afford school since my parents cannot support me financially. I recently took a full time live-in University job that covers my room and board, and that helps tremendously, but I am still left taking out loans to cover tuition and books.
My problem is this: I love my major and would not think of changing it because art is an area that God has gifted me in. However, when I really think about my education, I feel guilty and irresponsible for taking out thousands of dollars worth of debt doing something that I could do without a degree. Not only does it feel financially irresponsible, it feels morally irresponsible as well.
On top of this looming fact, I realize that when asked questions pertaining to my future, I don't see a big money-making career ahead of me. In fact, the only thing I long for is to be a stay-at-home mother working or volunteering in not-for-profit organizations to help others. I have tried imagining myself in a thousand different careers, but when the "what do you want to be when you grow up" question is asked, my mind only goes to motherhood.
I get really nervous when my peers start talking about the jobs that they plan on getting after their diploma is handed to them and how having children is an afterthought to their careers because for me, a satisfying career is not something that I need to feel complete. My only goal financially is to be able to rid myself of this student loan debt as quickly as possible.
I have a boyfriend of three years, and the only reason that we are not married yet is because we are both still in school (which our parents would like to see us finish before anything else) and our financial situation is that, well, of college students. We have had discussions before of having children, but he will likely end up in the education field which does not provide so much money. While money is not something we obsess over, we both agree that we need financial stability before starting a family or getting married. Both of us have a lot of student loan debt, which is discouraging since I cannot get the idea of motherhood out of my head. I know that in order to have the family life that I long for, financial stability is a must.
But what do you do if your degree can't exactly support yourself, much less any other human being? And how should I respond to these intense feelings of guilt and these strong longings for motherhood? Also, how can you enjoy the growing part of being in school when student loans hang over your head? Am I being too idealistic?
I don't think you're being too idealistic. I think you're wanting to be practical, to make wise decisions. Luke 14 gives an account of Jesus talking to the crowds about becoming one of His disciples. He urges them to count the cost beforehand, using the example of a building project. He says,
Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, 'This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.' (Luke 14:28-30).
This principle holds true for many big goals, including getting a college degree. It's essential to figure your costs before you embark on an expensive education, both to know if you can afford it while in school, as well as to know what salary you can expect to earn once you're done (which significantly influences your ability to pay back your loans). Sadly, many in our culture go to school simply because it's what everyone does. Very little goes into budgeting or planning or figuring ways to pay as you go.
There is an upside to school debt: If you take out lots of loans, you can go to school now. And I'd be a hypocrite if I said financing higher education is inherently wrong -- that's how I paid for graduate school. But I'm still paying for it 10 years later. It takes a long time -- and adds a lot of interest -- to pay for a degree after the fact, especially if the jobs that degree leads to are low paying.
In many cases, it's simply not worth the cost to finance everything. Far better to work and go to school part-time, or work first, then go to school. But again, most young Americans just assume college is what's next and they go however they can, including borrowing the maximum amount allowed. That makes for a streamlined education on the front end, with lots of years of debt on the back.
Given that you're already in a serious relationship that is heading toward marriage, and that you know you want to be a mom, and that you realize few high-paying jobs exist for people with a B.F.A., why not stop and reassess your plan?
You have some good options. You could get married in the near future and then work while your husband finishes his degree (presumably working, too, at least part time to help with tuition and expenses). Then when he's done, he could take over the earning while you finish school.
Or you could take a job in your field, either as an employee or an apprentice, and start working your way up based on your skills and education to date. Then what you earn could go toward paying down what you've already borrowed and saving toward the future.
You could take a lighter course load to finish over time, or if you find a job with long term potential that doesn't require a degree, you could just work for now and decide later if it makes sense to finish your degree. If you can't find a job like that, you might just work in an unrelated field and cut back on your hours to where what you're earning is closer to what you owe for tuition.
Whatever you decide, I think a wise goal is to take on no more debt. If you want to get out of the hole, you have to stop digging. I've written about this before in the context of expensive degrees. It would be a tragedy if you got married and then had to postpone starting a family indefinitely so that you could pay back loans for a degree you're not even sure you needed to get the job that interests you.
If marriage is your goal, then that's what should guide your decisions about further study. Scott Croft is our resident expert when it comes to prioritizing getting married and keeping engagements short. As for further debt, Scripture is clear that it's never a good idea. Sometimes it can't be avoided, but it should always be minimized.
In your case, I think it's clear the downsides to all this debt far outweigh the benefits of getting your degree as quickly as possible.
Copyright 2007 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.