As my mother’s oldest child and my grandparent’s oldest granddaughter, I was going to be a first to go to college.
Before me, my grandmother had been the only formally educated one and she was my motivation. She grew up during the times of segregation and was the only one of her siblings to finish high school and went on to become a nurse. She had such a huge impact on her community and I knew I wanted to to do the same.
I went back and forth between wanting to become a doctor, dentist, and even a marine biologist (science is my jam) and I knew college was the way to get there.
No one in my family really applied the pressure for me to go to college, it’s just what I thought I had to do so I assumed the responsibility. But from as early as my sophomore year in high school, everyone had an interest.
Everyone had an interest but no one could truly afford to pay for college, so student loans were thought to be my only ticket at the time. You know, that “good debt”.
I remember going to speak with my guidance counselor about my college picks. I was eyeing a few in-state schools but I had my heart set on Hampton University, a private historically black school in Hampton, VA. I applied for and earned a few local scholarships but only enough to pay for a couple of books. I really had no way of paying for college but I got accepted and knowing my family had no way of helping me pay for the tuition, I took out student loans…the maximum amount.
That was the beginning of the financial damage I would do to my future self.
My first semester at Hampton was everything I had seen on a show called A Different World and more! I was making new friends, learning from professors that looked like me, getting good grades, and embracing my newfound independence and that included getting my first credit card. Although student loans had covered most of my living expenses, my mom would deposit money into my bank account every time she got paid for miscellaneous stuff.
But after one semester my 18 year old life changed abruptly. My step father left and my family’s structure and financial landscape changed dramatically. So I went back home to Annapolis to live with my mom and little brother to help my mom pick up the pieces.
Being back home when I felt like I should be in college like my friends was a tough pill to swallow. I felt cheated and behind. But I needed to get a job to help out and carry my own weight.
I got a job at The Home Depot and financed my first car, with the help of my grandmother who co-signed on the loan. Now that I was out of school student loan payments came due but didn’t fit in the budget I didn’t have. So I would apply for forbearance to avoid making monthly payments and kept doing it. To be honest I’d get the outstanding interest statements but would only focus in on the part that said “THIS IS NOT A BILL”.
I worked for about 2 years before I had enough. By this time I was working full time as a receptionist at a dental office. I worked for the best dentist! He understood my desire to go back to school, taught me most of what I know about dentistry, and supported my decision to apply to Bowie State University and drop to working part time at the office.
I was accepted and determined to finish my degree. My financial situation hadn’t changed so I took out loans…again…and maxed them out again. Using the refund check from the “surplus” on unnecessary shit.
I took out student loans semester after semester, taking the max out each time.
I graduated from Bowie State with a BS in Biology and a Minor in Chemistry. I was proud of myself but still I felt like I needed to play catch up to my friends who graduated a few years before. So I immediately applied to grad school at Johns Hopkins and took out the max amount allowed to receive another refund check.
I moved into my own apartment, financed another car, and spent money on a guy I shouldn’t have been dating with money that didn’t belong to me. It gets worse. While in grad school, my grandparents passed away, I ended up losing my job, my car almost got repossessed, and there was one month I actually faced eviction!
Despite all of that, I cash-flowed my last semester at Hopkins (only because I wasn’t taking enough credits to quality for student loans) and graduated with a MS in Biotechnology.
After a few more piss-poor money decisions after that, I started my #debtfreejourney.
Today I owe $134.1k in student loans, those loans accrue $25.15 in interest EVERYDAY,
I’ve completely exhausted the option for forbearance, and I’m currently enrolled in the Public Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program without any guarantee that the program will continue to be around or that my loans will actually be forgiven.
I look at my degrees and it brings me to tears sometimes knowing that I’m still paying for them…long past the celebrations. I don’t regret my education but I do regret mortgaging my future to achieve them. I graduated years ago. The debt lingers and the feeling of achievement is long gone.
This is why student loans are my biggest money regret and I will continue to share my journey to deter others from going down the same path.