Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Leave My Dream School to Avoid Debt?
I'm currently enrolled in a wonderful college. I've been here for almost a quarter and love my friends, the campus, and everything about it . The thing is, I can't afford to be here. My federal loans are maxed out and I'm more than $7,000 short for this term alone. Chances are slim that I'm going to be able to find a cosigner for a private loan because my family doesn't have the resources, but I'm trying my best. For this year, there's not much I can do besides cross my fingers and hope that I can find the money to be able to continue taking classes since the money for housing and my meal plan is already distributed. My tuition is currently $10,000 a term because I am considered out of state. I can't move back to my home state and get in-state tuition because my parents have split up and moved to different states. However, if I can gain residency status I can cut that down to around $3,000 a term. The only way to gain resident status is to drop down to below half time and work more than twenty hours a week for twelve consecutive months. My grandparents live in this state and I could live with them and take just under half time credits at a community college and it wouldn't be too expensive. But that means I would have to drop out of my dream school, leave all my new friends, and probably graduate in five or six years instead of four. I can apply to be an RA next year which would cover my room and board, but tuition would still be $10,000. What should I do? Do I even really have a choice? I'm completely on my own here and the school can't do anything else for me. Would it be worth it for me to leave the life that I have built at my school just to keep myself out of future debt? I'm so scared and so lost right now.
As are we all, dear Sparkler, at the moment when we find ourselves alone, uncertain, and listening to the distinctly distressing sound of our dreams being flushed down the Toilet of Financially Fettered Reality.
But as scared and lost as you feel right now, you're also smart, resourceful, and sensible, and darling, you're ready for this. You can handle this. You just have to take the last step, and accept that you do have a choice—but that attending this school right now, and paying out-of-state tuition, is not among your options.
I know—I know, I know—that this is really hard, not least because we live in a world where the concept of a "dream college" is such a thing, and where achieving that dream is supposed to be worth it at absolutely any cost. But the truth is that the right education for you isn't just a question of a pretty campus, a thriving social scene, and a course of study you can excel in; it's about getting these things at a price that's reasonably within your means. The best education for you is an education you can afford. And even if you could somehow scrape together a loan to stay where you are, you must realize that the four years you spend living your dream aren't going to mean much if the fifteen years (or twenty, or thirty) that come after are spent struggling to dig your way out of the $80,000 financial hole that living your dream left you in. Being that deep in debt is no small thing. It makes it more difficult to socialize, to travel, to pursue your passions. It will delay your ability to achieve adult milestones: living on your own, owning a home, having a baby. It can even mess with your chances of finding someone to do those things with.
So when you ask, "Would it be worth it for me to leave the life that I have built at my school just to keep myself out of future debt?" the answer is a resounding yes. The life you've built at your school, no matter how lovely, is not worth crippling your ability to build a life after school—and the act of giving it up, no matter how sad, will make you happier in the long run. Yes, you'll have to navigate a new social scene; yes, it might take longer to get your degree. But these are small, temporary challenges, and they don't come at the expense of your dream. If it's this wonderful college you want, it will still be there a year from now. If you built a life there once, you can certainly do it again. And if you do, then it'll be even better than the first time, because you'll have the serenity of knowing that you didn't torpedo your financial future in order to be there.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.