Like most American students, my entire life I was told I could “be anything I wanted to be.” Teachers, parents, mentors, counselors, and coaches each help to impart this message to hopeful youth. With no ceiling to hold me back, I dreamed of a multitude of careers that would give me purpose and freedom and, most of all, money. I felt I was only limited by my own faults, and I fervently believed that if I could be persistent, diligent, passionate, and determined enough, that I would accomplish any goal I set for myself. For a young girl in alternative school with no parents, no income, and no guidance, this “be all you can be” mantra was the only thing I knew about planning my future.
I was raised in the North Georgia mountains near Chattanooga, Tennessee. My father was in prison most of my life for crimes against children, and my mother left me in the care of my aging grandmother when I was a teen and moved away a week later with no forwarding address. Although no one in my family had ever gone to college (or graduated high school with the exception of my father who completed a special education certificate), achieving a higher education was emphasized by my caregivers throughout my youth. By the time I graduated high school, I felt that I was adequately prepared for college. After all, I managed to overcome being kicked out of several schools, including alternative school, and graduated 14th in my class, with honors, despite my scandalous beginnings.
Like many young Americans, getting to college simply meant filling out papers, waiting, accepting, and making the grades when you get there. Money didn’t really factor into that equation. I received the Hope Grant, and as a ward of the court, I received a full Pell Grant. I did work study, and worked third shift through college. I was a model student, taking an overload of honors classes and making mostly A’s throughout college. Each fall and spring when I had to “pay for tuition,” I was told that my financial aid was approved, I would receive any additional financial aid amount on a student debit card, and everything was taken care of. Or so I thought.
I graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor’s degree in English. I chose English because I thought writing came naturally to me and I believed I would enjoy teaching. My first month out of school, I received a letter from my financial aid company. I had taken out a total of $36,000 to pay for my living expenses and my senior year of college HOPE had run out because I had taken a year of classes at a technical college before I transferred to the University of West Georgia. My first bill was over $900.
As a new graduate with a low-income job (I was working at a treatment facility for children suffering from mental illness as a result of severe abuse), I was floored to receive a bill that would be nearly my entire monthly income. I called my loan company, renegotiated my payment plan, and settled on paying $180 monthly for the next two years before my payments increased. This was more manageable, but it made my original $36,000 loan amount increase to $66,000 that I would eventually pay back. For two years I made my payments until I finally decided that my education was not enough. I needed to receive higher education to do what I knew I was meant for: advocating for America’s most neglected and unnoticed youth. I applied to the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work for their Master’s in Social Work and Nonprofit Management program.
My loans were placed on forbearance automatically since I was a student. With no outside support or income, I took out loans to pay for my education. I knew that under Bush’s new policies, social workers would be forgiven for their loans after 10 years of payments. I knew I could manage, immersed myself in my education, and graduated in 2011 full of hope and promise and that “be all you can be” American mentality. I received my master’s degree in Social Work with a certificate in Nonprofit Management. I tried diligently to find a job with no success. Finally, I accepted a position as an Americorps VISTA member, a volunteer who works full-time to combat poverty in low-income American communities. I’ve been a VISTA for almost two years, and I am assigned to the Boys amp; Girls Club of the CSRA. I love helping students. But when I complete my term as a VISTA, I am terrified of my loans. In total, I have taken out $78,000 in federal student loans, an amount that will more than double due to interest. My salary will always be between $20-40K, and I know that I will be in perpetual debt.
So how do I deal with it? Well, to be honest, I do what I’ve always done. Work hard, pay my debts, and help guide young people to make better decisions. Despite my loans, I have near perfect credit. I teach a financial literacy course to teens that helps explain the college finance system, as well as how to earn and save money, invest for education payments in the future, and manage your personal finance and debt. I never had anyone to teach me to make better decisions, but I will make sure that the students I teach never walk into the dark when they pursue their dreams. When I teach my students that they can “be anything they want to be,” I also teach them that that means they can be anything they can afford. Then I teach them how to afford it. My education has paid off in intrinsic rewards, and if success is valued by how meaningful and happy my job makes me feel then my education was worth every penny. But financially, I won’t actually know if it was “worth it” until time to retire. By then, I hope my loans will be paid.
Overall, when seeking loan from an agency, always make sure to choose a company that provides quality and reliable loan programs. Agencies like Mountain Summit Financial and Majestic Lake Financial provides you the best loan program that you need so you can pursue your studies.