The Cost of Higher Education

The Cost of Higher Education.jpg

I read an article yesterday that really struck me. A 37 year old woman who attended law school ten years ago, is suing her law school. Since graduating in 2008, she has not been able to find a full-time salaried job as a lawyer and is blaming the school for not providing accurate data on its graduate’s success post law school. Anna Alaburda is now $170,000 in debt with loan interest of 8 percent.

I can’t help but feel aggravated while reading this. Those who know me well know I am all about personal responsibility, and I have written articles previously on the need to take ownership in which university you attend, and the amount you decide to pay for your education.

During my senior year of college, I took the LSAT and applied to quite a few law schools. I got in to several, and liked one in particular. I had interned the previous summer at a law firm and had quite a bit of exposure to the profession. Once I had narrowed down my search, I started looking at how much money each school was offering me in scholarships/grants. When I realized I would need to take out $110,000 in loans for tuition alone (that doesn’t cover any living expenses), I had to rethink if it was really what I wanted. After a lot of thinking and talking to those around me, I decided it wasn’t worth it. A guy I had met the previous summer who was also interning at my law firm, had graduated over a year ago and couldn’t find a job making over $50,000- he had $150,000 in student loans.

Had I decided to go to law school, I would be less than 2 years out of school and probably just like that other intern, with over $150,000 in debt. By not going to law school, I have been able to advance in my career where I now have 5 years of experience under my belt, and can guarantee I make more money today than I would had I gone to law school. It has also allowed me to spend the last 5 years saving money, contributing to my 401k, paying off my student debt from my undergraduate degree, buying a house, and taking vacations.

I’m not arguing that this is the solution for everyone, and who knows what my future earning potential would have been with a law degree, but I am happy with my decision. I’m in a job I love, working for a company I love.

Student Loans and Personal Responsibility

Graduation Pic

We often hear about how to get out of student debt, but what decisions can we make to benefit our future PRIOR to taking on those loans? According to the Huffington Post, college graduates from the class of 2014 owe an average of $29,000 in student loans. While I don’t disagree that college is becoming ridiculously expensive, I do think we all need to take a little bit of personal responsibility in the decisions we make about attending college.

When I was a senior in high school, I took the SAT and applied to 10+ universities- about 50% of them private. I got excited when the acceptance letters to these private universities started rolling in. In a way, they felt better than the State school acceptance letters I received. It’s not like I was applying to Harvard or Yale, but in my circle of friends there was this status that came with attending a private university.

I was leaning toward a private university, when I had a sit down with my parents. They wanted to make sure I understood what I was taking on. While the private school did offer some grants, I would still graduate with over $75,000 in student loans versus less than $25,000 if I chose the state school. My parents encouraged me to think long and hard about it, and after weighing my options and visiting the state school, I knew it would be a good fit.

I had plenty of friends who chose the private university option, and many had a great experience. However, many of them graduated with over $100,000 in debt and got a job out of college making $40,000. Some of the schools I had looked at would have taken me nearly 20 years to pay back on a standard payment plan- that is a long time!

Now I am not against going to a private university, I think there are advantages to both sides. I just think we need to do a better job having that initial conversation. Prior to taking out these loans, we need to understand how much debt we will really be responsible for repaying and how long that will take. I think we are quick to jump on these universities and blame them for having us $150,000 or more in student loans, when we all are in control of our own education.