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College: Is It Worth Being Crushed By Enormous Debt

As I was getting close to graduating from high school I remember getting peppered with questions about college and my future.

Where are you going to college?  What are you going to major in?  You don’t know what you’re going to do for the next 40 years?

As I failed to confidently answer each question the looks became more and more condescending.  Holy shit, Aunt Debbie… back off!

I’m a kid… 10 seconds ago I barely had the authority to decide what we were going to eat for dinner, and now I’m supposed to make a decision that will cost a fortune and dictate the rest of my life?  I need a minute, ok?

College man… college

Going to college is “normal” these days.  It’s viewed as some kind of wildly expensive rite of passage.  You graduate from high school and just kinda… go.

I wasn’t prepared for that responsibility.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do, let alone how to pick a major to direct me toward a rewarding career field.

When I asked our guidance counselor what I should be doing, she said, “do what you love”…  Well, I loved the outdoors, girls, and trying to find a way to buy beer (Shrug).

Shit… now what?  Well, I guess I’ll just go to college and figure it out.  What’s the harm in that?

So, off I went… blindly skipping down the path of normalcy racking up student loan debt by the semester.

Is it even worth it anymore?

The average cost for a year of tuition in 2017-2018 was $20,000 to $47,000.  As you can see, there’s a pretty crazy variance between in-state and private schools.

So, a 4 year degree could cost between $80,000 and $187,000, or more!  Woof…  I guess there is little harm in “figuring it out” as I went…

As I sit here, the concept of college is so screwy and what I’m about to type won’t make any sense the first time you read it… but read it a few times.

The college – job concept:  I’m going to take out a huge loan to go to school, so I can hopefully get a job to hopefully re-pay the massive loans I obtained to go to school… so that I could get the job in the first place?

Typing that was probably as hard as reading it so, read it again…   Ok, you’re back?  That’s insane, right?!

Oh, and if you pull that off, you’re considered successful!  How is this successful, and how and the hell is it acceptable for an 18 year old to make these kinds of decisions?!  I’m 33 and I’ve just confused the shit out of myself. 

So… Is it worth it or not?

Is college a smart financial decision?  Maybe yes, maybe no.  I’m not saying college is a total waste of money.  I am saying that blindly spending $150,000 on a worthless degree is in fact a waste of money.

Obtaining a degree can be a wonderful thing but, it needs to be carefully planned and researched.

If a kid wants to go to college, great!  Now, let’s prepare them for it.  Discuss careers, fields of study and the real financial ramifications of those silly little bastards known as student loans.

There needs to be some tough love too.  I would absolutely love to have a job in a field I’m totally passionate about.  I envy people who fit that description.

Seriously, bravo to you if you are working in a field that you are passionate about.  Assuming you aren’t drowning in debt, you are winning at life.  Bravo!

What’s heartbreaking to me is watching a kid take out over $100,000 in student loan debt to obtain a degree that will only make $25,000 a year.

Sure, little Jimmy has a passion for counting oranges but, he’s going to be broke and stressed out forever when he takes out $80,000 in loans for that orange counting degree.

Counting those beautiful oranges isn’t going to seem so glorious once Sally Mae comes knocking each month.  Poor Jimmy…

There has to be a better way

I wish I could say that I carefully navigated life to end up where I am today.  Honestly I didn’t, I got really lucky.

I was going to college but, I wasn’t accomplishing anything and had switched majors 3 times in 2 years.  My main interest was Thirsty Thursdays.

It’s pretty wild how important a social life is when you lack direction…I was having a blast though!  So, I had that going for me!

Luckily, I eventually realized that I didn’t have any direction and I wasted 2 years…  This is where that luck comes in…

Big Ol’ Male Nurse

The vast majority of my family works in the field of nursing.  Some are RNs (Registered Nurse) and some are LPNs (Licensed Practical Nurse).

Had this not been the case, I highly doubt I would have ever ended up where I am today.

When I realized that I had wasted 2 years, I knew I had to get my shit together, quickly.

I realized I could become an RN in 2 years, and I knew that there was a demand for the job and a nursing license carries a pretty decent salary.

(Gasp)

You didn’t become a nurse because you just love helping people?  No… I didn’t.  I knew that I’d make good money, not have a hard time finding a job and could pull it off quickly.  Becoming a nurse was a logical decision.  If that offends you… well, that’s totally a bummer for you.

It was a happy accident.  I didn’t plan to go to college to become a Registered Nurse.  I became a nurse because I didn’t have a plan while in college and I’m so freaking thankful that happened.

What I’d do if I had to do it again

This is one of those “hindsight is always 20-20” kinda scenarios.  If I had to do it all over again, I would do a ton of research.  What career fields exist, what majors are required to get into that field and what’s the salary range for that field?

Do I even need a bachelor’s degree to start in that field?  Is it possible to get in via a shorter, less expensive degree and then get reimbursed for getting that oh so coveted bachelor’s degree?

Company Reimbursement

As an RN I’ve learned that most hospitals and health care companies will pay you to go back to college.  Saaayyy whaaatt?  I kid you not, companies will actually pay for your tuition!  Pretty badass, right?

My current company pays around $4,500 a year in tuition reimbursement.

All I have to do is pass.

I get it, that doesn’t sound like much when you compare it to the average cost of tuition.  Good thing there are many new online programs that allow you to crank out courses for pretty cheap.

Also, why does it even matter how long it takes to finish up?  It’s free, and that makes my frugal brain giggle with glee!

Online College

I’m currently attending Western Governors University (WGU).  They run 6 month semesters and the price is around $3,700/semester.  WGU offers degrees in Business, Education, IT and Healthcare.

Do you wanna know the best part?  I’ll tell ya!  It’s self-paced learning.  So, that means you can go as fast or as slow as you want.

You have to take a minimum of 12 credits and can take a maximum of well… whatever you can complete in 6 months.  I’ve read stories online of people cranking out their MBA in 4 months!!  That’s insane and certainly not an expected outcome.

So far, I’ve been enrolled for 8 weeks and I’ve completed 12 credits!  At this pace, I will complete over 40 credits in under a year and have my BSN!!

But Online College is Soooo Lame

I get it, online college is definitely NOT the same experience as going to the real deal.  It’s just not.  I went to a decent sized college for a few years and it was a ton of fun.  I met some of my best friends and partied way too hard.

Yes, I had fun, drank too much and stayed out too late.  Did any of that help me get to where I am now?  Nope.  If anything, it delayed me for 2 years.

I still talk to a few of my college buddies but, we rarely see each other.  We all graduated, got jobs and moved away.  Life has a funny way of moving you on.

After graduation I met my gorgeous wife and the last great college memory remained… 2 extra, useless years of student loan debt.

The whole “college experience” was great.  It really was but, if I had the chance to do it over again, I wouldn’t have done it that way.

Community College Might Be That Happy Medium

Alright, alright… So you don’t want to stay in your room all day cranking out courses on your laptop.  I get it.  So, maybe community college is a nice compromise?

Community college in my home state can be as inexpensive at $4,700 a semester!  Now, that doesn’t include housing and the other items that go into the cost of college as we talked about earlier.

If the face to face experience is something you crave, consider this for a few years and save yourself over $20,000.  Trust me, you’ll appreciate not being crushed with student loans after graduation.

Final Thoughts

If you or your child isn’t interested in a trade school or learning a craft, then college is probably the right choice.  Obtaining a degree doesn’t mean you have to carry soul crushing debt for decades.  It can be done debt-free, with the right amount of planning.

Sure, it might not be as exciting as you envisioned, but I absolutely promise you that it won’t matter once you graduate.  Had my wife and I known these things, we would have saved tens of thousands of dollars and years of debt and anxiety.  Who knows, we might already be living that F.I.R.E life today…

Live and learn… live and learn.

Don’t forget to check out how did pay off that $109,000 of soul crushing debt!  If we can do it, I promise you can too!

5 Comments

  1. I think you raise a good point that college isn’t for everybody. That’s not to say not everyone would do well in a college-setting, but rather an acceptance that college isn’t the best path to get people to where they’d like to go. We’ve been conditioned to think college is the first step on a path to realizing our goals and the younger generations have paid dearly for it.

    When I look back on my formal education, I’m very grateful for learning what I did in the classroom. However, most of the skills I use in my current role were learned outside of that setting through free and open access to online resources. However, in my profession, my degrees helped serve as indicators to my employer (or potential employers) that I’m capable of doing the work required of someone in my position.

    Degrees are quite often just signaling devices for an employer. That’s the value of a formal education. That’s why you see companies paying outside consultants gobs of money to repackage and sell them ideas already created in-house: a third party can independently verify that a recognized brand has signed off on a person, project, idea, etc. Unfortunately, degrees most readily confer this recognition. But none of that matters if you’re pursuing a career path that sees formal education as lagniappe.
    Which leads me to agree with your original point: college isn’t for everybody. Not everyone needs a degree to get what they want out of life. Those people who don’t need it and end up taking out large amounts of debt are in a much worse place compared to those who made the same decision a generation ago. Eventually, there needs to be a reckoning of this mindset with reality. I think the ever-increasing cost of formal education will reach that point and cause us all to evaluate what we want and how to go about getting it.

  2. Some great insights here. I suppose coming from a country where my college was subsidised by the government, wages were low and competition to get in relatively low, spoilt me as I had no debt coming out of college.
    Now living in another country where college is subsidised again by the government and that cost is essentially shared through the tax base makes me believe the American model is most definitely broken. Those numbers are both scary and stressful. I couldnt imagine having started my career so h so much debt. It would have made a huge hole in my wealth creation and set me back easily a decade.

    • debtandcupcakes

      September 10, 2018 at 3:01 pm

      It’s cool to hear insight from other parts of the world. Our system is definitely broken and it’s strange how “normal” it is to blindly comply with it…

  3. Soul crushing, dream busting college debt is still hanging around my head. The job I now have, comes from a 2 year degree I grabbed in computers. I love my job. It doesn’t help I had no direction in college and just took any courses at the time. If you can, spend as little time in college as possible, so you don’t rack up the debt, or as you mentioned find employment that will pay for your courses.

    • debtandcupcakes

      September 10, 2018 at 7:12 pm

      I can totally relate!! I didn’t know what I wanted to do and fell into nursing school! I took so many silly classes… So many.

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