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February 06, 2013  | by: Natalia Weiner

Flickr (geoffduncan)

 

Kids learn from an early age that nothing in life is free. Life is an investment. But this doesn’t crack the windows of sheltered childhood realities until we are being shipped off via U-Hauls to college; the first time many students have been away from their parents for an extended period of time.

We are enticed by glossy brochures and multicolored school pride balloons; we are led through the halls of universities as if they were some sort of Narnia. Severing the umbilical cord between us and helicopter parents; we are free.

But when the clock struck 6:40am on May 8, 2012 our horse and carriage ride to adulthood and ultimately financial freedom turned back into a decaying orange gourd. According to FinAid and CBS News, this is when student debt crossed the 1-trillion-dollar mark.

Tell me about a monetary figure so massive I am unable to understand, I’ll change the channel. Tell me that I am going to have over 10,000 dollars in outstanding loans once I graduate from college? Now you have my attention.

Natalia St Jean and Gabrielle Caponigro from Loyola University Maryland were the two recipients of the prestigious Presidential Scholarship Award for the class of 2013. In previous years, this scholarship would cover full tuition. When they arrived dressed and pressed for the scholarship dinner provided for friends and family, they were told that 25,000 dollars was the maximum amount being offered this year. According to Caponigro, it was stated that Loyola University wanted to give more scholarships to more people in smaller amounts to help those who have fallen on hard economic times.

Rubbish. Nonsense.

Flickr (CollegeDegrees360)

 

There is a phrase in Japanese: Shoganai,meaning, “It can’t be helped.” Literally. There is absolutely nothing we can do to change this situation. This is what I thought, too. Until, I came across a student athlete in a core course my freshman year who told me, “Yeah, dude. Loyola pays for everything. I don’t have to pay tuition; I don’t even have to pay for food.”

Shocker.

It is a wonder that a school with an undefeated football team since 1852 (since, you know, we don’t have one) would be that much focused on sports. If our motto is supposed to be: cura personalis which means, “the education of the whole person” why would those of us who got 2100 on our SATs have to drop out due to financial struggles when a kid with a 2.5 GPA gets to stay and play lacrosse?

According to a New York Times article called: “A Generation Hobbled by the Soaring Cost of College,” Andrew Martin and Andrew Lehren write, “But even if student loans are what many economists consider “good debt,” an increasing number of borrowers are struggling to pay them off, and in the process becoming mired in a financial morass.”

“Good debt”? When in December 2011, “a balance of federal student loans has grown to 60 percent in the last five years”? I feel like I am listening to a cheap car salesman who has turned back the odometer so that I can’t see the real figures. The same thing is happening to students across the United States. A student from the article was even told that he would receive money back after college…if his parents took out a $42,120 loan.

So, now that we know who we can’t trust, we need to figure out who we can trust. CBS recommended sticking with federal loans, not waiting to pay on interest, and using a loan calculator in order to get a better estimate of what you are actually spending.

Above all, the best resource that I have been introduced to is FinAid. A sort of “Financial Aid for Dummies” because sitting in front of that FAFSA can be just as intimidating as being in a cage of hungry lions.

I am in my final semester of college, and I will have loans to pay back. There is virtually no way around it. But it can be helped, if I am smart about how I manage my debt.  Mike Konczal, a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, who wrote, “Stop Calling Student Loans ‘Financial Aid,’” states, “Students who take out loans aren’t receiving special favors. They’re making a financial transaction like any other.” If colleges are going to act like a business, then we should treat them like a business, and expect the best quality of service on the market.

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