On Student Loans and “Making It” as a Millennial

 
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I’ve been hustling since I was in elementary school. I worked my tail off from the first time I stepped foot in a classroom to the last, earning straight As, certificates of achievement, and recognition from teachers abound until my diploma was in hand.

I did everything “right.” I followed the rules, I got good grades, and I got into a good college. Then I hustled some more.

I completed two degrees in three and a half years, enrolling in a full-time course schedule at the local land-grant university, as well as working multiple part-time jobs and participating in multiple extracurricular activities. I got scholarships for my good grades and strong work ethic. (A $12,000 scholarship, even — but do you know what $12,000 got me in 2013? Not even a semester’s worth of tuition.)

Six months after I graduated, Great Lakes Student Loans came knocking at my door (er, email inbox) requesting that I set up auto-payments to work toward paying off my student loans, starting immediately and lasting until… well, they’re completely paid off.

The problem, however, is that for many recent grads… they’ll never be paid off. High interest rates on loans we were forced to take out due to rising tuition costs almost guarantee we will continue taking three steps forward and two steps back until we die atop our mountain of debt.

Follow her. She’s awesome.

Follow her. She’s awesome.

Right now, I make the minimum payment on my student loans each month—about $200. I wish I could pay more, but I’m balancing these payments with my rent, utilities bills, a car payment, three credit card statements, and, oh yea, groceries and gas, so I can eat and get to and from work. I have a job doing exactly what I went to school for, and I snagged a spot in the industry before I’d even received my college diploma. I have a salary and benefits. In theory, you’d think I would be able to pay more than the minimum on my student loans, but I can’t. No matter — I’m one of the lucky ones.

My minimum monthly payment is low compared to many others. See, even though when you add up my student loans, auto loan, and credit cards, I’m about $50,000 in the hole, I’m a lot closer to digging myself out than many of my peers.

I know a lot of millennials who are in more than $50,000 of debt just from undergrad. I had scholarships, helpful parents, and a few steady paychecks assisting me throughout my 3.5 years in the classroom, but that still wasn’t enough. And it’s not the case for most people.

So, when I see people of an older generation try to argue that if only we millennials had “budgeted better,” “worked while we attended school,” or “applied for scholarships and grant programs,” I want to scream. Because we did all that. We were conditioned to hustle from the moment we first stepped foot in a classroom. We did everything the older generation told us to do. We worked hard, we got good grades, and we pursued an education because these same individuals convinced us that’s how you secure a stable, full-time job.

This guy makes me want to pull my hair out.

This guy makes me want to pull my hair out.

Hey, Mr. Peanut — Kindly Shut Up

I could not have possibly worked harder in college or leading up to college. I could not have worked any more jobs or taken on any more credits without failing or burning out — and the people who knew me back then will attest to that. I did as much as humanly possible to avoid accumulating an even bigger sum of debt, working more than 30 hours a week (on top of a full course load) to pay for groceries, utilities, and a few fun nights out with friends.

And honestly, despite my pile of debt, I wish I hadn’t worked so hard, because sometimes I feel like I didn’t get the full college experience. Then again, the peers of mine who opted for nights out over part-time jobs and early graduation are in even more debt than I am.

So, parents, grandparents, crotchety old white dudes who have forgotten what it’s like to be young and broke, “Mr. Peanut,” and the five-hundred and five Twitter users who like what he has to say, kindly step off your high horse and shut up. I would love to have gone to college when tuition was $2,000 a year and renting a one-bedroom apartment was even cheaper. I would love to have “gone to a cheaper school,” but frankly, cheap schools no longer exist. The state of education right now is a disaster. Despite that, we millennials have persevered, lacing up our bootstraps and ignoring the barriers generations passed have so carelessly thrown in our way, hustling to get to the top, pay off our student debt, and create a life for ourselves. We can get there on our own, sure. And many have. But I think it’d be nice if you helped us pave the way.