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Chase the Diploma?

Do I need to go to college or not? Is that piece of paper worth the thousands of dollars it’ll take to get it? What do I do? Will I get a job? What about all the other things that go along with college; being on your own, the experiences, trying to figure out your place in the world?

High school was one of the best times of my life. I found myself and look back at those four years fondly with school, band, classes and friends. Balancing all of it was easy and I didn’t really have a challenge with any of it. I took a lot of fun classes, blow offs, my senior year as I got accepted in to Purdue University early that first semester and everything was set. School just wasn’t a challenge to me and I finished 32nd in my class of over 600+ with a 3.98 GPA.

Now I thought college was going to be the same thing but that was a wake up call for me. In college you set your own schedule and are responsible for keeping track of everything and I didn’t handle that well. Attending class, studying, you have to keep up with all that and that was something I didn’t have to worry about in high school. My first year of college I was at home still and that helped keep me on track as I took the basic classes and I did okay, but then I moved out.

I worked all through college but my sophomore year I moved out on my own and added all those extra responsibilities to my list. Now I had bills and groceries on top of school and work. Now, that is all good stuff that everyone needs to learn, but it was a balance I struggled with. I had a job in news in college but I’ll admit I wasn’t a great employee. I had some money struggles and it translated to my schooling also.

I was lucky enough to have financial support from my parents, but I still worked. The average student has to work to deal with their bills, spending money and anything else. Finances are tricky at every level of life but especially in college where you take in debt and get your first credit card. I was lucky enough to figure it out and not put myself in trouble but it’s a place where kids get hung up. Throughout college I was smart enough to put money aside in preparation for the time in my future where my loans stop being deferred.

Part of life is disappointment and heartbreak and I experienced all that. A break up with a girl friend I was living with, another one, a fall out with a family member, what am I going to do financially? It all took it’s toll and I ended up taking time off from school. I would start a semester and pull out because I couldn’t handle it. A couple of years went like that and there was a stretch where I thought I wasn’t going to finish my degree. My GPA tanked and I just couldn’t finish a semester.

Your mind starts to get at you when you spiral like that. There’s of course all the negative thoughts about trying to finish school, but there’s also your self-worth. Who are you letting down with the constant struggles? Combined with the heartbreak I was experiencing I was in a very dark place. Lucky for me my dad was looking out for me and got me in to therapy. I went to it for awhile and was able to get a lot mentally stronger and pull myself out of my funk. Finally I got re-focused on and was able to get back to school, improve my GPA and finish my degree.

Seven years, seven years from start to finish is what it took me to finish my undergraduate degree. My first year was paid for through scholarships in the fall of 2007 and it ended with me having to pay my own way because of exhausting all possible financial aid in the summer of 2014. 16,500 dollars was the amount of student loans that I piled up, but luckily was ready to pay it off and that didn’t hinder me.

All those struggles, all that debt, was it worth it? I’ve gone back and forth at various points because my career path isn’t necessarily one that you need a degree, but I do think it has helped me. I do think it was a pursuit I needed to make to really learn about myself and to become a much better person. I do think getting my college degree was worth it.

As of 2018 69% of students have student debt at an average of almost $30,000 and 14% of parents have more than $35,000 in student debt. I’ve seen it in my life with my parents still having student debt to pay off to this day. Even my brother who has a career in the medical field and making a good living taking a couple of years to pay off his student debt. Student loans are no joke and can be crippling debt with about 45 million borrowers owing over 1.5 trillion dollars. That’s where financial planning and awareness comes in that it seems a lot of students are left short of.

What career path are you going to take? That’s a huge factor in to deciding to pursue all of this. There’s always the debate about whether the college degree is worth it. As of 2017 the number of people with less than a high school degree is 57%, high school degree is 72%, some college is 80% and at least an undergraduate degree is 86%. That piece of paper still leads to better job success overall. Of course for an individual it depends on what field you’re looking at. For me it wasn’t necessarily a case but I still think the degree was worth it.

The regrets for me aren’t the debt or even chasing a degree that I maybe didn’t need, it was just about the way I went about it. I wish that I would have been able to give myself a tough love speech to be better prepared and just a better adult. High school was so easy to me and that made me lazy in college. I regret that. I still think about continuing my education to this day even with a pretty set career path.