Feb 7, 2015
I wanted to write something different about student loans
I was having difficulty choosing a topic to blog about this week. There were ideas rolling around in my head, but I had an itch to write about something different, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I wasn’t sure what. So, I turned to Ewan (my husband) and ran my quandary by him. And, of course, as only Ewan can do, he managed to point out a reality that’s right in front of my nose which I typically minimize. Maybe you do too.
Whenever we talk about student loans, we usually talk about the negative. How it’s weighted us down financially. How we’re stressed out by trying to cope with it. How it’s tough to figure life out when you’ve got it. All realities that are important and which I take very seriously here on Conquer.
I continue to give these realities serious weight, but he hit on something when he suggested taking a moment to talk about the positive things that we wouldn’t have access to if we couldn’t borrow student loan money.
(There are moments when my body literally buzzes with irritation that anyone would suggest I take a moment to focus on the positive things about student loan debt. This is one of those moments. My snarkmeter is shooting through the roof. Does such a thing even exist?)
What if student loans didn’t exist?
As I sat in the car, running my mind over this nugget, I zeroed in on this related thought: What if Student Loans Didn’t Exist?
What if when the end of high school rolled around, and we didn’t have funds set aside to help fund our education, there were no student loans we could borrow?
What if when we were enrolled in undergraduate, graduate, or professional school and there was an gap between the money we could come up with to cover our educational expenses and the total bill, there was no student loan alternative available?
What if instead of only asking what if we’d never take on student loan debt to begin with we asked ourselves what if student loans didn’t exist?
Stumbling into pitfalls
I have to admit that I’m having a difficult time writing this. There is a part of me that is attracted to the vilification of student loans. A part that wants to focus on solely on how my life has been challenged by the realities of coping with student loan debt and leverage that (and only that part of my experience) to help others avoid many of the pitfalls I’ve fallen into.
As the moments tick by I am increasingly aware that I’ve fallen into the pitfall of assuming that everything that’s stemmed from my struggle with student loan debt was and is negative.
Just one problem. If I’m being honest, that’s simply not the case.
Possibilities I accessed through student loans
Let’s just take a moment to examine a snippet of what I’ve been able to do because I could borrow student loan money.
Because I was able to borrow student loan money, I completed my Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Without access to student loans at that point, I wouldn’t have been able to graduate. If I hadn’t graduated I wouldn’t have been able to enroll in a Juris Doctor or Master of Public Policy program. Without student loans I wouldn’t have been able to complete either of those programs. If I hadn’t finished my Juris Doctor I wouldn’t have been able to sit for the bar exam and become a licensed attorney. If I hadn’t earned my Master of Public Policy I wouldn’t have been able to combine my legal skill set with my policy skill set to create this blog and complete countless tasks while employed.
And that’s not taking into consideration all of the relationships I wouldn’t have formed, life lessons I wouldn’t have learnt, perspective I wouldn’t have gained, or connections I wouldn’t have made if I hadn’t been able to walk through the educational doors made available to me using grants, scholarships, assistantships and yes, student loans.
What if student loans didn’t exist? Well, I wouldn’t owe a dime in student loan debt.
But I also wouldn’t be close to being the person I am today.
Because I was able to borrow student loan money my personal struggle with student debt is forging a strength of character that I’m not certain I could have gained any other way.
Because I was able to borrow student loan money, in addition to gaining education, mentors, friends, and acquaintances, I’ve learnt to have more compassion for people facing financial challenges, developed empathy towards people struggling with managing the emotional and practical realities of managing student loans, grasped the importance of taking responsibility for the consequences of my financial (and other) decisions, understood the necessity of doing thorough research on the short- and long-term impact(s) of my life decisions, and identified the very crucial need we have in our society to help one another through student loan repayment difficulties so that we can begin avoiding avoidable pitfalls more regularly.
And really, that’s just the beginning of what I’ve gained through leveraging student loans to access education.
I’m not saying that life with student loans is all cotton candy and lollipops.
What I am saying is that maybe, just maybe, we’ve focused so much energy on how tough it is to manage our student loans that we’ve overlooked the possibility that life without the opportunity to use student loans to access education might be much worse than facing life with student loans.
Because the truth is that student loans have given many of us the power to make life choices that have altered the trajectory of lives for generations to come (hopefully) for the better. Right now, today, the struggle may feel unbearable. But at least it’s a struggle that we have some say in, and we will always have a choice in how we decide to manage.
Clearly, I’ve got more thinking left to do.