It all started after high school. Well, obviously. I started at a private school in my hometown, that required that we live on campus. I got the biggest scholarship package the school offered, but still ended up borrowing $3,000 each semester, mostly for living expenses. I was able find a part time job tutoring at a local high school, and this made me feel that teaching was my real passion. At the end of my freshman year I transferred to a state university about a half hour from home.
Because of my grades in high school, my tuition was covered by the Florida lottery system. I also got a small stipend for books. Still I ended up taking out an additional $14,000 for living expenses. My sister was going to the same school at this same time so we rented a two bedroom student apartment the charged by the room. Most of these expenses made it possible to get the “college experience”, so I don’t regret them. I do wish I would have taken a job to reduce the amount of debt and get work experience.
Now $20,0000 in debt, I began applying to graduate schools. I had decided to do a Masters in Urban Planning. It was 2010 and I had already begun hearing how hard it was for new grads to find jobs. I though I needed to go to the best school I could get in to, to make sure I found work after graduation. I had also read about the public service loan forgiveness program. Most urban planners work in local governments, so it wouldn’t be hard to work ten years in a qualifying job. So I chose an out-of-state public university, racking up a total overall debt of $114,000.
I did several unpaid internships during school, but when graduation came I had no job prospects. This was typical. Many of my classmates continued working internships for as long as possible. Some took several part time jobs. Some were able to convince the university to create a low paying research assistant job. I decided to pursue an Americorps position. The pay was low and it was only a one-year position, but it would make for good experience, which was key in finding permanent employment. I applied for several positions across the country, but ended up finding a position in the same city I was already living. At the end of my year I was awarded a little over $5,000 to make a principal only payment on my loans. I consolidated my loans during my time in Americorps. Some of my interest was also payed at the end of my year of service. After Americorps I was unable to find a job and moved home to live with my mom. I took a part time job at Home Depot, and six months after moving home I found a full time job in a nearby city. I entered the income based repayment (IBR) plan and began making payments. The payments I qualify for don’t cover interest, so my interest has continued to rise. Now five years after graduation, my balance is currently $121,000. I’ve entered the PSLF program on a preliminary basis, and have served 3 years of the required ten years to date. With the current political environment however, I am worried about the permanence of the PSLF program, and I’m exploring other repayment options.