Chained to the College Experience

By Meriem Cherif

It’s in movies, books, and the media. Known as the best four years of one’s life, you hear stories of wild parties, unbreakable bonds, and wacky traditions: the college experience. However, is our fear of missing out on this time of fun clouding our financial decisions? It is widely held that choices regarding money should never be emotional. However, this notion seems to be disregarded right when it comes to higher education.  Unfortunately, the promise of a “college experience” deters individuals from taking a pragmatic approach in their college decision, resulting in long-lasting consequences. Many students don’t even know what to major in by the time they enter a four-year, let alone the financial return of careers in that area of study. Universities advertise the opportunity for students to discover their interests on campus—but only after extracting thousands of dollars through required dorming freshman year, hidden fees, and astronomical textbook costs. In 2018, Student Loan Hero found that 69% of college students took out loans, owing an average amount of $29,800, which took them 21 years to pay off on average. In essence, one year of college fun equates to paying back debt in fivefold. Perhaps college is an unforgettable experience because its cost hangs over the heads of individuals as they buy cars, finance houses, and start families. 

We need to shift our understanding of financing college. No one buys a beautiful Rolls Royce with bad car mileage, a dead battery, and a missing driver’s wheel. In the same way, don’t fall into a lifelong financial burden because of nicely designed pamphlets, Tik Tok montages, and Day in My Life videos on YouTube. Attending college and choosing a specific school must be a well-informed decision, with thorough research going into understanding the return of a degree compared to the total cost of attending the school. In addition, consider the numerous other avenues that lead to a successful career. Although it may not have Division 1 sports teams or architecturally striking facilities, community college provides the benefit of academic experimentation without the guilt of a hefty price tag (and, by the way, is completely free for the first two years in California). In addition, vocational jobs are currently in high demand, and careers like a real estate agent do not require a college degree.

When it comes to paying for college, don’t give in easily. An abundance of resources online can help in making intelligent decisions as well as understanding the benefits and drawbacks of every path post-high school. Applying to scholarships, researching different loan plans, and more can aid you in financially optimizing your vision of a college experience, whatever that may look like.