In kindergarten, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I told my mom (and anyone who would ask) that I was going to be “Rachel” (a character on Another World) when I grew up. I’ve always viewed film & television differently than my friends and family. Instead of taking an episode for what it was worth, I’d always tweak it in my head until it was perfect, even if that meant creating new characters and plots. So, it seemed typical that I chose University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA to pursue a degree in Writing for Film & Television.
I graduated in May 2010. And in my 9 months of college-less life, I’ve started to realize that college was a mistake. And although I’ve lived my life aiming to be regret free, pursuing my degree is that biggest regret I’ve ever had.
Currently, it costs $31,900 for one year at University of the Arts. Don’t forget the $7,800-$8,000 for one year in a dorm. Times that by four years to attain your degree. Did you forget your calculator? That’s A LOT. Don’t forget books, school supplies, food, etc.
My first year at UARTS (as it’s nicknamed) I didn’t worry too much about financial aid. Not because I have a trust fund, or wealthy parents. But because the nice people at Sallie Mae gave me a loan without having a co-signer, since I didn’t come from one of those families who paid their children’s tuition. I was on my own.
My second year, I was shocked to discover that although UARTS is located right along Broad Street in Philadelphia, they don’t have enough apartments for every student. There was no one to help find or pay for an apartment. Both of the roommates I had searched for an apartment with spent the summer pondering their academic careers, and both ended up leaving UARTS altogether. I was all alone.
I found a cute apartment that fell in the border of South Philly, and was in a safe neighborhood. It was an adorable one bedroom apartment that looked more like a cottage. It was $775/month plus utilities. As great as I thought my part time grocery store cashier job was, it certainly wouldn’t cover the rent. So … I ran right back to those nice people at Sallie Mae, who gave me an additional loan for $10,000 to pay my rent for 12 months.
By my third year, this financial aid stuff was starting to seriously sink in, and I knew I couldn’t afford another $10,000 for rent, let alone $20,000 for rent for two years. I had to pack my belongings and move home. Luckily, home is Harrisburg, PA and only 2 hours away. So, instead of using my loans to pay for an apartment, I was able to use them to pay for Amtrak train tickets, and commute two hours each way. It wasn’t the best situation, but I was making it work.
By my senior year, the economy had taken a nose dive. As I approached the finish line of my college career, those nice people at Sallie Mae (like all other lenders) had stopped being so nice. They were no longer just offering student loans to anyone. And they certainly weren’t offering student loans to me. After a few pints of ice cream and a bucket full of tears, I decided that I could pay for my tuition monthly. I’d pay this on my own.
I was able to quit my waitressing job and find a part time job making $10/hour, which was a big help. Even better was that it was a 24 hour a day place, and I could spent my weekend working 7pm-7am. In addition, I started donating my plasma to make the extra money for my tuition payments. Sure, I was running on fumes and my arms had red marks that made me look like a junkie, but hey, I was paying my way through college. It could only get better, right?
In attempting to use my grace period as a way to find a better job (and one with insurance) I started working at a bank. It’s only part time, because you must wait 6 months. It’s been 6 months, and no jobs are opening up. I’ve expanded my search, looking for full time jobs in the area, but around here, there’s nothing. I send my resume out to probably 20 places per day, trying to find a better job. I have dreams of moving to New York City or Los Angeles to jump start my career as a screenwriter, but it’s just not possible. My federal student loans are on hold, and I’m only paying my Sallie Mae student loans. My minimum payment is $620/month. I bring home about $650/month.
Altogether, I owe about $90,000. I know I’m supposed to remain optimistic and say things like “I’ll just pay extra every month, and it’ll go directly towards principal.” But it’s easier said than done. My current job isn’t helping pay off my student loans because I’m working at a job where you don’t need a degree. I’ve tried PR firms, I’ve tried local news, newspapers, magazines, etc. My dreams of writing a film or movie have turned into dreams of writing something. Anything. I’ve settled into the dream of working in the communications industry, but am having no such luck. If my student loans weren’t so high, I could save up to move to LA or NY and pursue my degree, but right now, it just isn’t financially responsible.
I was lucky enough to meet the man of my dreams, and we’re engaged. Without him, I’m not sure that I’d be able to pay anything besides my Sallie Mae student loans. We had dreams of buying a home, and decided to settle on renting an apartment. But, in order to pay my student loans, we’re living in my mom’s attic, still paying rent, but less than we would elsewhere.
My $620/month Sallie Mae loans will be paid off in 15 years. It seems like a million years away, but I know it’s better than the alternative. I’ve put my federal loans on deferment, so I think it’ll take 35-40 years to completely pay them off. Once I can find a full time job where I can make more money, I plan on making a double payment of my student loans, so instead of my usual $320 every two weeks, I’ll pay $620 both weeks. Then I’ll at least be a month ahead of the loans. It might not be a long term fix, but it’ll at least help.
Given all of that, and weighing both sides, I can honestly say that I regret going to college. I think it was foolish for University of the Arts to offer a bachelor’s degree in Screenwriting, because it’s more a skill, and it doesn’t give you the tools to find a job as a screenwriter. It should have been an elective, or a minor, but not a major. I think it was foolish for me to go to college in the first place, but more so to go for a major like that. I’m surrounded by co-workers who didn’t get a degree, and they make as much (if not more) than I do. I think it’s one of the saddest lessons to have to learn, and a regret I’ll have to live with.