Congratulations to Tessa, the winner of our Summer 2019 SDL365 Achievers Scholarship! Her distinguished essay “What’s Better: Debt-Free Living or Getting a Degree?” about the students and difficult choices they often make between debt-free life and dream career has impressed our judges! We are honored to offer her a $500 prize in our contest. Congrats, Tessa! To be a teacher is a wonderful role and we hope we’ve made our small contribution to your dream.
Until the day that obtaining a college education is free for every single person in the United States, it will be a constant struggle for students to choose between getting their degree or living debt-free.
Many students don’t have the luxury of parents supporting them financially past the age of 18, and the reality is that even with a part-time job, the minimum wage isn’t enough to cover both rent and tuition. Under the right circumstances, however, I do believe both are possible. In fact, I am an example of this.
Through careful saving and planning (including attending community college first and constantly searching for scholarships) I have completed my bachelor’s degree in English literature all out-of-pocket. My next step is my masters.
Saving for school has not been an easy feat for me. It’s meant working full-time during the summer and having three part-time jobs during the school year–juggling cashiering, babysitting, and tutoring six days a week.
It’s meant living with my parents and grandparents instead of paying for pricey dorm rooms like all my friends. It’s meant practicing delayed-gratification and putting my education first over fun purchases, like new clothes, vacations, or the latest phone. Yet, I push forward because I know college graduates earn a million dollars more in a lifetime than high school graduates, and that this number increases with each advanced degree (such as masters or doctorate).
At the same thing, I also realize that graduate school is near twice the cost of an undergraduate degree. I oftentimes question if I can realistically afford it (especially while apartment-searching at the same time). If I find myself short on money, I will gladly take out a loan to pay for this one-way ticket into my dream career.
While paying for as much of school yourself as you can is ideal, I think young people should not fall in the trap of having a bare financial record—no loans, credit cards, or debt at all.
Not only would this seemingly safe strategy prevent young adults from being educated about it when the time comes to use them, but it hinders them from having a sense of financial responsibility, such as knowing how to pick the right credit card for them, how to build and maintain credit, and how to spend wisely and pay off bills on time.
Even though I’ve managed to save up enough to fortunately not have to take out any student loans yet, I do have a car loan and a credit card I use for emergencies or to slowly pay off bigger bills, such as medical expenses.
Having these lines of credit since I turned 18 have helped my credit score skyrocket from zero and will help me down the road when I put a down payment on my first house or apartment.
With that being said, I also think young adulthood is the time to make financial mistakes and learn from them. My boyfriend went $10,000 into debt from school expenses and charged it on a high-interest credit card instead of a student loan.
At the time, he was young and naïve and didn’t have the resources (for instance, websites like yours) to research the best option for him. Together, we have worked on being more financially knowledgeable, and have since chipped his debt to less than half of that.
In this day and age, being fiscally adept is definitely a learning process. As a future educator, I will advocate for specific high school and middle school classes that teach personal economics and useful skills, from as simple as how to write a check to as complex as how to set up a monthly budget based on specific income, needs, and wants.
I believe you can truly have a happy and balanced life while still being in debt—as long as it’s the “right” type of debt (like a mortgage on a home) and it’s sustained in a healthy way.
The bottom line is this: while building strong financial habits starts young, students should not be afraid to pull out all the stops to reach their highest educational goals, and not limit themselves in any way.
Advanced degrees, internships, dorms, and out-of-state schools are all expensive, but worth their weight in the experience gained from them. Taking out a loan is not shameful, and can be done in a smart way.
I am thankful to know my options and soon settle into a role I’ve been dreaming of becoming since elementary school: a teacher. Thank you for the opportunity to apply for this scholarship!