I knew this moment would come. The moment when I would begin paying back my student loans, marking the end of my ability to consider myself a student, despite the collection of .edu email addresses which are still active. As my student loans have come out of deferral, I’ve been thinking about the student loan crisis and the recent upsurge in advice  encouraging students to graduate debt-free.
I was an undergraduate when the economy was booming. Jobs were plentiful, and interest rates were low. I graduated when it was still possible to consolidate federal student loans at a rate of 4% or less, but when the jobs were not as plentiful. Over the last eight years, I’ve been in and out of half-time status as a graduate student more often than I’ve been paying back my loans.
As I look around at my high-school and college friends, and mentally prepare for my 10-year college reunion scheduled for Spring 2012, it seems significant to me that many of them are buying homes and having children. This is something I’m not quite comfortable with nor ready for, partially because of my student loan burden.
My goal in college was to be well-read. My goal in part-time graduate school was to prevent myself from leading a 9-5 life where I came home at the end of the day and sat on the couch. I filled my time with classes, and when I found more fulfillment from classes than from my job, I moved into a full-time graduate program. Periodically, I received statements about student loans, but I never gave them much thought. After all, didn’t everyone have $20 k  or  so  they were paying off?
Concerned about the cost of returning to school full-time and taking on even more student loan debt at even higher interest rates, a friend asked me “Are you ever NOT going to pay back your loans?” “No,” I replied. I was confident in my ability to find employment post-graduation. And so I took the plunge. I took on more debt instead of saving for a house or future family.
If I pay my student loans off according to the schedule, I will finish paying them off in 2022, 20 years after completing my undergraduate education. Perhaps by then I’ll be a homeowner and a parent. And perhaps by then the cost of a college education will be affordable and the US government will have eliminated the 129 trillion dollar deficit.
I wonder, will student loans soon be considered bad debt, similar to credit card and other consumer debt?
New Haven, Connecticut in the USA
Heather Alderfer is an Associate Registrar at the Yale Law School and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus .