Catching my breath and counting my student loan debt

I’m turning 32 next month, and I’m shocked by how much I like this decade of life that gets such a bad rap.

Having a baby and becoming a stay-at-home mom surely has a lot to do with it, but for the first time I can remember,

I     feel     like     I’ve     caught     my     breath.

Don’t get me wrong; I still have serious pangs  for my twenties.  The energy and freedom seem so far removed now that it’s almost like it happened to another person.  I guess in a way it did.

But I remember being constantly plagued in my twenties with a need to “one up” myself.  Whatever the accomplishment, the celebration was often lost in my desire for what came next.  What job’s next, what degree’s next, what apartment’s next.  When I met Tedd, I wanted to be serious.  When we were serious, I wanted to be engaged.  I wanted a house, a dog…and then of course, I wanted a baby.  On and on and on.  There was so much to do before I turned 30.  There were so many boxes to check.

Perhaps it has to do with being more focused on my son’s life than on my own, but I feel so much more relaxed now.  No one talks about what you want to accomplish before you turn 40 – at least no one I know.  The thirties blend in with the rest of your life, and suddenly you simply have things you want to accomplish before you die, hopefully many decades later.  I feel like I can finally take a moment and breathe.

But because I’m generally a high-strung person, I wouldn’t be me without obsessive self scrutiny,which is why this article in the New York Times yesterday made me pull out that old twenties to-do list.

The article is about how more young women today are taking a break from the workforce to pursue graduate degrees.

“Apparently discouraged by scant openings, 412,000 young women have dropped out of the labor force entirely in the last two and a half years, meaning they are not looking for work.”

The article considers a bunch of reasons why, but it made me think about my decision to get a masters degree, another thing on my twenties checklist I felt I had to do.

I think of my degree often.  Well, at least once a month.  Specifically when I get a bill in the mail that reminds me of the $40K in debt at which I’ve sloooowwwwlllly chipped away.

It’s a nice degree and all.  I enjoyed grad school, although I probably would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t working at the same time (read: secretly checking my blackberry through late night classes). But here are the cold facts:

1. I paid $40K to get a degree because I had no idea what kind of career I would really want when I chose my college major at age 19.

2. My graduate degree has become just another check mark on my resume just like attending college.  You either have it or you don’t.

So now even more people are getting degrees, meaning the value of mine continues to diminish.  Grad degrees are the new college degrees.  Awesome.

But do they really get jobs?  I know some do – Tedd’s law degree obviously was necessary, albeit ridiculously expensive.  But what about these women in the New York Times article?  Are they really making a smart investment?

“Those attending more expensive private schools, like Ms. Baker, will have an even tougher time guaranteeing that their educational investment pays off. Including the loans that financed her undergraduate education at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, she will complete her master’s program next year owing about $200,000 in debt. “

Here I am a person with one of these degrees and when I interviewed job applicants, I often saw many of the masters degrees on resumes as simply two less years of work experience. So what’s the point?

I know some graduate degrees provide critical training.  I am in no way trying to diminish the importance of higher education.  But I’d guess that a fair number of people are ending up with degrees that aren’t the investment they thought it would be.  And if you don’t think this isn’t important to you, consider this:

1. Our nation has a student debt crisis.  Millions of young people are weighed down by thousands and thousands in debt and that means they can’t buy homes, start families, or take critical public service jobs.

2. We know we have a growing gap between the haves and have nots.  If grad school is the new college, how can we expect those who are barely making it through high school or college to ever compete for the jobs you need to make it into the middle class?

Rather than just address student debt, we need to be asking whether the debt we’re taking on is actually worth it.

I am glad I have a graduate degree.  I learned a lot and I believe it’s an important line on my resume.  But is it worth $40k plus 10 years of interest?  Probably not.  And now I’m a stay-at-home mom with zero income (actually negative income if you count an occasional babysitter), something I never saw coming.

And that’s the problem with your twenties.  You are frantically checking boxes to get the next 60+ years of your life in order with very, very little idea of what those years will hold and whether those boxes will even mean anything down the road.

Oh man, is this what old people do?  Make obnoxious judgements about the bad decisions of young people?

Still, it feels good to be turning 32.

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5 responses to “Catching my breath and counting my student loan debt

  1. Reblogged this on Hello100blog.

  2. …if it were only 40K… :(

    • Such a good point! $40K probably sounds like nothing to many with graduate school debt, let alone undergraduate debt!! The more I’ve thought about this since writing, the more I know my real beef is with the cost, not the degree itself.

  3. Remember: your talent and experience means you hold all the cards — you just have to wait for the right time to get back in the game. Love you.

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