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Here’s How I Ended Up in so much Student Loan Debt

Here's How I Ended up with So Much Loan Debt | Rose Colored Water

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Quite some time ago, my internet friend Purple wrote a post about her education and how it impacted her growing up. It made me want to write a post of my own because I know the way I was raised and where I went to preliminary school played a profound role in how I pursued higher education.

Public education

I started out in the public school system. I grew up in the boonies of Missouri with freedom to run and play in creeks, ponds, and fields. It was amazing, and I never realized how fortunate we were to grow up that way until I was an adult. Our school was made up of four small towns, and at any given time, we had around 500 students K-12. Most everyone was poor so we never felt disadvantaged.

I was the youngest in my class (late May birthday), but an overachiever and bossy britches. Around first grade, the school asked my parents if they would like to advance me into the next grade early because my maturity and reading level was higher than most children my age. It’s no surprise my mom was worried that I would be picked on and fall behind due to me being so young, so she passed on the opportunity and I remained with the class of 2008. Later on, you will see why this is ironic and funny.

So I was one of those textbook kids who was “never being challenged” enough in class. In 4th grade, the school system felt I needed to be tested for a gifted learning program they had, and after rigorous IQ testing, I made the cut (though just barely).

Being “gifted”

Once a week, I would leave class for the afternoon to go have fun with other gifted students. I never felt as smart as the other kids, but I loved feeling like my weirdness had a place. I think starting out this way was a huge factor in how I chose colleges. The summer of 8th grade, I attended a gifted camp at a private university for two weeks with a ton of other “genius” weirdos and had the time of my life.

It was in high school (9th grade) that I really started to feel like school was a waste of time and that I could be doing better things, like making money or going to college. My school only offered 3 AP classes, and I began to realize just how much we were at a disadvantage from other schools in larger towns with more funding.

I didn’t fit in well with the other kids because I hated the drama and gossip – and was too honest with everyone, and of course, I was a little weirdo. It wasn’t going well for me, so I looked for a way to get through high school as fast as possible.

Private Christian school

After Christmas of my 9th grade year, I told my parents I wanted to transfer to the local Christian school (made up of about 30 kids). It was homeschooling curriculum with the community-mindedness of a real school. It allowed for kids to learn social skills (though not many) and participate in sports, etc. Everyone worked at their own pace, and I had heard rumors that you could graduate early.

I wanted to be done with it all. Everyone thought I was crazy. Everyone thought my parents were crazy for letting me switch schools. However, by this time, my mom knew that my little independent self needed to spread my wings and fly! No one was going to hold me back.

The Christian school had its own issues, and I had some trouble to deal with once I got there. They didn’t like that I was working so fast, completing 30-40 pages a day in my workbooks while other kids were lucky to complete 10. However, I forged ahead and fought tooth and nail with them to graduate early.

Side Note: There was a lot of dangerous rhetoric in this school, and the guy I eventually dated was from this school. It was not a good situation for me and took a long time for me to escape. I mention this here because it played a huge part in where I went to college and how I accumulated some loans.

Right before I turned 17, I graduated high school with the class of 2007. Take that, Mom! haha! I wasn’t perfect, but my GPA and ACT scores were high enough to receive some amazing financial packages from a lot of private colleges.

And so the trouble began.

Private all-women’s college (2007)

Because I was not one to be lost in a crowd, but also someone who hated crowds in general, I chose to go to a small private women’s college about an hour from home. Everyone told me to live with my parents and go to the local community college, but I was not having it. No, no! I refused to go to some poor man’s school when I was ripe with potential! How naive and immature I was. The college offered me a mostly full ride between some great scholarships and a lot of need-based aid because my family was dirt poor, and I only needed one $3,500 government loan for that year.

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In the fall of 2007, I left for college with dreamy eyes and immediately landed on my face. I was bullied a lot for my Christian values (think far left liberals who have no understanding of tolerance), so I started going home every chance I could get. I also had that boyfriend back home, so he gave me every excuse to leave campus whenever I could.

In truth, as soon as I started being picked on, I didn’t try that hard to fit in. I was unhappy right from the start. I felt like a failure and knew I had made a big mistake.

My first semester, I got a D in college algebra and struggled in several of my other classes. Because of my poor GPA, I lost one of my biggest scholarships. At the end of spring semester, I left with my tail between my legs and headed back home.

Accepting my fate at community college (2008-2010)

I learned a lot that first year, but I refused to give up. The freedom that I had my first year made moving back in with my parents impossible, and I quickly realized it was never going to work. I started looking for full-time work and landed a sweet gig working night shift at the local assisted living community. (This is the real beginning of my nursing story.)

Even though I was so embarrassed to go to community college, I applied. It all turned into a dream come true because I could take evening classes with a mix of online courses and still work my shifts. I rented my first apartment and felt like such an adult. Everything was going great! Best decision ever!

Since that time, I have been living on my own and supporting myself. I am lucky to have a very supportive family who has helped me during some of the rough patches, but overall, I have been independent since June 2008.

At community college, I was so poor I actually made money from federal pell grants and was able to pay off my first car and that original student loan of $3,500 before graduating.

I felt like things were going well for me, but that boyfriend I mentioned earlier was a toxic influence in my life, and the dreams I had for myself were not what he wanted for us. He was controlling, verbally and emotionally abusive, and made me feel bad about everything I wanted for myself. I tried to break it off several times, but I was never quite strong enough to stay away from him while living in our small town.

I knew the only way I would ever escape that relationship was to leave town, literally. At 20 years old, there was only one way I knew how to do that.

Running as far away as I could to a private college in Maine (2010-2011)

In an attempt to get away from that toxic relationship and follow old dreams, I went to school in Maine to pursue Marine Biology. Again, everyone thought I was crazy – and I feel like at this time in my life – I was hanging on by a thread emotionally and mentally. Maine was great for my spirit, but bad for my finances. I shaved my head, got a new piercing, and completely reinvented myself.

Unfortunately, I didn’t fit in well there either for various reasons, though I made some really good friends. It’s because the school was kind of a sham. (Most graduates from there will tell you that now.) I switched my degree and course schedule to all writing classes and made plans to leave at the end of the year. I fell into depression as the long winter took its toll.

Because that college didn’t have a lot of money to give and was fairly new, I took on several government loans. I don’t remember how much it was exactly, but I went from being debt-free to about $14,000 in federal student loan debt.

Even though it was an enlightening year for me, I left Maine and headed back home. Again, I felt like a failure.

Finally realizing that the major doesn’t matter – I just need to get a freaking degree (2011-2013)

I went home to Missouri in May 2011 feeling broken, depressed, and like a total failure. I moved back in with my mom and dad while I figured out what I was going to do next.

By this time, I had been in school for four years and lost multiple credits due to numerous transfers. I finally realized I loved Missouri and being near my family, so I decided to put down some roots. This is also when I met my one true love, Motley Crue.

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Puppy Mots

I applied to several colleges in Kansas City, Missouri, deciding on another private university that offered a really great financial aid package. I started the last two years of a Communication degree when I moved there in August 2011. This is when I discovered the awful allure of private student loans.

Throughout the next two years, I took out about $12,500 in Sallie Mae loans and about $12,000 in federal student loans.

I was working full-time still the entire time I was in college (still at the assisted living community), but I was still depressed and feeling pretty bad about myself from that horrible relationship (which tried to seep back in the minute I returned home from Maine).

I took out the private loans to help me pay for a cheap studio apartment and make myself feel better (Accutane for my acne ($8000 w/out insurance) and braces (about $7,500)). That’s the horror of private student loans. They’ll pretty much give you whatever you ask for if you can prove you’re in school (at least that’s how it was in my day).

I finally graduated in May of 2013 (six years and four colleges later) with a B.A in Communication and about $40,000 in student loan debt.

The entire time I was in college, I knew what the loans meant. I knew they would have to be paid back. I wasn’t some naive student who didn’t know what I was taking on, and I knew I was one of the lucky ones. It could have been much worse and I could have went hog wild. I was lucky to have so much need-based aid due to my family being poor and a good job that paid decent the whole time. My expenses were fairly low except for the big ticket items I kept going after.

I don’t regret my student loans. I regret the path I took and getting a degree I rarely use.

Of course, I wish I hadn’t taken out private loans to use on Accutane, but I was more scared of credit card debt than student loan debt. I only had clear skin for about a year and a half and then hormones/stress brought most of it back, so it was a total waste of money. I will never regret the braces.

However, I don’t regret my government loans. I was a first-gen college student and wanted everything about college to be perfect. I wanted the college experience. I am a millennial and I wanted to feel “special.” Unfortunately, I didn’t realize until much later that college is a lot like high school and that I probably wouldn’t fit in with a traditional setting. That’s why I was always most successful as a non-traditional student – living off-campus and working full-time.

Even though I went to several schools and changed majors about a thousand times, I learned a lot through those experiences. It helped build me into who I am today, and I am adaptable, if nothing else. I loved learning, but am so glad that first go around is over. The second time around was much better and I was far more successful.

If you take anything from this…

…it’s that a toxic relationship can destroy your whole being. If I had been single during those first years, I would have finished my degree at least one year earlier because I never would have went to Maine. I probably wouldn’t have paid for Accutane because I wouldn’t have felt so self-conscious about who I was. I probably would have saved at least $20,000 in loans.

But here we are and I’m still paying them off seven years later.

Final thoughts

I am proud of my history and I know it all happened for a reason. I am a completely different person than I was then, and I would never put up with that kind of crap now (obviously). I made some poor choices and I accept them. I’ll continue working through them being proud of who I am and what I’m accomplishing.

One thing is for sure though: despite the outrageous price of college today, I was never preyed on by any of the schools or loan companies. I willingly went into those loans knowing full well I would have to pay them back. I also encourage EVERYONE to go to community college first. It’s too good of a deal to pass up. I have no problem with private schools. You definitely get more attention and better aid if you attend one. Just don’t waste your money on gen ed requirements. You can finish them faster, cheaper, and easier than anywhere else, plus it can all be online.

This is really long now, so I’ll end it. But that’s the story. I’ve been meaning to write it for a long time. That’s how it happened, my friends.

Here's How I Ended Up with So Much Student Loan Debt

12 comments

  1. Wow, thanks for sharing this. Your story seems similar to my wife’s. She came from a more rural background, bounced around a few different colleges in various states, and ultimately it took her too many years to get her degree, which came with a bunch of debt. Similarly, though, I think it did a lot to create the person she is now. Also, having to come back home with her tail between her legs is what led to her meeting me, so I’m fortunate things happened the way they did. I think this is a powerful story of perseverance and ‘trial by fire.’ Of course no one wants to incur the debt, but it sounds like you learned a lot about yourself in the process, which is invaluable.

    1. Thank you Adam.

      You are exactly right. Going to all those different schools and meeting new people helped me (a very narrow-minded person at that time) expand my horizons, and it all worked out for good, even though there was a lot of pain and sadness in it all. I don’t regret much of it. It also makes me value being in the military more than someone who joined right out of high school. I know how rough it can be out there financially without insurance, etc.

      And I think a lot of us that grow up rurally with limited experiences in the “big world” struggle to adapt if we go to colleges that aren’t in our region. I know I did. My parents were blue-collar and I struggled with moving into a corporate environment after graduation. I think it’s one of the reasons I joined the military – much easier to relate because there are so many people from different backgrounds – everyone is accepting and nobody judges where you went to college or what your parents did because so many people didn’t go to college before joining. It’s hard to describe.

      There’s a major learning curve when you grow up in the stix, and some people are better at adapting to it then others. I was not great at it. haha!

  2. i grew up in the sticks too, as you know. i remember i went 800 miles away to a college on a city campus right in the middle of the bible belt of virginia. i had some friends but was like a fish out of water and never really embraced the local culture. it’s a little like your situation i think. i thought i could do it all on my own and eventually did just that but i didn’t really take to the full time student thing. the result was graduation at age 30 as a part-time student with a full time job. that was from one of those fancy liberal arts school which was a fantastic education. it was just easier if my social circle wasn’t limited to college age kids.

    i can see all the parallels and you’ll end up better and stronger in the end for being self-made. so, you had to break some eggs to make the omlette that is you!

    1. Yes. I have a feeling we would be great friends Freddy! I feel like I can relate a little bit to how you got your degree with how I got this second one. I went to school full-time, but the Air Force was still my job through the whole thing, and I’m going back to that now. I lived my own life in my own place and rarely spent time with the students who were much younger than me. And I am so thankful to get through nursing school at 29, rather than 20. I wouldn’t have been ready for it then. I do find that I get along much better with people older than me too. I think that was the other reason I never quite fit in. All my closest friends when I was 20 were in their 50 and 60’s!

      Thanks so much for the kind comment!

  3. Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable and sharing your story. I think we all like to not share embarrassing parts of our lives on social media or blogs. I think it’s really awesome how open and honest you were. You had to deal with so many obstacles that I never had to deal with. And I think it’s really awesome to see how successful you’ve been and how you’re rocking things now!!

    1. Thanks Gov! I like to share the good AND the bad on my blog because I want people to know that I wasn’t always making $50k and I too had a degree that didn’t suit me well when I started out. I made some really dumb decisions, and I think there is a lot more that goes into why people choose certain schools than we think. I didn’t have a ton of guidance as a first-gen college student. My parents were so excited that I was going to college that they supported every choice I made, and they knew they would never be able to change my mind. haha! I think even they believed I would be able to get a good-paying job as long as I had a degree. It’s not just young kids that get caught up in that mindset.

      Thanks for commenting!

  4. Liz honestly your entire story from the beginning of college to where you’re at now is a true inspiration. it sucks being in the thick of the “lessons” we have to learn but man when you learn them good, they change you chemically on the inside and I do believe it is for the better. The growth is nothing short of amazing. And I think for myself and people like you, this why our advice is so important because we KNOW!!!! We’ve done the dirty work!

    1. Thank you so much for commenting friend! You are so right and thank you for the kind words! You are the best encourager and I’m so happy to have you in my life! We have worked hard for this and we are so much wiser than we were 5 years ago.

  5. Pretty heart felt. I can really relate with not fitting in during college and then getting a degree I wouldn’t use. I scored a sweet criminal justice degree and haven’t used it at all. Now I’m getting another with Military TA, literally anything generic to just check the boxes.

    I wish I would of held off dating young myself. It was just a total distraction. I guess it made me who I am, but I would have like to see what I’d be without all those distractions and toxic relationships.

    We all turned around though and you especially are about to kill it as an officer. Who’s laughing now? Lol we beat all the haters in the end. Nice write up, it’s nice to hear from the heart.

    1. I know so many people in the military with Criminal Justice degrees. You’re not alone. haha

      And totally agree about dating. Such a waste during that time in my life! I always try to remind myself that every failed relationship brought me to the place I am now and the heartbreak was worth it, but it is still a hard pill to swallow.

      Haters gonna hate, though! I feel like I am finally where I am supposed to be. It took several years, but worth it in the end. Thanks so much for commenting!

  6. Thank you for being so honest and sharing your story. Student loan debt is such a big issue this election but it’s not all bad and I think that sometimes that gets lost. Many of us got where we are because we were able to borrow money for school.

  7. Oh girl, I can relate to so much of this!! I too shaved my head and moved back in with my folks several times, ran away from bad relationships, and took out extra student loan debt to pay for non-school related things.

    I am different in that I was never in a gifted program. You go girl!

    Isn’t it crazy how our potential can be thwarted by misguided talent and destructive relationships?! One of the many things I’ve learned is that for most of us, life is messy and our paths can be twisty and turny. We eventually get to where we are most productive and purposeful if we keep growing with intentionality 🙂

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