Sunday, March 11, 2007

College Life

By Parisa Esmaili

Meet Casey, a 20 year-old, golden blonde college student. With little curls at the tips of his hair, and blue eyes that often change to a green tarnish, he smiles and greets me with pleasure. He has a boyish charm that makes anyone who dares to look at him turn a “tickle-me-pink” color in the cheeks. For respect to an individual’s privacy, those introduced will be kept on a first name basis, because Casey is a sophomore in college and already is $25,000 in debt. Nevertheless, he says he could not imagine himself anywhere else.

The U.S. Department of Education says more than 30% of college students’ leave after the first year, and almost 50% never graduate. According to the Student Financing of Undergraduates report, more than one-half of all entering freshman received some type of financial aid from federal, state, institutional, or other sources to meet their educational expenses, receiving on average $6,200.

According to the report, one-fifth of those who borrow drop out and those who drop out are twice as likely to be unemployed as borrowers to those who received a degree. The average student seeking a four-year degree takes on significant debt, totaling more than $15,000 to $20,000 by the time they graduate.

Surviving becomes a balancing act: school, work, interning. For the most part, though, everything revolves around the work factor and the consequences of money. Some begin to think life at home might not have been as bad as it seemed. But, ask those students who feel like they are “barely getting by”; and almost all of them accepted these risks, and stressors by choice.

Academically, Casey goes to Marymount Manhattan College as a BFA Actor, currently taking18 credits. He also juggles 35 hours a week working three jobs: a waiter, assistant, and an usher at the Met Opera House. “My school schedule is Monday through Thursday; Monday and Wednesday all day, Tuesday in the afternoon, and Thursday early morning through mid-afternoon. Whenever I’m not at school, I’m working” Casey said.

With a schedule such as Casey’s, time demands to be of the essence, and as he is familiar, anxiety becomes one’s new best friend. “My financial situation rests solely on me; school, rent, bills, groceries, and “extra” spending money, if any. All me. So if I miss a day of work, I do feel like it could set me back considerably,” Casey said.

Including rent and bills, Casey spends close to a thousand dollars a month. “I really try hard not to stress about money. I came to New York, and chose Marymount because of their excellent acting program, and it had the best financial aid package. I’m also living in New York. My ideal plan after college is fulfilling my career in acting, whether on stage, TV, or film and I think that I’m slowly getting there. I'm focused on my goal, so the financial situations are just obstacles I have to deal with. I’m very happy with where I am and couldn’t imagine myself anywhere else.”

Isabella, another college student whose financial situation rests primarily on her own, agrees. “I know I have to pay for what I have, but I remember that I want it. I choose to have these things, so, I don’t mind doing what I have to do.” Isabella is in her second year of college, but technically stands on junior credits. The 19 year-old, with an elongated dancer’s body and soft curly brown hair, is an International Business, Economic and Finance major who says it is important to keep track of every dollar she spends and every dollar she earns. “I have a large financial responsibility that I make sure I have enough money to pay for all of my bills.”

Including rent and bills, Isabella spends close to $2,000 a month.

New York City tends to operate on a larger-than-life scale, and money is always an absolute factor in “reasons to not move to the city”. An average apartment in the city alone costs $1,600, literally giving someone living alone just four walls and a toilet. Utilities average $189 per month. It is no surprise many New Yorkers have roommates well into their fifties because it is practically unfeasible to live alone. According to the realtors and landlords of New York City, one must make at least 40X the amount of the rent. As a student, or minimum wage worker, no one can handle all these finances alone. However, thousands of people move to the city each year bringing the same idea of a dream, opportunity, change, and a new start.

“I could have gone to a state school on large scholarships. My parents would have helped me pay for more expenses if I chose something “easier”. Would it have been worth it, to take an “easier route” to avoid my financial stipulations? I can’t say for sure, but I really love the place I am in this very moment, and I wouldn’t change anything,” Isabella said gracefully confident.

College students struggling are aware of what awaits them after school and they handle it with dignity. It is just another part of life that has to be dealt with. Everyone who has it acknowledges debt after college. Constantly scrutinizing what is ahead prevents students from enjoying the years they are in now. It discourages the basic principle of going to school, learning. College and “growing up” require feeling the headaches of anxiety and aggravation. The value and experience we receive, some would argue though, is well worth it.

(Note: Students' first names were used throughout this article to protect their identities)

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