Saturday, May 10, 2008

College Life

A College Education Or Just College Debt?
By Alexa Breslin

I can faintly recall standing online at Mrs. Field’s cookie shop. I was much younger and it was Christmas time; the mall was packed. I stood patiently on the never-ending line with my parents anticipating which cookie I would get. When we got close to the cash register, I pressed my face to the glass to admire the sweet selection.

The young man who had been standing in front of us asked the employee how much a cookie was. “A dollar seventy-five,” she replied. The young man looked down into this wallet and quickly looked back up. “It’s a sad day when you can’t afford a cookie,” he said sadly and walked away. I remember wondering where his mother and father were to buy him a cookie and why they hadn’t given him enough money. Now, I’m well aware. He was in college.

Going to college is no easy task, nor is it reasonably affordable, especially when you attend a school in New York City. Transportation prices are constantly on the rise, books can cost somewhere around $500 a semester, and just discussing tuition is a headache in itself.

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the most expensive college in the country is George Washington University, totaling a whopping $37,820 per year, or about 82% of the average middle-class family’s yearly income of $46,362.

“My college debt affects everything I do and every decision I make. I don’t have leisure thinking," says Jacqueline Massary, 20, a third-year student at New York University, one of the most expensive universities in the nation. "It makes me choose a major based on potential income instead of passion. It affects the jobs and internships I take, where I live, and how much money I can spend daily.”

In fact, not only does college debt affect the student personally, but family members as well. “I spend money, but it really affects the way my parents buy things because although the loans are in my name, they’re worried that because it costs so much if something happens, I won’t be able to pay,” Massary added.

With constant anxiety hanging over your head about the thousands of dollars you or your parents will one day have to repay, things that once seemed necessary turn into luxuries. For instance, getting a cup of coffee everyday before class can add up to fifty dollars a month. Add typical college habits such as smoking and drinking and you can easily surpass $300.

“I’m bad at saving money, but I’ve had to downgrade my expenses since I’ve been in college," says Janelle Jahnke, 21, a fourth-year nursing student at Villanova University. "In high school, I used to go to Starbucks at least once a week. Now I think I’ve been there three times since I started college. I shop at less expensive stores and I use my meal card as much as possible,” she added.

Between the endless expenses and barely enough money to make ends meet, you begin to give up things. “I used to go to a lot more concerts in high school,” says Ryan Donde, 21, a third-year business student at Montclair State University. “I haven’t bought a CD in years. It’s too much money. I need the money to pay for my car each month.”

I realize I don’t go out half as much as I used to. Between cab fare and beer prices, the amount of money you can blow on a Saturday night is downright unreasonable. Sweatpants, a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, and a pile of homework begins to look enticing as opposed to dreadful.

Because of the institution I’ve devoted a sickening amount of money to, I live in an apartment whose entire square footage is probably the same as a smaller sized basement somewhere in suburbia. I share just about everything, including a room, closet, and desk. I, luckily, managed somehow to get my own bed and toothbrush.

So what are we left to do? We depend on Christmas presents and birthday checks. We get jobs. We end up waiting tables, working in retail or some nine-to-five job we begin to loathe. Between paychecks, we skip meals and instead fill up on coffee or some other caffeine-induced beverage to get us through the day.

But what do we do in the meantime? Between the point where we are now and when we hope to be financially comfortable somewhere in the near future? Plain and simple: we have to ride it out. Somewhere between all the complaining and whining we eventually have to realize it doesn’t get us any farther toward where we want to be. We’ll still whine of course, if only for some sympathy. But the blunt realization that I’m a lot more fortunate than the homeless man down the street sure gives me some perspective.

I recently walked into my local Starbucks to get the largest cup of coffee possible that would be the motor for the eight to ten page paper I had to write that night. I stood behind the register looking at the menu. A venti was $3.10. I looked into my wallet and saw two measly dollar bills. Why had I emptied out all my change the other day?

“Can I help you?” asked the barista disrupting my thoughts. I looked up at him and smiled. “It’s a sad day,” I said, “when you can’t afford a cup of coffee.” And with that, I went home, to my teeny-tiny apartment, to make my own.

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