I guess my student loan story would start with a little background information regarding who I am and where I come from. I am a white, queer, cisgender woman who grew up in rural northern Wisconsin. Neither of my parents has received an education past high school, however I did have two older brothers in college at the time that I graduated from my local public high school. According to the 2015-16 student post-secondary profile for my high school, only 49% of graduates attend a four year college. The closest community college to where I lived was about 30 miles away and the closest four-year public university was about 100 miles.
My search for a post-secondary institution consisted of a few factors. I wanted to be close enough to home that I could drive back home for a weekend, if desired. I also wanted to be far enough away from home that the majority of my high school classmates would not be enrolled there. At the time of my college search, I was not out to my family and knew that if I wanted to be out at college, I had to find a place where the least connections existed. I also needed to be sure that the institution was affordable. Thusly, I nestled into a smallish four-year state institution in rural south-central Wisconsin where no more than a handful of graduates from my high school attended.
I was fortunate to have supportive, encouraging parents who wanted me to succeed in college. It was also a privilege and a curse to be the third child in my family to go to college. A privilege because forms like FAFSA were more understood by my parents and a curse because college costs and loans stack up with each child sent to school. Many miscellaneous materials needed for college that were not covered by federal student loans were either paid for by parental assistance or my savings from working at the local grocery store all throughout high school. Part-time work continued on campus through positions like front desk attendant, resident assistant (which also saved on room and board), new student orientation leader, and graphic designer. Starting with my second semester, I worked on campus every summer and semester of my five-year stretch at UW-Whitewater. I also sought out various scholarships – I wish I had done this more. When I finally graduated, I owed tens of thousands of dollars in student loans and was racking up interest with rates ranging from 3.4% to 7.65%.
My loans remained in deferment due to attending graduate school. The graduate assistantships I received while there covered tuition and student fees. I did not take out any other loans while there and was able to pay off my smallest (about $200) loan. By the time I graduated, I was working at a local grocery store to make rent and remained there until I had found full time employment.
My loans are now out of deferment and I am paying about $550 per month to pay them back. I have taken advantage of an interest rate reduction by signing up for automatic debit for my federal loans. This helps, but the payments are still a lot to take on.
If I were to do this all over again knowing what I know now, I would pay more attention to the loan amounts I accepted and took only what was absolutely necessary. I tended to accept the full amount offered but am now paying more in the long run. I would also try to stay away from the higher interest rate loans (Parent PLUS loan in particular) and direct unsubsidized loans (interest accrues even in grace and deferment periods), if possible . Lastly, I would seek out as many scholarships as possible. I put emphasis on this last bit.
I am now on the other end of scholarships (we have three in our center) and we are pushing students to apply for them. We actually had to extend our deadline due to lack of submissions. To help combat this, I am reaching out to students one-on-one to encourage them to apply. I continue to tell them one of the biggest lessons I learned, which can also pertain to applying for jobs and leadership positions: “You won’t know until you try.”
**This blog is just a narration of my story. I understand that my privileges play a huge role in what opportunities were available to me. I hope that by telling my story, I can inspire others to take more initiative to understanding their own student loan story.
> BONUS <
Podcast With Brian Proffer on His Story & Thoughts on Current Events