If you are a child of the 80s or 90s, then you probably have some form of student loan debt. I know that student loans have been around for a while, but I feel that my generation was fooled the most. Starting in the 90s (possibly earlier), there was a real societal push towards the college prep track. Basically, we were told that if you didn’t go to college and get a bachelor’s degree, you weren’t going to find a good job. This mindset caused a huge influx of student enrollment in U.S. colleges during the late 90s and really transformed the higher education system into more of a big business model than a place of higher learning. Granted, I loved college and graduate school, and I am still trying to find a job as a professor, but the more I learn about the system, the more I realize that it’s all about making money. Look at the astronomical rise in college tuition as proof of this point. When I attended Augusta State University in Augusta, GA as a college freshman in 2001, the cost of attendance was roughly $1200 per semester. Today, Augusta State is now Augusta University after merging with the top medical school in the state, the Medical College of Georgia, which is also located in Augusta. AU is now a research intensive institution and is even more focused on making money rather than the quality of instruction. If I were an incoming freshman at AU for the fall, I would pay over $9000 per semester….that is an increase in tuition of approximately $8000 per semester. This isn’t even a big college, with less than 10,000 students enrolled. Needless to say, college is expensive, and I could continue to discuss the supposed reasons behind the rise in tuition, but my main point is this:
STUDENT LOANS SUCK!!
No one really warned me about these loans when I was in school. My parents never went to college, so they didn’t know, and my college professors didn’t really warn me about them either. There were a couple of passing comments about loans here and there during undergrad, but most of my professors never discussed it. The common thought at the time was, “I need a college degree to make it, so let’s do whatever it takes to get it done.” Also, don’t think that you can trust the people in the Financial Aid Office, because it is their job to get you approved for the money you need to pay for college. If you enroll in school, then that is their job security. They’re not going to warn you about the pitfalls of student loans. They won’t tell you that you’re going to accrue several thousands of dollars in interest while you’re in school, and if you go to grad school and defer, then just keep on multiplying that number. They won’t tell you that your interest rate is going to be so high that it will take 5-10 years to pay off even $1,000 of that loan debt (think of a credit card bill, but with a much higher payment and interest rate). Sure, you can consolidate through another company once you get out of college and get a job, but your debt to income ratio will probably be so high that a lot of the good and reputable companies won’t touch you.
Don’t ever take out extra student loan debt as a way to cover living expenses while in undergrad or grad school. My wife and I made this mistake, and we are still paying for it. I won assistantships for grad school, but I still took out loan money for living expenses, because we had no idea what to expect. I don’t remember the exact number, but I know that I took out around $15,000; however, through several years of deferment, we now owe over $30,000 on that loan…even after paying on it for about 5 years.
At the last Southeast Horn Workshop at UGA, I was speaking to one of the employees at the Siegfried’s Call table (very well-known and reputable horn dealer/shop), and he was telling me that a lot of students are taking out more student loan debt to pay for new horns (about $10,000 to $12,000). While at WVU, I had the same idea and took out another student loan to buy a new horn. Well, that original loan amount doubled through the deferment process, and we now owe probably a little less that $20,000 on it. If you are thinking about taking out more student loan debt to pay for a new instrument….DON’T DO IT!! It’s really easy to get that money, but paying for it afterwards is not worth it. Make the smarter choice and go to your bank or a local credit union that will work with you and give you a much better interest rate.
I put all of this stuff out there not to scare, but to inform. Please, make better choices than I and countless others in the past. I know that most musicians want to go to grad school, and I’m not saying that you shouldn’t, but you need to be smart about it. Sure, we all dream of going to Eastman, Juilliard, Indiana, Northwestern, etc., but is it really worth accruing $90,000 worth of debt for a job that might pay in the $50,000 range? There are plenty of assistantships out there and a lot of wonderful teachers, so there’s no reason why anyone should have to pay for a graduate degree. Plus, like I stated above, don’t make the stupid decision of taking out loans to pay for living expenses…find another way. Save money, work an extra job, ask a family member for assistance…do what you need to do to keep from making a big mistake.
Here’s a bit of advice that we all probably need to hear and/or think about more often: Learn from other people’s mistakes and make the better choice.