Now finally I have a subject that I am really one of the top experts on! And that is.......(drum roll) student debt! I don't think that I am about to win Matsremind with my specialised subject but I am very interested in the current media speculation (especially in the UK) on the cost of university tuition. It has now been calculated that the average student will have created £23,500 worth of debt by the time they leave univesity. I am telling you now that my first response to this was "...and the rest". I went to uni in 1997 and students attending in that year were some of the last ones to benefit from a full student grant. I was given around £2000 a year which sounds like quite a lot of money. I went to a good university but not a top-notch one. Living was still expensive, socialising weas expensive and my uni was full of the type of students who had middle class well-off parents who paid for their education. I was from a single parent family, but I still had some family financial help. But I also had been sheltered from debt up until the age of 18. I had worked before uni, at a pitifully paid soul-destroying job but I still didn't really have much in the way of savings. I didn't have to pay fees, but I was absolutely flabberghasted at the amount of seemingly free money I could be given. A student account (with large overdraft) here, a credit card there and the debt piled up. I just was not physiclaly capable of managing it. I saw that everyone else was living a pretty good life and I wanted the same. I took the full student loan allowance and everything else that was thrown at me. I worked during the holidays but that basically paid for a few dresses and two weeks in Spain. I was continually informed that I didn't have to pay anything back whilst I was a student, and my metamorphisis into a student ostrich was complete. I was lucky, I came out with a very good degree. But then I decided I couldn't face work and took on two more years of study, as many friends were also doing that. And that was the worst thing I could ever have done for myself financially. I doubled my debt in an instant. I lived in more expensive digs in London. I couldn't work in the holidays or part time because postgraduate courses are generally much longer with longer hours than undergraduate degrees. I found a sponsor and was even granted a bursary, but I spent it on travel, coffee, dinner and books and generally trying to live a life I was not contributing to. Why did I deserve to not work for 5 years? Well my justification was simple. My work was my study and I worked hard. But study per se does not bring in the bacon. Its only when I actually started work in 2002 that I started earning a salary. And then I had to total up my debt. It was around £40,000. My first salary that year was significantly lower than that. And the debt kept coming. Credit card deals would run out, loans with longer terms were taken out and the debt spiralled. It was all encompassing, and sometimes I still wonder if I actually went into a high paying job because I wanted to do it, or because I needed to do it in order to repay the debt. My Herculean task is not over. I still have thouisands left to pay, and I have been diligently paying the debt now for seven years. But I am no longer in the grip of a money-related depression. So what is the moral of my story? Easy. It is as follows: 1) Can you afford university? You dont have to go away from home or for a long time in order to educate yourself. The pressures are myriad and although I had a wonderful time, it wasn't the be all and end all of my life. It is better to be happy and fulfilled in a career. Vocational courses are not frowned upon like they used to be and neither is good honest work.
2) You must learn to budget and be patient. I had none of these skills. if you aren't well off, be prepared to be envious of others activities. You can't do everything if you aren't earning anything. A small amount of debt is fine (and now seemingly customary) but remember you may not secure the job you desire, or the salary you want immediately on receiving your degree.
3) be prepared to be in it for the long haul. It will colour your decisions when your uni days are only a glimmer in your memory. I'm not saying people shouldn't go to uni - it is an amazing for life and educational experience. But if you don't budget for it, you'll pay for your fun again and again and again.