The Reminder of Defeat

I grew up in a middle-class family…..based on what I know now about the striations of the middle class, we were on the lower end, but I didn’t come to that realization until my late teens. Which I have always considered to be a great compliment to my fabulous parents.

There is this little white lie that I heard in high school…you might have heard it too “don’t worry about how to pay for college, there is SOOOoo much money out there to help you!”…..I mean I guess I understand the value of that white lie now… who wants to squash the dreams of a young aspiring architect by saying “you can go to college and some of it will be paid for because you worked your ass off for the past 5 years, but the other part of it you will have to take out loans that will hang over your head for a decade or more. Sometimes you won’t think about them, sometimes you will realize that they were worth it, but other times you will feel like crawling under a rock and hiding from them…and if we’re being honest here, every so often you will feel like a wild animal whose paw is caught in a trap, so panicked that you consider gnawing your own arm off to get away”…no one wants to be that guy.

So yes, I did all the things a young girl should do. Extracurricular activities, achievement awards, good grades, part-time job, yada yada yada…..just thinking about all of it makes me want to take a nap. But it was all in pursuit of this next big goal: the full-ride.

I pursued it as best I could. I applied to 9 billion scholarships and grants (give or take 8.9 billion) as a high school senior….I think I was awarded 5 or 6. Not the greatest return on time investment, but you know what? It turned out to be worth it….for the first year. For a year me and my family were worry free.

The next year wasn’t as fruitful. I had to get creative. I became one of those dreaded Resident Advisors…you know the glorified tattle-tales…yep that was me. So that covered room and board. Then I had another part-time job as a barista and then I tutored….that covered spending money, books and supplies (architecture school is a supply free-for-all!). But there was still a gap with fewer and fewer scholarships to be found….and I knew that weight fell on my parents and I felt guilty about it.

The summer after that I got married and decided that meant my parents should be freed. I insisted I was on my own after that…..man was that a stupid idea 🙂

I kept applying for scholarships and grants….but nothing was as successful as that first year.

Slowly it became clear that what people meant by “don’t worry about paying for college, there’s money out there” is loans……loans is how you pay for college when you just “don’t worry about it”.

Here’s the thing….no one really tells you about loans…no one educates you about what they are, what they mean for you long-term. When you are young and stupid you just think ‘oh I am going to graduate and make so much money that these loans will be no big deal!’….which is maybe true for your first $20K in loans….but then you hit $40K, $60K…..$100K….maybe more.

I like to think I was more prepared than some. I was aware of what was coming. I factored the repayments into our budget when we started looking for houses. Don’t get me started on home-loan officers, but I basically had to tell the guy ‘no I can’t afford the amount you will approve me for because I have a second mortgage payment beginning in 6 months’.

The first two years I was able to stay pretty positive about things. Counting down – “Babe in 8 years we’re going to have an awesome celebration party”. Then Andy started back to school. I was more than a little green with envy realizing the G.I. Bill was going to give him the freedom I didn’t have.

Then he got derailed. He’d probably kill me for sharing that, but I am pretty certain he forgot about my blog about 40 seconds after I told him about it…four years ago. Besides people get derailed….it is life. And honestly the worst part of derailment isn’t the time it takes to get back on track, it is the emotional damage the person experiences by something so tiny and meaningless in the grand spectrum of life…that’s the truly unfair part. Anyway suffice it to say, he got off schedule and has had to work tooth and nail to get back….which after this next semester he’ll be there! Woohoo! But with only one semester of G.I. benefits remaining we are looking at three options: one – he does a degree audit and figures which degree he is closest to receiving and ditch all previous efforts; dos (bringing the culture back) – settle for a two-year associates degree and ditch the undergraduate degree; trois – finish the degree he was in the process of pursing prior to derailment.

To me one and two are obviously real options, but make my heart super sad. I obviously got to pursue my dreams….all the way to the fucking top of the world. RE: earlier statement about massive amounts of student loan debt. So the equitable option is trois – finish his original pursuit.

The catch with this one is the language requirement. When he left he had completed 2 of the required 6 semesters of French. Now I don’t know about where you live, but French isn’t exactly something you can easily maintain around Colorado. So in theory he starts back and only has 4 semesters left, but….who knows? it could take longer to get back up to speed. And it isn’t like you can take 2 levels of language in one semester (oh why can’t that be possible?).

Anyway, let’s not think about that, let’s think about the best case scenario – two more years. With one semester of tuition paid for. But the stakes have changed considerably. Now we will have 2 babies….my income doesn’t quite stretch far enough….he can’t conceivably work his 10-hour night shifts and attend class full-time in a city an hour away for 6 hours a day and get more than miniscule sleep, let alone do homework or have any type of family life…….the trap keeps feeling tighter and tighter.

Let’s get really real – $85,000. That is what it would take to replace enough of his income for our family to survive for two years of him not working and cover the tuition. Long-blabbering-story-short – adding $85,000 of debt isn’t really an option….I already fucked that up for him. So the hunt is back on. This time I hope his military service is enough to give him the edge over me. Hopefully….if not, then things have to get creative…..and longer. Like one class at a time kind of longer. Which I suppose might have to happen, we shall see.

As I started browsing scholarship sites, the reminder set in….what it felt like to surrender to the beast. To admit to myself that I had done everything I could to get free money and that the boat had sailed. I hope the boat is just pulling into the docks for Andy. I hope the boat is piled sky-high with money…and you know what? While we’re dreaming, I hope that boat has a large crate of money with my name on it too!

Here we go again.

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4 thoughts on “The Reminder of Defeat

  1. Ugh, this is a tough situation. As you know i work with our military students and their gi bill benefits. It sucks when they run out and cant continue. Id definitely look into accelerated programs, online even if he can do that, to see if he has other options. Hope you find a good solution for you guys!

  2. So hard. I really hate the whole concept of student loans. I was given such a false picture of my payback rates by my loan officer that six years after getting my Master’s, I’m still bitter. Urgh.
    Anyway we’re in the same boat. My husband got a bit derailed with school as well and now there’s no way he can go back full time. We’ve decided that he’ll do it piecemeal. It’s not fair, but it’s impossible any other way. Luckily, unlike my fancy American degrees, his Israeli one will be a whole lot cheaper. I hope you guys find something that works well for you. Good luck!

  3. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK. I just read an article (okay, it was in Rolling Stone, at the doctor’s office*) talking about how college tuition and student loans are sucking the life out of our youth. It’s really fucking depressing. I am sorry you guys are facing these fucked up choices. I am glad Andy is re-railed, and I hope he ends up being happy with the version of the dream he gets. And I’m also really happy you have a job that you are digging, and are able to put a dent in that loan of yours.

    *Just in case you want to feel even shittier:
    http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/ripping-off-young-america-the-college-loan-scandal-20130815

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