The Price You Pay to Graduate with Little Student Debt

I’m nearing the end of four years of university with only $4,000 in student debt, while others have a $40,000 weight sitting on their shoulders come graduation―but it wasn’t easy.

Living at home rent-free throughout my undergrad has been a huge help, but having a $7,000 per year price tag on my education—not to mention books, other materials needed for classes, a car and insurance payments—has taken a heavy toll on my student-sized wallet.

Over the last four years I have worked about 20 to 30 hours a week on top of my already heavy course load. The main difficulty has been that I’m in journalism. This program requires me to reach out to people for interviews at times that are convenient for them, but rarely convenient for me. On top of this, assignments for all of my other classes take a great deal of time and effort too.

Needless to say, it has not been an easy task. At times it has felt like I’m running on stress, anxiety and very little sleep, trying to squeeze in time for friends and family whenever possible.

Having a job while in school is tough, but I saw it as necessary to reach my goal of graduating with as little debt as possible. I decided I’d rather work really hard now and have financial freedom after graduation than have more freedom now, but have to watch my paycheques fly away to pay off student debt later in life.

After years of the struggle…

I’ve recently thought a lot about my decision to work through my undergrad and I’ve noticed a self-perpetuating cycle: it seems that the more you work, the more your grades eventually suffer, which can result in the loss of scholarship money. This then means you have to work more, which perpetuates the cycle.

On the other hand, if you don’t have a job and just focus on school during your undergrad you will (arguably) be able to keep your grades up, thus maintaining a scholarship. This will help you pay for most of your student bill, meaning you wouldn’t need to be working to fund your education in the first place. This is assuming that you would use your extra time to actually do schoolwork as opposed to procrastinating which, let’s face it, is not always the case for students.

Lately I’ve been re-evaluating my priorities—working less and focusing more of my time on school and the pursuit of opportunities that will benefit my career path after graduation. After years of balancing a heavy school and work load I’ve realized that accumulating a little bit of debt may be worth it just to have some time to sit back and enjoy life. This realization took me a while to get to, but ultimately every student must weigh the same issues for themselves at some point, and find their own balance.

I’ll admit, a part of me is envious of students who have gone through their undergrad without the burden of fitting in a part-time job to pay for their education. But another part of me is proud that I’ve accomplished so much on my own over the past few years, and when I graduate I will appreciate it even more because I worked so hard to get myself to where I am.

Angela Stairs

Angela Stairs is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton University. She enjoys writing about lifestyle topics and the arts. She loves to travel and hopes to live abroad after graduation.

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