I got into my dream college, but can I afford it?

How can I choose my dream when it’s followed by crippling debt?

OPINION, Grades 10–12, 2nd Place

Recently, I was accepted into my dream school: American University. This year fewer than 10 percent of applicants were admitted. I was thrilled when my letter came.

That enthrallment, though, soon died upon opening my financial aid package. Even if I took advantage of the option to graduate early, I would be $165,000 in debt – and that’s just the cost of my bachelor’s degree.

I am left with one critical question: Is it really worth it?

American University is my dream. It’s in the heart of Washington D.C. It has a law school, prestigious academics and is one of the top colleges in the country for political involvement. It’s what I’ve been working toward throughout my entire high school career.

I never thought I’d get it, but I did – except that now, it seems unattainable. We live in a world run by money. It sounds pessimistic, but it’s true. The children of celebrities are buying their way into top universities, making it even more difficult for students like me to get into top schools.

So, when we do, it ought to feel euphoric. I do. I did.

I’m face-to-face with my dream, but I don’t know if I can risk it.

Here’s the thing about student debt – it’s independent, largely, upon your household income. I’ve maxed my federal aid; and it’s impossible for me to make the necessary $55,000 a year while being a full-time student – especially when the hiring process is becoming increasingly contingent on credentialism. That means I need a loan, which is dependent upon my parents’ credit score, and certain loan companies may even deny my application because my mother is still paying off her student loan.

Even if I do get approved, will I be able to pay it off in my lifetime? Or will my children have to pay it as well? Will I suffer financially in the future because of it?

I’m 17 years old. I’m told constantly that I have my entire life ahead of me, but I can’t seem to picture it. I’m forced to think about theoretical children and retirement because of a decision I’m making now.

How can I make this choice – one that will affect my entire life – before I’m even old enough to vote?

How can I choose my dream when it’s followed by crippling debt? And I’m not alone in this. Thousands of other students are having this same conversation.

It’s a hard one – it’s new, it’s real. It will affect me for decades. It’s a conversation I’m not ready for. It’s a decision I’m not qualified to make, but I have to. I have to choose between my dream and an indeterminable reality.

Can we reevaluate student debt? Can we look at other countries? Other models? Can we fix this?

I’m not ready for it; and I shouldn’t have to be.

See all the winning entries from the 2019 Student Gazette here.

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