Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Give a Damn About Financing Your Education

When I was applying to colleges in the late 1990s, it seemed like the world was my oyster. Bill Clinton was president, and we were still living in a dot-com bubble. Credit flowed freely, and the nation's biggest problem was where Clinton stored his cigars. Everything seemed limitless.

Fast-forward through nearly a decade of George W. Bush, risky investments, and my first-ever unemployment stint, and I have to say that you college-aged kids out there shouldn't worry about attending a school that isn't your first choice.

As a spendthrift by nature, I didn't worry too much about going into debt for college. My mother warned me that it was a lot of money to pay back when I graduated, but it didn't bother me. The economy was great—surely the rising tide would lift the boat of even the most poor writers, and I'd manage.

I did attend a state school for a year (thanks again for losing my financial aid paperwork, Emerson!), and I hated it. I loathed seeing everyone I ever knew in high school. The writing program at URI was horrible. I knew I wasn't going to get the education I needed there, so I transferred to Emerson my sophomore year.

I don't regret my decision to attend Emerson, largely because Sallie Mae has yet to develop the technology to repossess the education and experience I got there if I can't make the payments. But if I could have seen the financial landscape that awaited me in my late 20s, I might have chosen the University of Maine or another institution far enough away from home, but with a more affordable program.

So don't worry, young folks. If you've got the talent and the ambition to do something with your life, it doesn't matter if your degree says Harvard College or the University of Massachusetts, especially as you enter college during a recession. Just work your ass off where ever you end up, and it'll be just fine.

Unless, of course, things get worse. In which case, we can burn our degrees for warmth.

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