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The true cost of an education goes far beyond student loans

Apr. 26, 2017
Avatar maria gonzalez escamilla writer.jpgf0196523 2c57 499d 8b24 abf4dcb8d585

After I graduated high school, I didn’t start college right away. I knew I couldn’t afford the school I wanted, and I feared I wouldn’t even be able to afford community college. Although during grade school I would always keep up with my schoolwork and would make sure to pass all my classes, I was never really taught about the “adult life” outside of high school. I’m twenty-two now, and I’ve realized although I enjoy the freedom to roam as an adult, the financial safety of being an adolescent was a little more comforting.    

I knew there was no way I could just stay home and not work after high school, so I applied for the first job that came my way, which was a summer job at a local community college. Working there helped me realize that I liked feeling useful, and getting paid to do so was nice, but I knew I’d need to do more someday--and since I didn’t really have a set plan for myself, I decided to sign up for classes at the same college I had been working at. 

Summer came and left, and I needed to find another job that wouldn’t be temporary since I was starting school and I knew I would need money for that.

 I decided to apply for a retail job because it was all I felt I was really suitable to do at the time. In the process of obtaining this minimum wage job, I learned that I would not be receiving any financial aid because, according to their guidelines, my father made enough money to pay my way. What they did not care to understand was that my father’s paychecks completely went towards bills and food costs, not to mention to pay off his own student loans. Most classes that you are required to take in order to obtain your degree and qualify for graduate schools are about three or more units, with each unit costing approximately $46 for community college courses. Thankfully, I was offered a fee waiver for my classes, so I decided I would just have to make it work with all the other fees. I tried to juggle full-time school and a part-time job, but it was impossible with all the bills coming in left and right. From books, health fees, transportation, school supplies, food costs, etc… I felt like I was spending more money than my paychecks were giving me.

My first full-time job was a temp job and it was an afternoon to night shift. I would sit for approximately eight hours doing nothing but data entry. I did this with the hope that the office-job experience would look good on my resume. At this point, only two classes fit into my weekly schedule. I would attend a class in the morning, go to work in the afternoon, and then do any assignments due for my online class after my shift was over. 

I was able to stay afloat with my schoolwork and bills, but I felt stuck knowing I could put more effort into school if only I had more time to do so.

I felt like I was finally getting somewhere when an interview for a receptionist position led to a job offer as a medical biller. (Protip: always try to bond with your interviewers!) My new superiors were willing to train a college student with zero experience, and it became an opportunity for which I will forever be grateful.  On that same day I was hired, I looked up the medical billing classes offered at my college and realized I would soon be getting paid to learn what many of my peers were currently paying to learn in a class. On top of that, with this job I would finally be able to afford the car I needed in order to transport myself to and from work and school. The only downside was that my new position--which was a full-time Monday-Friday job--once again limited the amount of time I would be able to spend at school. With my current bills piling up (particularly school and medical expenses), I knew that obtaining my degree would have to continue at a much slower pace. Nevertheless, I decided that I would continue forward and take as many classes as I could per semester.

There are many downsides to working a full time job in a field you have little interest in, especially when that job no longer suits your financial needs. (Shoutout to higher bills due to our economy!) But I am and will always be grateful for the people I have had the pleasure of working with. I am very lucky to have co-workers who respect my interests and who push me to always do better for myself. Regardless of the daily struggle to be up at 4AM (for work) and not be able to get into bed until well after 8PM (after school), I do it because I cannot allow anything to halt the process of furthering my education. I also know that without this job, I would definitely go into major financial debt.

I realize that adulthood itself is pretty hectic, but I do not believe students should have to struggle so hard just to obtain a degree. I believe that if you are inclined to go to college or otherwise improve yourself in order to become a hard-working member of society, then you should be given the help to do so. As grateful as I am for my employment situation, I almost always feel overworked and over-exhausted. I am constantly stressed, tired, and mentally as well as physically sick--and I’m a childless person with no spouse. I cannot fathom how hard it must be for parents to have to juggle school, work, and children.

If I were financially stable enough to take time off from work, I would love to finish my degree so that I could move on to better things--maybe even higher education. I truly believe that many of the disproportionate hardships faced by students could be prevented if better financial options were available during their college years--but in our current system, time is money, and some of us are not privileged enough to have time to spare. 

This is why we need to fight to improve the education system for future generations. As expensive as the cost of living has become in this country, it’s horrific to think that so many people are denied the opportunity to nurture their brains solely due to lack of funds.