Warning: This has to be one of my longer entries on JerseySmarts.com. In this entry, I take a look back at what I was thinking and doing way back when I had only a meager $17 thousand in total student loan debt. Oh, and I’m talking about only having incurred $17 thousand on my way up the mountain – not where I sit right now as I come back down the mountain. As you might imagine, back when I had incurred only $17 thousand in student loan debt it was a totally different world. Read on and enjoy!
Just about one month after my last student loan update, I am back again with an update that I’m sure you were already expecting. And that update is that my total student loan debt has dropped another thousand bucks to $17 thousand. It’s nice to have these frequent drops in the total amount that I have left outstanding – especially considering that I’m coming down from a peak total of $121 thousand no longer than just six and a half years ago. Pretty amazing.For this update, though, I wanted to go back a little bit further than six and a half years ago. Before I wrote this update, I went back and looked at where I was in my collegiate career when I first owed about $17 thousand in student loans. Follow along with me here, folks… If I’m working backward from the top of the student loan debt mountain, then I already repaid the loans I took out for “cost of living” expenses from my graduate school years (the dumbest, worst debt that a student can ever take out). And I’ve already repaid any student loans that I used for actual academic expenses in graduate school. Going back a little bit further… I’ve repaid all of the student loans that I took out for rent and living expenses while an undergraduate (another dumb use of borrowed funds) and I’ve repaid all of my academic-based student loans from my senior and junior years of college. And I’ve even repaid my student loans from most of my second semester of my sophomore year.
If you do the math (and I have), then right now I’m in the process of repaying the student loans that I took out to pay for the first semester of my sophomore year in college (and, of course, my freshman year before then). The first semester of my sophomore year of college began in September 2000…
That’s a long time ago!
Let’s see what I remember from way back during the fall semester of college in the year 2000…
Back during the Fall 2000 semester, I lived on campus in a dorm named Laurel Hall. My room was A1 in the A Suite (our joke was that we lived in A1, like the steak sauce – not sure if it was funny then… or now). My roommate, who I called “Roommate,” was a pitcher on the Monmouth baseball team. I remember that he was pretty good, but I don’t recall ever going to see him play in a game (looking back, I wish I had gone to at least one game). Watching the college’s sports teams wasn’t a big thing back when I was a sophomore mainly because the school’s facilities were pretty sad. The football field looked worse than most big-time high school programs (it still only has one set of bleachers) and the basketball “arena” was a glorified high school gym. Things were much, much different than the beautiful, high-end Multipurpose Activity Center that sits on campus now. I wish that arena was there when I was an undergraduate. My friends and I could have had a lot of fun times in that place!
Academically, I was just coming off being on Dean’s List and this would be the last time that I ever made Dean’s List, but not because of academic reasons. As I progressed through college and wore my fraternity letters to my classes (by Fall 2000 I was already an initiated member of my fraternity), I found that some of the older professors stereotyped me and my work. I would turn in A level work (I’m an adjunct professor now – trust me, my work was that good) and some professors just wouldn’t give me a grade higher than a C. Hey, some people are just miserable bastards and many of those miserable bastards were my humanities professors. More on that in a future entry on the blog, I’m sure.
Speaking of the fraternity, in Fall 2000 I was the chapter’s Community Service Chairman and Social Chairman. Those were two big jobs since we performed 2 – 3 community service events each weekend (that’s not even an exaggeration – we won awards for all of the service that we performed). Plus, we’d hold at least one mixer (i.e. a closed party with a sorority) each week and one open party (i.e. a party for non-Greek students) each week. It was intense and a lot of fun.
But the memories aren’t all rosy and happy.
In fact, towards the end of Fall 2000 I distinctly remember a not so pleasant thought that I had while sitting at my on-campus job in the library (I was the IT assistant for the library and getting paid a few bucks through the Federal Work-Study program). Even though I liked “Roommate” and I enjoyed interacting with my fraternity brothers, I distinctly remember thinking that I really should transfer out of Monmouth over the winter break. I’m not sure if I can put a single reason on why I thought that I should transfer, but I remember getting the Rutgers University application, filling it out, getting the required supporting documentation from the Registrar’s Office, and putting the application package together. The only thing that I didn’t do with the application package is actually send it out.
If I had to name a few reasons why I thought it would be a good idea to transfer, I’d suggest that it had to do with the Monmouth social scene, the postgraduate prospects for professional-level networking as a member of my fraternity, the growing bias I was seeing in my academic scores, and the overall cost of attending college. I’ll tackle these quickly and in order:
Monmouth Social Scene. You don’t have to go to Monmouth for more than a few weeks to quickly find out that the social scene gets real ugly, real quick. It’s not that your fellow students aren’t fun to hang out with (they are) and it’s not that the university doesn’t try to host a variety of different events to keep students engaged (to their great credit, they do). The biggest “social” problem at Monmouth is the ultra-zealotry with which the local police officers choose to enforce their personal interpretations of the law. I can tell you stories about police officers entering the home that I rented off-campus at 2:30am when it was just me and one of my roommates awake watching television or playing a video game. No alcohol, never any drugs, no party going on, no noise, and no neighbors – the local police just thought that they had a right to enter our rental home at will. And if you think that’s bad, then imagine what those same overzealous officers acted like when there WAS a party going on… not fun.
For the money I was paying and the way I was being treated with a bias in my classes for wearing fraternity letters, I didn’t think that I should keep myself on a campus where, at the time, you couldn’t really have a lot of fun without being abused (sometimes physically) by the local police.
Postgraduate Fraternity Prospects for Professional-Level Networking. I didn’t just join a fraternity to hang out with the same group of guys, go to parties, and wear the same t-shirt as my fraternity brothers. One of the major reasons why I joined a fraternity is because of the professional-level networking that you should be able to receive as an older undergraduate member and as an alumnus of the organization. Back in Fall 2000, my fraternity didn’t have a lot of that going on – if any. In fact, we didn’t interact much with our larger alumni base other than hearing about one or two of the “older guys” who happened to have jobs in the area. Not really my idea of impressive professional-level networking. As an aside (and, again, a longer discussion for a different entry), since I graduated in Spring 2003 I’ve worked my butt off to make sure that there is a more fluid understanding of our chapter alumni and that our undergraduates and graduating seniors have a greater possibility of getting a job or at least an internship from one of our own.
Anyway, back in Fall 2000 I wasn’t very impressed with the larger organizational structure of the fraternity. More on that to come…
Bias in Academic Courses. I’ve already written about this above, but probably the biggest concern that I had back during the first semester of my sophomore year was the blatant bias that some of my older, stodgy professors (I was an English major – had a bunch of old codgers teaching me) had towards me and my work. After paying all of that money to attend college and having worked my ass off in high school (I graduated with above a 4.0 GPA) and during my freshman year of college, I didn’t want some stupid, asshole professors telling me that I was only an “average” writer because I wore Greek letters on my chest. Screw that. People like that have no place in academia and should be thrown out of colleges and universities around the nation. I guaranty that the money I’ve made off of my writing on this blog FAR surpasses the money that those old buzzards EVER made writing for the masses (i.e. not writing bullshit academic texts). Those miserable sons of bitches are what I keep in mind when I teach my classes – I go out of my way to NOT act like any of them.
Back in Fall 2000, this bias was just about enough to get me to leave Monmouth.
Cost of Attending College. Believe it or not, the total cost of college wasn’t really a big concern for me back in Fall 2000. Every once in a while my Mom would say something about my student loans and how expensive this whole thing was going to be. In truth, though, I don’t think anyone in my family (myself included) realized back then that I was going to be facing a $121 thousand dollar mountain of student loan debt when all was said and done. No one could have imagined that my postgraduate life would be put on hold in so many different ways for nearly seven years while I repaid my student loans. How can you predict something like that happening when you have no experience working with these types of loans?
Still, though, back in Fall 2000 I knew that I was attending an expensive school when compared to Rutgers University, which was just up the road.
I can’t really put my finger on the catalyst that made me stay at Monmouth. From the fraternity standpoint, there were two distinct events that helped change my mind. The first one happened in October or November 2000 when my car broke down right in the middle of Route 36 late on a Sunday night (could have been 10:30pm or so). I knew that most of the chapter was at the weekly chapter meeting at the time, but after my car was pushed off the highway by a local police officer I still called the landline in one of the houses where a bunch of the older guys lived. The guy who answered the phone had to be in his mid-20’s (just like now, back then a lot of the guys who graduated wound up sticking around in the area and living with each other to save money). I don’t think I ever shared more than 10 or 11 words with the guy. Without thinking twice, he jumped in his car, drove to the local Pathmark, picked me up, and took me back to the dorms. It was incredible. That openness and willingness to help someone out when they really needed some help changed some of my postgraduate thoughts about the fraternity.
The second event that helped change my mind was a month or so later during December 2000 when the then-President of the chapter was driving me to one of our events and spoke directly about me becoming the next President of the chapter. He said that he would tell everyone that he was running for re-election, but that he would resign from the election before the vote took place because he wanted someone like me to be the President of the chapter. That meant a lot to me for two reasons. First, it was nice to see that someone at Monmouth could recognize the innate leadership potential that I have in group settings (not being arrogant, just being accurate). Second, it helped to further change my mind on some of my postgraduate thoughts about the fraternity.
Once I was elected the President of the fraternity (the then-President did, indeed, drop out of the race before the vote and I won by forfeit and accepted the position with a voice vote of acclimation) I still thought that I might leave Monmouth. I told myself that I would give it one semester as President and see what happened. If I didn’t like leading the chapter, then I would transfer out of Monmouth and spend the second half of my college career having some fun at a college that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and wasn’t biased against me. If I enjoyed being the President, though, I’d have to seriously consider staying at Monmouth and finishing my academic career there.
Well, the rest is history. After a few months of being President and getting my hands dirty in reshaping some aspects of the fraternity, I never thought about transferring out of Monmouth again. Then, one of my good friends from high school joined the fraternity and I had someone to hang out with and lead the chapter with me. But it’s interesting to think back about what type of life-changing decisions I was considering – and what life-changing decision I ultimately made – way back in Fall 2000!
In May 2006, I graduated from Rutgers University with a Masters Degree and $120,720 in student loan debt. Since I started repaying my student loans in July 2006, I’ve repaid a total of $104 thousand in principal to various lenders including the federal Perkins loan program, the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority, and CitiBank. I currently owe $17 thousand in principal to the United States Department of Education’s federal Direct Loans program. This loan is serviced by the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. To date, I’ve repaid over $35 thousand in interest to these lenders. Follow my student loan repayment story on JerseySmarts.com.
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