Essential reporting in volatile times.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.

Learn more about HD Media

Student loan concept using chalk on slate blackboard

Many of us are taught that the only route to success is college — a place of opportunity. But what do you do when this opportunity comes at a great cost?

I truly wonder how the United States’ higher education system has gotten to this state. When did college become a life commitment? We all know someone who is still paying college loans whether they are in their 20s, 30s or even 40s and up.

Lacy M. Johnson, a Houston-based professor and author, tweeted on Dec. 11, 2019, “When I left grad school in 2008, I owed $70k in federal student loans. (A poor choice I wouldn’t make again.) For the past 11 years, I’ve been making payments (except for a period of under employment), totaling about $60,000 in payments. Guess how much I still owe. $70,000.”

Unfortunately, this is the harsh reality a lot of people live. Student loans do not care about aspirations, goals, family or circumstance in nature. They have no issue with clipping the wings of a young adult. The outlandish interest rates can trap even the most savvy in a constant cycle of debt.

Three weeks ago, I anxiously sat down with my mom to open my decision letter ... My breath was shallow. I reluctantly logged into the portal with a grimace. Click ... click ... click ... Pure silence.

The letter loaded, and the first word I saw started with a “C” (Congratulations). I knew that it meant I had been accepted, and I instantly let out an exhilarating cheer. I saw a personal dream come true before my eyes. I had gotten into Stanford!

The next week, my financial aid package came. I could no longer see the situation with rose-colored glasses. In that moment, I felt the same nervousness I did before I opened the acceptance letter, because it felt like my opportunity to attend Stanford was slipping out of my hands. I am greatly upset by this harsh reality.

I have applied to other schools where I can see myself thriving. I’m hoping they can muster a different scholarship or offer. As for Stanford, I am in the process of writing a financial aid appeal letter. I plan to explain my unique circumstances that were not communicated through FAFSA and the CSS Profile (documents regarding income/assets that are used to assess your financial aid award).

I can only hope that I will find my way. I believe that if I am meant to go to whatever school, it will be economically feasible. I am so grateful for the acceptance, but if I could communicate anything to other teens on their way to college and their families, it would be the nature of debt.

Life is debt. Life is money. In spite of how nihilist it may sound, money makes the world go around. It is important to remember that very few people truly have a debt-free college experience.

But when does that debt become a parasite to the young adult? When does that debt kick a student when he or she is down? How much money is too much? This answer varies greatly for each person.

In the meantime, as I try to figure out the balance between opportunity and debt, I feel that I must bring awareness to the fact that our college system is a business. We need to talk about the outrageous amounts of money expected of us as young adults and beyond.