Tag Archives: career

Another Scary Student Debt Story

student debt

I spent hours at a time with Mark at his physical therapy appointments. I would see the same young “techs” whose job was to set timers for people in the pool, restock towels and pillow cases on the tables, check patients in and out, schedule appointments, etc.

Never wanting to pry but ever curious, I struck up a conversation with one kid who proceeded to tell me a pretty terrifying story.

He went to Pitt, having graduated at the top of his class in high school. As an avid high school athlete, he planned on physical therapy as a career. When his grades started to slip during his sophomore year, he knew he would never be accepted to PT school but still pushed ahead to finish his degree. He finished in 5 years due to an inability to schedule required courses and graduated with…..wait for it…..$120,000 in student loans. His monthly payments are more than $1,400 for the next 10 years! The more young people I talk to, the more I realize that this kid’s experience is pretty typical.

His parents are helping him with the payments but he’s still working two jobs to pay what he can (usually not half). He has no plans to move out any time soon. He enjoys free room and board at home plus access to a car and his parent’s cell phone plan. He doesn’t feel great about it but he is grateful for the safety net. He can’t afford to do anything with friends but doesn’t have time to anyway.

He’s hoping to refinance for a longer term and a lower payment but he doesn’t earn enough at either of the jobs to qualify yet. Side note: Neither of the jobs requires a degree, including the PT tech job. He’s been unable to land a job that pays more where his degree might be required. He’s thinking about a certification as a PT assistant but isn’t sure he would earn enough to make a significant difference and he worries about piling more debt and interest on top of his existing loans while they’re in deferment. He doesn’t think he could handle both jobs and classes at the same time.

Before you tell yourself that he wouldn’t be in this situation if he had kept his grades up and pursued a PT degree, remember that graduate school likely would have cost at least another 100k, maybe more.

The median income for a licensed physical therapist is anywhere between $60,000 and $86,000 (depending on where you live and what table you look at). According to one loan repayment calculator, he would have to earn $113,000 (assuming 15% of gross monthly income toward loans). The top 10% of earners in the field don’t even make that, let alone in their first 10 years. Sure, he could make less and dedicate a higher percentage of his gross income toward student loans but his total debt after graduate school might be double what it is now.

I wish kids would start telling their stories instead of feeling ashamed and embarrassed by their debt. Parents and students get on a fast-moving train toward what they think is a successful career that takes them underwater instead.

I don’t know what the answer is except to say “no” when a school is steering a kid toward crushing levels of debt. It just isn’t worth it.

If you would like to share your own student debt story, I would love to hear about it. I really think it could help people make better choices about school, work and life. Click the “contact” tab at the top of this page and include “My Student Debt Story” in the subject line of your email.

 

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Dear High School Guidance Counselor….

school yard

original image credit: Francisco Galarza via unsplash.com

I know it’s your job to “guide” students. I get the impression that you believe it’s your job to direct them toward college-no matter the expense or their interest in going.

I understand you met with a group of Juniors the other day during their English class. You had them enter their email addresses on a site that asked them a litany of questions to help them decide what to study in college.

Is it true that you told the kids who don’t plan to go to college to reconsider? Did you also tell them not to answer something stupid (your word) like “be a nanny” on questions about their plans after high school?

I won’t take that remark personally even though my daughter has told you on several occassions that she plans to nanny when she graduates in order earn money to pursue other goals. You probably weren’t interested enough to learn that she’s a gifted, conscientious and engaged child-care provider who loves to be with kids of all ages. She tells them stories, plans projects and crafts, invents games, fixes meals and reads with them. In short, she’s happy when she’s with her younger cousins or small clients. I think hers is an excellent plan that will provide a lot of flexibility. Before you go there, no, she doesn’t want to be a teacher. She doesn’t want to watch 25-30 kids at a time, just a few.

My daughter has a keen understanding of her interests, skills, gifts, strengths and weaknesses. She’s lucky that she doesn’t need a computer program for that. My guess is that lots of kids know these things about themselves but when they try to communicate them to you, you don’t really listen to them. Instead, you dismiss their ideas and try to pigeon-hole them into a pre-defined, acceptable major or career.

Being a nanny isn’t “stupid”. High-quality child care is a valuable service. Responsible and experienced providers are in demand and can earn a lucrative income and unique experiences all without the burden of debt. Many full-time nannies can earn more than their college-educated peers and enjoy benefits like free housing, meals, transportation (including discretionary access to a car), all-expense-paid vacations and paid vacation time.

My daughter and I have spent a lot of time discussing how she can develop her interests and skills to create a career, multiple streams of income and a lifestyle that she chooses.  Regardless of whether someone else regards it as successful, acceptable or adequate.

The job you decided to mock is irrelevant. My point is, it’s unprofessional and narrow-minded to dismiss certain occupations or paths to a fulfilling life. Your job is to support students and help them find every resource available to pursue an idea, a vocation, a career or a dream even if it doesn’t align with your idea of a respectable profession. Steering a diverse group of students down one, narrow path doesn’t serve them, even if it does serve your ego.

Did you know that 40% of students drop out of college without a degree? Do you think maybe they were steered toward college as the only option by people like you?  Yes, I’m suggesting you’re partially to blame. Do you ever advise students who are unsure about their future to work for a few years or go to community college?

Did you know that some of your students borrow as much as $80,000 for an undergraduate degree?  The average student debt for a college education is $37,000. Do you think that’s advisable? I don’t.

One more thing. Quit sharing my kids’ email addresses with colleges and military recruiters. Even kids who are interested in college don’t want to be spammed by them. My kids know where to enlist if they decide to go that route.

I was tempted to email you about this recent presentation but decided against it because my children are insulated from your narrow views and I realize I will not change your mind or your tactics. They know they have my support and encouragement to pursue any path or no path and work until they figure something out. Some will likely go to college but probably not with much assistance from you.

Yours truly.

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Creativity in an Uncreative Career

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Photo Credit: Volkan Olmez | Unsplash.com

I recently had a chat with a young neighbor (22) who just finished up a year-long internship toward her certification as a Registered Dietician. She still has to take an exam to be official.

When I heard that she moved to Memphis for an internship in a VA hospital (apparently, they’re hard to find), I remember being impressed that she was willing to get out of her comfort zone by moving away from the safety net of her family and a city that she loves. Now that it’s over, she told me the best part about the internship was realizing that she doesn’t want to be in a hospital setting. I see that as a win and extremely valuable.

What surprised me is that her supervisors and co-workers continued to steer her into a hospital setting even though she was sure she didn’t like it. “Gotta pay your dues.” “Maybe you can eventually get into an admin position.” “Anything else takes years of experience to qualify.”

In other words, the conventional, “safe” path is so narrow….even for an RD. From what my friend was saying, it looks something like this:

  1. Hospital planning gross institutional meals for sick people. (Did you want Sprite with that meatloaf?)
  2. Some other institutional situation when you get burned out from the first job.

Look around, people, we’re living in a society suffering from an epidemic of obesity, unhealth, and non-nutrition. It doesn’t take much creativity to apply an interest in health and nutrition, a passion for food and cooking (this young woman started her own cooking blog in high school) and a B.S. in Nutrition and Dietetics to a non-hospital setting.

Luckily my friend is creative and looked beyond the barriers that her colleagues were putting in front of her. During her last week in Memphis, she reached out to an entrepreneur in Birmingham who prepares and delivers ready-made meals (including Paleo, gluten-free and dairy-free) for clients ranging from families to young professionals to seniors. The subscription options include hot dinners, microwave-ready lunches, weekly breakfasts, snacks and drinks.

Business is booming in Birmingham and the owner wants my friend’s help to expand into Nashville. She’s moving to Birmingham next week to start. Although the job doesn’t require a degree, it won’t hurt when creating new menus for health-conscious customers with specific nutritional needs. Whether the business is something she’ll be passionate about a year from now, she’ll get a first-hand look at running a high-energy business in an unfamiliar city (cities). It’s what I call 3-D learning in real time. Plus she’ll have an outlet for her creative side.

I so admire this young person’s courage in creating a unique opportunity for herself that rejects narrow-minded conventions. Good Luck to her and I’ll keep you posted on other cool things that young people are doing to take life and work into their own hands.

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