I am seeing a very distressing trend across the country. Everywhere, millions of high schoolers are preparing to addict themselves to…student loans. Tens of thousands of dollars of college debt. Do you know how much debt the average college graduate has? Neither do I, but the precise number doesn’t really matter:
This isn’t a tirade against colleges for their ever increasing costs. I do think most colleges are too expensive, but higher education is a commodity, so I suppose they have the right to set the price at whatever they see fit, since we’re willing to pay the cost.
This is a warning. Because for many of us, college education isn’t presented as an option, but as a necessity. For generations before us, a college diploma was a guarantee of a good job after graduation. And like every sure thing, we ran it into the ground until it meant next to nothing.
And as college became more obligatory, its cost rose to meet demand, and general education courses lost their rigor in order to cater to the vast spectrum of student skills and abilities. College is the new high school. But this new high school costs $30,000 a year.
Because you’re not just buying an education any more. You’re buying room and board, study abroad programs (or rather, vacations in Europe with reading), gymnasiums, intramural sports, swimming pools, wi-fi, concerts, drunken parties, and the biggest dating/mating pool you will ever see this side of sobriety. College is a many-tendrilled thing.
But you can’t afford all that right now. These are the things you’ll be able to afford when you’re too old to appreciate them. So you take out the loans, stealing from your later years so you can enjoy the opportunities of your 40s with the vitality of your 20s. Bankrupting our future for a temporary high–it’s an American tradition.
But the part they don’t tell you is that when you take on those student loans, you are signing a contract. By borrowing all of this money, you say to the loan companies and yourself that you are dedicating your life (at least the most youthful, potential-filled decade or so) to the pursuit of money.
Look at you, little idealists. Had no idea you’d be selling out so soon, did you?
Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. He will hate one and love the other, or obey one and neglect the other.” The two masters the verse refers to are God and mammon (material wealth; money and possessions), but even if you’re not religious, the principle remains the same. You cannot serve money and the thing you love. The two will always come into conflict. If you follow the money, the thing you’re passionate about will suffer. And if you want to follow your passions, your finances are going to suffer. That’s just the way it is.
If you’re still in high school and reading this…it’s not too late. Don’t lock yourself into a money-driven lifestyle at 18. You can still follow your dreams.
You want your dream job? Go after it now. Hound the company you want to work for until you find a way in the door, even if it’s just as the coffee guy.
Take an unpaid internship. You can afford to not make money at that for six months, since you’re not paying $300 a month on your loan payments.
You want to learn something new? If you’re dedicated to learning, there are ways that don’t cost money…just self-motivation. MIT audio and video lectures are available for free online, and sites like Khan Academy offer thousands of different videos on any number of subjects.
Just know that leaving behind the thrall of mammon means giving up the comforts it supplies. It means doing without your iPod, your 360, your brand new computer, wall-sized television, lightning-speed internet, and all the other comforts you’ve come to take for granted. These are the drugs your pimp gives you to keep you selling your soul for money. The withdrawal symptoms will be painful, but worthwhile. A little pain now is a small price to pay for a life well spent later.
P.S. A friend of mine posted this video to Facebook while I was working on this post. It’s quite apropos.