Probably the most common (and most dangerous) piece of advice young people are given nowadays is 'follow your heart.' Instead of making rational and educated decisions, we're encouraged to make big decisions on the basis of how we feel. These decisions include things like who to date, which jobs to take, or even where to go to college.
Colleges benefit from the concept of being someone's "dream school." When you tour their campus, you're pushed to envision yourself there, and the person you'll become. Somehow, the practical considerations like finances always become secondary to how the environment appeals to you. For me, as an idealistic high school senior, there was a dream school--a small, private university in New York, forty-five minutes from Manhattan, comprised of sweeping greens and picturesque Tudor-style buildings.
If I had followed my heart four years ago when the time came for me to decide where to go to college, I would now be around $160,000 in debt.
Even though it stung at first, I instead chose the university that made the most financial sense for me. When I graduate, I will graduate debt-free. Sadly, I'm one of the few people I know doing so. Though I love my school now and am absolutely assured this is where I'm meant to be, it wasn't necessarily the school I dreamed about, but instead the one I grew to fall in love with.
The conversation on affording college and student loan debt is becoming even more prevalent, especially with the coming election. Many of the Democratic candidates currently vying for the nomination have proposed plans to "cancel" student debt for college graduates. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, proposed legislation to cancel an estimated $640 billion in student debt, describing the proposal as both an economic stimulus and a way to manage wealth inequality. Bernie Sanders, another current frontrunner, has a similar plan, with his costing around $1.6 trillion. Both Warren and Sanders have accurately assessed that student loan debt is a pervasive problem in America, especially for the working classes and for younger voters.
Here's the thing, though--no matter how much Warren or Sanders or any other candidate wants to wipe the slate clean for an estimated 45 million Americans, sadly there is no such thing as simply canceling billions of dollars.
The economic ramifications of plans like these are countless and severe. To put it simply enough, we, the taxpayers, are going to be the ones shouldering the burden of those loans for the rest of our lives. The bottom line is, nothing is ever free.
I made a difficult decision three years ago. But I made the right one for me, and there are many other students who didn't, for whatever reason, and will have to pay that price long after they graduate.
Financial freedom, especially as a young adult, is one of the most valuable things we as individuals can have. Instead of proposing grandiose plans on "canceling" debt, we could be having valuable discussions on education initiatives through instilling smart financial decisions in high schoolers, in order to better adequately prepare them to make these decisions. Instead of promising voters to magically "wipe out" student loans, we could be examining why the cost of higher education has increased 161% in thirty years or how to keep both public and private universities accountable in informing their students on the true cost of obtaining a degree. We could be encouraging young people soon to enter college to make smart financial decisions, instead of "following their hearts," or implementing plans which could potentially increase the wealth gap and offer no incentive to colleges to stop increasing tuition.
Decisions always have to be made eventually--where to go to school, who to vote for--but these kinds of decisions are best made with all of the prior information available, instead of simply going with a feeling.