What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest post was submitted by Traci.

Photo by: Vitaly 

I was born and raised in the South to two black parents, neither of whom went to college. I am also the baby in a family of three girls. My oldest sister (A) went to a state college, paid for by her participation in ROTC and her willingness to enroll in the Air Force after. My second sister (B) went to college for a year, got into a mess of trouble and came back home. By the time my parents got to me, they didn’t really know what to expect. They knew I wouldn’t be as good as A, but would never be as bad as B. So I kind of coasted along in high school, worked part time, saved money and tried to figure out how to tell my parents that I didn’t really want to go to college. By my junior year, I was fully prepared to tell my parents that I was going to a tech school, getting a 2 year degree and working at a Child Care Center (because that’s really all I wanted to do in life). That didn’t go over well. My mom sat me down, reminded me that she worked FOUR JOBS and still never made money. She pointed out that my dad worked full time, left the house at 5 am, returned at 6 pm, and we still never had money. She told me flat out, “If you don’t go to college, you will never have money. You will never be able to support yourself without working multiple jobs.” After a week and a half of talks like that, I went to my guidance counselor, got ONE college application and filled it out. The application was for another state school, one closer to home (but not close enough to commute), and that was the one college I got accepted to. I applied in August before my senior year and through early admission, got accepted in October. Shit. Now I had to figure out how to pay for this.

In state tuition at the time was about $12,000 per year. I knew my parents couldn’t pay that. I applied for scholarships and grants, but I wasn’t poor enough or smart enough to receive any of them. I was a minority, but not one with a desire to go into science or engineering, or medicine or law. I wasn’t a warden of the state and I wasn’t on the Honor Roll for the last 3 semesters. I was simply average. I got a B average in high school. I did drama and student council, but since I didn’t want to do those as a career, I didn’t qualify for many of the scholarships. I went in to college completely terrified of how I was going to pay for it. And I scraped by. Freshman year was terrifying. My parents bought most of my dorm stuff and my books. But they couldn’t afford much else. I took out a student loan for about $13,000 to cover my tuition, room and board, and meal plan. By the second semester, I was using my meal plan to hoard groceries, so I could eat IF I ran out of money. By sophomore year, I needed a better plan. So I got a job. I worked 20 hours a week every week. I used that money for gas for my car (I took my dad’s 10 year old Corolla) and groceries. By junior year, my parents could no longer afford my books. So, I took out another $13,000 and bumped up my work schedule from 20 hours to 30 hours. I did that senior year and my “5th year senior” year. Oh, and my beloved Corolla died. Yay. Let’s add a $250 car payment to the mix too. By the time I got out of college, I walked out with a degree in Education and over $60,000 worth of debt. And a teaching job; making virtually nothing.

My bi-weekly paycheck was about $700 before taxes. My total monthly income was about $1400 BEFORE taxes. My rent was $400. My car payment was $250. Gas was about $100. Groceries were about $75. My student loan payment? That sucker was $422. If you’re doing the math with me, that left me with $153. I had a FOUR YEAR DEGREE and could barely pay my bills. So, you know what I did? I got a job; 3 of them. I taught during the day, left school at 4:00, drove to the Shriner’s Hospital and taught Homebound for kids that were hospitalized for almost 4 hours. Then I worked retail, every Saturday. I worked from 9 to 7 every Saturday. Luckily, my retail store was closed on Sundays. But Sundays, I had to grade papers, do laundry, lesson plan! I had no weekend in my weekend. I was miserable. I worked every summer at my retail store, full time. Finally, I decided to make a change. I had to change careers. Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do outside of education with an education degree. I was lucky to have connections, but even now, I’m still miserable. I still work full time; I still have 3 jobs OUTSIDE of my full-time job. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I work 2 jobs. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I go to 3 jobs. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, I go to one job. My schedule is a nightmare. Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t say to me “I don’t know how you do it.” I do. I do it because I have to. I do it because I have no choice. I do it because I have no money.

I have come to terms that I will never get out from under my student loan payments. I’ve consolidated them, I’ve deferred them and I’ve put them under forbearance. There’s nothing more I can do, other than default on them and I refuse to ruin my credit. That’s the only thing I have going for me.

In retrospect, I wish I had never gone to college. Sure, the college life was fun; I’ve made lifelong friends and loving bonds, but was it worth it? No. I blame myself for not picking a more lucrative career. I blame my 17 year old self for jumping on the student loan bandwagon first and asking questions later. I blame my parents for making college seem so valuable. I blame them for not making a college fund for me. Is that fair? No. Would I rather have had a roof over my head rather than a college fund? Of course. But mostly, I blame myself. I should have asked more questions. I should have worked full time in college instead of only 30 hours a week. I should have realized that maybe college wasn’t for me. Maybe I could have gone to a tech school for 2 years, and then transferred into a 4 year school. I should have RESEARCHED MORE.

Parents, please instill in your children the value of RESEARCHING student loans. Don’t blindly sign your 17 year old self for things your 47 year old self is unsure of. I will be paying a minimum of $422 every month until I am 47. That is 30 years of income that I blindly signed away. Please, just research.