College Debt and Why I Hate Being a Millennial

In a recent NPR article: Why Summer Jobs Don’t Pay, Anya Kamenetz briefly examines the mathematics behind working your way through college with a summer job, then and now. As a recent college graduate with more debt than I am comfortable with, this article hits pretty close to home right now.

I’ve been working at the local Lowe’s home improvement store all summer and I worked there last summer as well. My first summer in college I didn’t work. I was stubborn and afraid to get a job, so I paid for it by not having a lot of money for the summer. I also worked through college. One way or another, I was only without a job in college for maybe 5 months all together (counting that first summer) during the three years I took to graduate.

Despite an awesome rent situation with my grandparents, no car payments thanks to a borrowed car from my grandmother, saving half of my paychecks, and not touching that savings unless I have some kind of emergency or one of my goals has moved up in necessity, my bank account only has a little over $1000 in it.

That’s more than I think it’s ever seen at one time in its four-year existence.

In a month or two I’m going to start making payments on my student loans. In my bank account I have less than 4% of what I owe in student loans and I’m depending on my taxes to pay off my credit card in full for the things I had to buy like clothes for work and clothes for job interviews, and gas in between jobs and transitions from school to home.

Apparently when you work in a garden center you should wear work boots, jeans, and flannel or something comparable. And unless you’re applying for a lumberjack position, that doesn’t really fly as clothing for job interviews. And the yoga pants you wore in college and now wear at home and to bed are unacceptable to both. (All I can say is that I’m glad my dog doesn’t require a dress code, that could get expensive.)

But that’s all beside the point, that’s just my situation. There are countless stories out there. For every person in my situation there are a dozen more people in worse or similar situations. And there are some in better. I have a friend who paid off her entire student loan account a few weeks before graduation because throughout college she worked 2-3 jobs or worked as a resident assistant, which they give you free room and board to do.

I wasn’t so fortunate, but I did have some things working for me. I was a 21st Century Scholar, an Indiana program that meant all of my tuition was covered. I didn’t pay a dime in tuition money, everything was room and board. I had a few scholarships that meant I didn’t have to take out as many loans as I might have had to, only a few thousand each year.

I never lived off campus, but campus jobs paid barely above minimum wage, my one off-campus job didn’t pay terribly, but I had to drive a little over an hour to get there and stay at a friend’s house for the weekends to work 24-30 hours in a 3 day period. Because of things like phone bills, food, and other life necessities, not working during the school year was not an option. But for me, working more than one job wouldn’t have worked with my homework load. I have time management issues when it comes to my personal life and it was a real struggle to keep myself together. But I also know that because of my personality I would have gone mad without a job.

And this is why I hate being a millennial. Because I talk about my student loans now and I have been asked why I didn’t work harder to pay my way through college and I’ve heard the standard “I worked a part-time job in the summer and I managed not to take out any loans,” story countless times.

I’ve got news ,people: tuition and housing prices for college students have all gone up. Month by month, I was technically paying what was one the total per year cost of attending college. The only way my parents were able to really help with that part of my life was in the form of taking out a gap loan that I have to pay back. There was no escape for me, coming from a lower middle class family especially.

My friend recently wrote about her experience coming from a lower-income family to college where she was looking for the right career and what would make her money to help herself and her family later. You can read that here.

I was lucky, I didn’t care about making money. Once I decided to major in English, I stuck with it. I didn’t fluctuate, and I have a habit of being at least mediocre at everything I try to do/learn.

But as a millennial, I heard a thousand times over again that I was “such a millennial” and was stupid for picking a degree in the humanities fields. Not from my family, they call me a millennial because I look at my phone a lot, I heard this from people I hardly knew, and even from a few friends.

I hate being a millennial because I talk about the student debt crisis, I talk about all my dreams and how I can’t accomplish them like this and all I get told is that life isn’t fair and I should quit whining, be glad for the advantages I have. And I am so glad for my advantages, because I wouldn’t have made it this far without them.

I hate being a millennial because I have to live with this debt for at least the next decade unless I win the lottery suddenly and all that people older than me can seem to say is that I need a better job, to try harder, or that they’re sorry they can’t help. I’m trying to get a better job, I can’t try any harder than telling the truth and letting them know I’m interested in the job, and I don’t really want help – just a listening ear.

(Unless you have enough money and feel like generously paying off my student debt. 😉 )

I have to watch them smirk as they ask if I regret my English degree and wish I’d gotten a real career in science or engineering, even though I’m a woman and those same people would tell me that those are men’s fields.

I hate being a millennial because I look back and read this opinion piece and think, this is such a millennial thing to write. Even though, I know it’s the truth.

Millennial has become so much more of an insult for me. To me, a millennial is a whiney, self-absorbed brat who pretends to care about the greater good to garner sympathy. To me, a millennial is someone dependant on technology who can’t do anything for themselves or even think for themselves. But, I don’t actually know anyone like that. All the “millennials” I know are really decent people with big hearts stuck in a not so great financial situation.

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