I was surprised at the staunch defense of student loans in the comments on a previous post.

Here’s where I’m coming from. I got a $10,000 scholarship my senior year of high school that I could use anywhere. Back in 1986, $10,000 was a lot. But it would pay for 4 full years of tuition, books, & fees at the closest (highly-ranked) state school at home, or it would pay for less than a semester of tuition at the out-of-state private school I was also considering. (No fees, no living expenses, no books, no rest of the tuition.) I decided on the in-state school, for ridiculous reasons mainly, but also because hey — free college? Duh.

My parents offered to pay for me to live in a dorm, but I didn’t think I could stand being crammed into a tiny room with a roommate, so I lived at home for the first couple of years. I also worked while attending school — I’d been doing that since I was fourteen, and didn’t see any reason to stop. Good thing, too, because it ended up taking me 5 years to graduate. I paid for the last year myself from my $9ish an hour job, and graduated without any student loans.

Things could have been different in many ways. I COULD have gone to the private school and spent a large fortune that I didn’t have on tuition, living expenses, and cold-weather coats & boots. I COULD have been a sucky student and attended a community college instead until I got my grades up, and then paid for the state school myself instead of getting a scholarship. I COULD have applied for hundreds and hundreds of scholarships and hopefully gotten enough of them to pay for the private school. My parents COULD have saved up and funded school for me (and for all I know, they did save up for that purpose.) I COULD have joined the armed forces and had the government pay for my school. I COULD have worked full time for a couple of years while I lived at home and saved up for school or worked for an employer who would pay my way. Etc.

I just didn’t WANT to do any of those things.

The point is, there are many many many options out there. And yes, one of those options is taking out student loans.

I attended graduate school as well, after working for a few years. The first year was paid for by my employer. The second year was paid for by a student loan large enough to cover tuition, books, fees, and living expenses. Why? Because I didn’t feel like working then.

And that’s the thing. I could have gotten my graduate degree for free with just a little more effort, but I didn’t feel like it. I wanted the experience of just going to school for once in my life. And it was a great experience. It was a lot of fun. Was it worth the money I borrowed? Probably. Was it the best choice? Certainly not, financially speaking.

But it was a choice, and not the default one. I didn’t just assume that the only way for me to attend graduate school was to take out a loan. And I’m not rationalizing my choice to take out a student loan by saying “well but it’s not easy to blah blah blah”. You’re right. It’s NOT easy. It’s just POSSIBLE. Entirely possible, depending on the choices you make.

Would it have been worth it to me to take out loans for 5 years of undergraduate and both years of graduate school? No way, no how. Ugh. I shudder at the thought. Would that have been bad debt, especially considering that the only thing my B.S. ended up being good for was getting into graduate school? Yes. I don’t want to even IMAGINE having paid many thousands of dollars in principal and interest + opportunity cost to have the good job I have now that does not require a degree of any sort.

But since knowing whether or not your student loan debt was worth it to you is something that can only be done in retrospect, why not make as many choices up front as possible to minimize or prevent it instead? I’ve never heard anyone say that their life went exactly as planned. And I’ve never heard anyone say that they regret graduating without a pile of debt.