As a senior in high school I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wanted to go to a huge party school about 45 minutes from home. That was my dream. I wanted to be in their marching band. I couldn’t wait to party in the dorms, meet older guys, and do whatever the hell I wanted without my parents ever finding out. I would stay up late, get good grades, and hopefully one day figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Then, reality kicked in.

My mom wouldn’t let me go because she wanted me to live at home. In all honesty, she was probably right. I wasn’t ready for college yet. Little did I know, staying at home was the worst decision of my life.

I ended up going to a 4 year institution about 10 minutes from my parents house. I lived at home, attended college full time, and worked part time. I seemed to be managing well. My grades weren’t the best, but I wasn’t putting much effort into it either. I was more interested in this guy I was talking to, and making sure other girls weren’t hitting on him, than actually studying and getting good grades. I started with a major in pre-business. It’s not the Information Technology degree I wanted, but it was the closest thing they had besides going into programming, something I knew I would hate. By the mid point in the semester, I had a few good grades with the exception of 1 F. However, I convinced myself that I just wasn’t doing a good enough job, so I met with the Registrar and withdrew. To this day, I don’t understand why that man didn’t push me to stay in classes. To this day, I don’t know why I so easily was able to withdraw from school and walk away with an entire semester worth of debt and books I had barely used. Why was it that the Registrar signed off so easily? At the time, I had my mind set on withdrawing. However, if I would have been pushed a bit harder to stay in class, I would have. And I would have made A’s and B’s, except for my 1 F.

My parents were furious with me when they found out I withdrew, a few days later. I was embarrassed to tell them, because I knew it wasn’t the right choice, but it was too late to change my mind. After a few weeks of me being upset and my parents not happy with me, my dad and I decided I would attend the local community college. At the time, this school was basically the “13th grade”. You only went there if you either didn’t get accepted into a 4 year school, or you wanted a quick degree to just get a job as soon as you could. My mom was completely against this idea, she wanted me to go to a 4 year school, not some lame community college. Even though I made a huge mistake by withdrawing from my 1st school, attending the community college changed me for the better. My parents had lost their store the year prior, and were barely scraping by. I used this to my advantage, and received a lot of free federal financial aid, aid I wouldn’t have to pay back. However, because loans were not properly explained to me by a real person, I accepted everything I could. I received a huge refund check midway through the semester. I didn’t need the loan money, but it was great having all this extra money to blow. I wasn’t worried about paying back that money. I knew I’d have to pay it back, someday. Throughout my three years in community college I continued to take the maximum amount of financial aid I could, and I kept spending those refund checks like a kid in a candy store. I graduated with an Associates Degree in Network Administration, a degree to this day I am very proud of. Along with that degree, I had made the deans list several times and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa, an honors society. In addition, I had several thousand dollars in student loans that I never needed to have.

At this point, I should have stopped attending college and found a job. It was still acceptable to only have an Associate’s Degree. Most companies would hire you with that. But my parents pushed me to get my Bachelor’s Degree. It sounded great and all, especially because my mom never attended college, and my dad had only an Associate’s Degree in Electrical something or another. I attended a private Catholic college as an online student. I had awesome grades. I continued to take out the maximum amount of financial aid I could have, and this time I used it to pay off credit card debt that I had accrued due to my ex boyfriend at the time spending all of my money. I graduated from the 4 year college with a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration. I never thought I would ever get as far as a Bachelors Degree and I was extremely proud of myself, just as my parents were of me. At this point, I owed about $50,000 in student loans. This included loans in my own name as well as parent loans in my dad’s name. The sticker shock was finally catching up to me. I had student loan debt, and a lot of it. I had credit card debt, an over priced car loan, and dreams of buying my own house and moving out. I started to hit rock bottom. I was miserable all of the time because of the debt I had accrued. I dug myself a hole so big I knew I would never get out.

I had just gotten a job at the community college in the Financial Aid Office. I was realizing how important it was that I coach students on student loan debt, so they wouldn’t have the same money problems that I had. To this day, I work with students and explain my horrible story. Their parents just stare at me in disbelief. The students hear me, sometimes. Some students just don’t care about the loans. They’ll have to pay it back, someday.

Although I regret everyday for going to college and getting my Bachelor’s Degree, I don’t know that I would be where I am today without it. Even though my job only requires an Associate’s Degree, there are very few employees at my level that don’t have a Bachelor’s. Do I make enough money to pay all of my house bills and student loan bills? No. Am I miserable everyday of the week? Absolutely.

If I could do it all over again, I would change many things. I would have only used grants, not loans. If I still had a balance due, I would have made a payment plan instead of taking the full amount of my loans. If I needed to earn my Bachelor’s Degree, I would have been part time so I didn’t have to take out loans.

What I’ve learned from all of this, is that students need better educated on student loans and the repercussions of taking out the maximum amounts when they don’t need to. My loans have affected my happiness, my ability to be self sufficient, my ability to pay half of our mortgage and half of the house bills. I can’t have a nice car, I can’t go out shopping for clothes when I lost 50 pounds and everything I own is too big, and most importantly, I can’t truly enjoy my life.

My lesson to everyone else: Please, please, please take my advantage. Use cash as much as possible and take advantage of free federal financial aid. Take it from me, a dirt poor, 25 year old married woman who can’t afford to have the life she wants or feels that she deserves.