No regrets on all those college loans

Apply to your dream school and think about the money later. A close friend in high school took that advice 13 years ago, and I checked in with her recently to see if it turned out to be worth all the jobs and loans she took on once she embarked on her Ivy League adventure.

Her story reflects many of the issues touched on in today's Learning section. Neither of her parents had finished college, and there was no one to take her on college visits or guide her through applications. All she had was a desire for something beyond the big local university. Friends who were exposed to more would bring back brochures from their college trips, helping nurture her goal (see story, this page). "To this day," she writes in an e-mail, "I am grateful for all the savvy friends ... who told me to 'go for it.' "

But once accepted, would she really be able to afford it? There's a new report out suggesting that higher education is not as affordable as once thought (see page 13).

As it turned out, my friend was pretty much left on her own to face the financial burden. "The expenses which were calculated for me ... were always lower than reality," she writes. She took out high-interest loans and used credit cards to buy groceries and books, and she worked as many hours as possible.

Stories like these bring home the statistics about college affordability. But they also inspire respect for the transforming power of higher education. Even though she's still climbing out of debt on a social worker's salary, she reports, "It was worth it." Her dream was fulfilled whenever she heard a passionate debate in class or made a friend from a different background: "No one can take away from me what that leap of faith did. No one can undo the person I have become."


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