Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Speechless At This Guy's Debt, Educational History, Prospects

So a guy took out 32 loans to put himself through community college, college, and law school, took tries to pass the NY bar, but never made a payment - not a single one - in 26 years. Accordingly, the New York State Bar refuses to admit him.

And hey look, he was a Hastings student. But he left in his third year to begin an LLM in London? What? So did he graduate. What the hell is wrong with this guy. He has some tough breaks but over $400k in debt and he didn't make a payment for 26 years? I don't think they should deny him a license, but they should hang a photo of him in college dorms across the country with a caption reading "don't let this happen to you."

A series of fees and disputes and, one assumes, interest, took his debt from over $200k to over $400k. Even at $200k, however, I just have to ask: "is it worth it?" They say it's good debt - but, is any debt really good?

This brings me to a discussion I had the other day with a former Y&G delegate. She's smart - very smart - motivated, was raised well, and has the kind of confidence to take her wherever she wants to go in life - once she figures out where that is. Though she's only a sophomore (soon to be, anyway) we talked about what she'd like to do after college. She guesses that half of her family will be thrilled she finished college and be happy with whatever she does. The other half will be similarly thrilled and happy, but expect her to attend graduate school - doesn't need to be law, but needs to be something.

My advice to her: don't rush to graduate school unless you're sure you want to go. The reason? The debt. Debt - whether from student loans or a housing purchase - is a freedom-killer. Or it's a fair trade, depending on your point of view and your relative satisfaction in life. My undergraduate student loans - fair trade. Loved the experience, learned a lot, use it everyday. I think readers know how I feel about my legal degree, however - and I got off cheap on that one.

I probably wouldn't have framed the question in terms of debt v. freedom, had she not made the following comment: "Some of those jobs pay so much better if you have a graduate degree."

A-ha!

What I didn't consider when I went to law school and then failed to leave it when I realized it wasn't my bag is that: yes, the jobs pay more. Your overhead, however, increases at about the same rate. So I could make less money if I had fewer bills to pay. I could probably have more wealth and freedom generally without the loan debt there (same goes for housing debt, but that's another post).

As ever, my point is not that students truly enamored of law or graduate studies opt not to pursue them out of debt-fear. I would just like to see students be more circumspect and take a bit more time - even if it's just a year between college and whatever-else - to think about what they want to do and why they want to do it.

The debt doesn't leave. And grad school will always be there.

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