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May 25th, 2010
08:30 AM ET

Commentary: Cost of college damaging, financially & mentally

Editor's Note: This week, our Alina Cho is looking into "The Cost of College." Today, she has the story of one young man who regrets his decision to go to a top-tier university. For Ryan Durosky, there was no question that he would go to his dream school, New York University. Now, he's nearly $300,000 in debt, and he's not alone. Below is a commentary he wrote for CNN about his experiences.

By Ryan Durosky
Special to CNN

I graduated on the precipice of one of the worst economic collapses in American history. Living in NYC, I was at the center of this maelstrom. Lucky for me, I chose not to work in the financial services industry. Friends (and friends of friends) recently hired by investment banking powerhouses were told to leave and so the layoff rate began to mirror the DOW’s plunging numbers. But I was safe. Far removed from the volatility of the financial markets, I could watch the DOW plunge 700 points in one day and know that I still had a job. I, and countless others didn’t know that these events would have far-reaching effects. Namely, my job wasn’t as safe as I thought it was.

My salary was modest and I had average health and dental insurance. By the summer of 2008, I was struggling to pay down my $1,125/month rent while living in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Yes, I had roommates to share the expenses with but there was plenty of rent due to go around. Add to that overdue monthly credit card bills (credit that I needed to get through college), unpaid hospital bills, and...well you get the picture, but I was on my own and that was all that mattered for the time being. College was over, this was ‘reality.’

By the time fall of 2008 arrived, the financial meltdown had begun. Lehman Brothers collapsed (where one of my roommates was employed) and the media began to take interest in finance and economics. At the same time, companies in every industry with failing investments and falling stock prices were forced to cut budgets wherever necessary. Boutique market research firms that lacked the ability to adapt and provide flexible business models, like the one I worked at, saw revenue decline as clients moved budgets elsewhere. By the time December ‘08 came, I was on the fringe of losing my job. Within weeks, my salary was noted as an unnecessary cost and I was laid off with a small severance plan. In the blink of an eye life completely changed

Shortly before I was laid off, my student loans became ‘due.’ At first, understanding the paperwork and interest rates was a daunting task. Ironically, I needed a college degree to understand exactly what I had gotten myself into. I had 6 loans, 5 of which were private with variable interest rates. I was able to negotiate with my lender and lower my payments to between $800-$1,000/month with the agreement that by July 2011, I would start repaying them at $1,700/month for 96 months. It was really my only option at the time but by the time I got laid off, it was nearly impossible to pay the loans. To be fair, this really is my mistake and now I have to pay for it

I stayed in NYC under the delusion that it would be easy for me to find another and possibly better job. As the weeks passed, panic set in as not a single employer had responded to my resume. As still a recent college grad, how could I compete with seasoned employees who had been laid off and were willing to accept entry-level salaries? By the end of February 2008, I was forced to pack up, suck it up, and move back to PA. I had to go home. At 23 years old, no self-respecting individual wants to admit defeat and move back home with their parents, but I had no choice. The local job environment in eastern PA is not exactly a center for professional growth and so I spent most of my time hanging out with my girlfriend, friends, and family. I leisurely sent out resumes here and there and signed up on various career sites, but employers just didn’t seem to care about what I had to offer.

Collecting unemployment (as a last resort), I spent the next year contemplating whether or not my education was worth the time and how soon I would be able to move out (if I somehow found a job). I was unable to pay my student loans, credit cards, and hospital bills. Over the year, my credit tanked to the point where I can’t even get a car without 3K down payment and a co-signer. My loans went into forbearance for a time. I can’t even consolidate my student loans which after 15-20 years and 300K (with interest) will finally be paid off. On a separate tangent, I realized that good schools were meant for the ‘rich’ kids from upscale suburbs whose parents could afford to pay for it outright. I had no business attempting to get a good education on my own. Equal opportunity only works in favor of wealth. Even those from poorer backgrounds who work 10 times harder to reach their goals need some kind of debt to get there. My college choice is a mistake that will haunt me for a long time. I’ll never know if NYU had an impact on my future opportunities.

By the Fall of 2009, I found myself looking for new ways to get my resume on someone’s desk. I sought the advice of a career counselor whose resume critique seemed to do wonders for my job search. I started receiving emails and phone calls on a consistent basis and by October I had managed to receive an offer at a reputable advertising agency in their analytics group, which has turned out to be an amazing career opportunity. Now, I commute between PA and NYC every day. I just can’t manage to save enough to move back with the tremendous debt I have to drag behind me.

I’m 24 yrs. old now and I might be living back in my hometown but I have my own place and I can pay for my loans (just barely) for now. Sometimes I wonder if anyone has the same loan issues I do as I watch other recent grads just rake in their salaries and buy things that I know I can never own. When this all started, I guess it was all about following the ‘American Dream.’ Owning a house and starting a family are not things I see in my future though. While big banks and homeowners get free government money for their mistakes, college graduates seem to be ignored. All I wanted to do was get the best education I could and better myself. I never thought I would be in a financial situation like this. To be fair, this really is my mistake and now I have to pay for it. I only hope that recent high school graduates understand the consequences of private loans and how damaging they can be, both financially and mentally.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ryan Durosky.

Filed under: Cost of College • Education
soundoff (62 Responses)
  1. Margo

    Stop whining. You got an excellent education and that stuff doesn't come free. I went to NYU and I worked and paid for it as I went. The last semester I completely ran out of money and NYU found me a scholarship that covered it so I could graduate. I am grateful. There were lots of people w/o money in school when I was there. NYC is expensive but you don't have to live in Manhattan. If you don't want to commute to PA then move to one of the boroughs and get roommates for the time being. Life isn't a free ride. I'm not sure what you were expecting.

    June 5, 2010 at 9:23 am |
  2. read the fine print

    "Shortly before I was laid off, my student loans became ‘due.’ At first, understanding the paperwork and interest rates was a daunting task. Ironically, I needed a college degree to understand exactly what I had gotten myself into. "

    Why would you be reading the paperwork AFTER the loans are due? The time to read the paperwork and figure out what you were getting into was that the time you took out the loans. If it's hard to understand, you ask questions instead of waiting until the bill is due to understand the HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS IN LOANS YOU TOOK OUT. I think that grammar schools should provide an entire year on the definition of the word "loan", because obviously kids simply aren't getting it.

    June 2, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  3. A Solution for Ryan

    I think people are being unnecessarily mean by putting salt on Ryan's wounds. Nobody so far has given a viable solution to his problems.

    Ryan have you ever thought about simply leaving the country? You can simply default on your loans by leaving your country and going off to some Asian country (like south korea) to become an English teacher. All you need is a 4 year degree. You'll have housing, food paid for and you'll get a modest salary which will allow to live like a king. Of course many people don't like this option because it separates them from the people they love but desperate situations call for desperate measures. Think about it, you'll never have to pay a dime on your loans.

    Ryan, It's not your fault that this has happened, it's the governments fault for giving everyone debt so they can get degrees, devaluing it. Surely with a business degree you understand the economics of supply and demand. If everyone has a degree, it's worthless.

    May 28, 2010 at 11:54 pm |
  4. John

    Hang in there Ryan you're not alone.

    May 28, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  5. NYU Grad

    Did anyone else see NYUx2 's comment?

    The fact that the her child who graduated from NYU in 2003 still cannot find permanent fulltime employment deeply worries me as a fellow unemployed NYU alum. I truly hope everything works out for the entire family. (If I may ask, what have the two of them been up to since graduation?) I've been looking for a job for over a year and ended up with a handful of internships and temp jobs (which I accepted each time). There's nothing wrong with internships and temp jobs, but it's not something anyone wants to do after paying for a school as expensive as NYU.

    May 27, 2010 at 9:44 pm |
  6. Observer

    Stop whining!
    You didn’t make a mistake. Over your lifetime you will earn more than the cost of your education and the interest than you most likely would have if you didn’t go to college. You also became an educated person. Not one can take that away from you. The market for college graduates will always pay more than for the uneducated. Pay off your loans as fast as you can and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. Instead of comparing yourself to those you perceive to be better off, think about the billions of people around the world that would gladly trade places with you. You made a wise choice to go to college and it is all together fitting that the person benefitting from it is the one who pays for it (You). Loans were a tool to reach your goal. Well done! The grass is green, right where you are!

    May 27, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  7. Alan Collinge

    The federal student loan system has become fundamentally predatory due to the Congressional removal of standard consumer protections, combined with congressionally sanctioned collection powers that are stronger than those associated with all other loan instruments in our nation's history. These actions by Congress have, predictably, created an inherently predatory, state-sponsored lending and collection system where the motivations of the various functional elements of the system are fatally misdirected. The system that has resulted promotes inefficiency in administration, unchecked inflation, bureaucratic malaise and conflicted oversight. Moreover, the resulting system promotes needless and expensive complexity and redundancies, fails to encourage academic excellence, and ultimately, promotes delinquency and default.

    While this system has been extremely lucrative for a few individuals, it causes massive harm not only to borrowers and their families, but also to non-borrowing students and their families, due to the dramatic inflation that the system promotes. The nation suffers a massive cost due to the large amount of wealth trapped in this system, the quality of the education received by the citizens, and the public's opportunity cost associated with the materialistic career paths that citizens are forced into at the expense of public interest work, and entrepreneurship.

    Importantly: this problem exists across both Direct Loan (DL), and Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Programs. In the public interest, the consumer protections that were removed by Congress must be restored by Congress at the earliest opportunity. By returning these consumer protections, the motivations of the system's functional elements will be reoriented such that most, if not all of the deficiencies mentioned above will go away over time.

    Come to to get the real story.

    May 27, 2010 at 2:31 am |
  8. Serious Reader

    Circumstances may change, but you can't keep a good man down. And you're a good man. You could play this out a dozen other ways, (weaseling out of paying, etc) but your character shines through. Anyone can see that. That is 90% of life. Life WILL go on. Yea yea, easier from the sidelines. You'll be fine. There are others who will fare worse. Your parents raised you right.

    May 26, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
  9. pw

    There are many ways of looking at this, but Ryan I feel for you. I made the same mistake, with the same school and here's why to all those people being critical about this: I had been told my whole life that education was the key to success in this country. I was also told to get a good education at a good school and the debt would be good debt, as it would help you more in the long run. As long as you got into the "good" school, you could finance it and be ahead. 18 year old kids don't know the erroneous nature of this logic, and further times are changing so fast in terms of what it takes to get by these days. It's one of those things where you don't realize how bad a decision was until it is too late. Some relief will have to come though, because each year tuition is going up, more people are going to school, there are fewer jobs, cost of living is rising, wages are stagnant, the government is practically out of control, and the scam that is corporate America is being exposed. Higher education is complicate in this, but alas one can not squeeze blood from a stone. Look at the housing crisis.

    May 26, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  10. Michael


    I too went to NYU. The school is a ripoff, and the president of NYU John Sexton continues to expand the school with the money he's looting from us. The result: More students and a less prestigious degree. It's a scam, like all private colleges; but NYU is a particularly shameful example.

    Thank you for exposing the dark side of the American education-industrial complex. Ignore the comments criticizing you. These guys who graduated in the 80s and 90s have no idea what it's like.


    May 26, 2010 at 6:56 pm |
  11. HG


    I also graduated from NYU Stern. We got duped by the education system. They lure naive students by making them believe that their degree will be a path to a DECENT job.

    Law schools are probably the worst offenders because they dupe indebted college grads who think that if they just get that one extra degree, then they could achieve a middle class life. It just doesn't happen.

    The American higher education system is a scam and a joke.

    I commend you for the courage to speak about it publicly. Most people will assume that you feel "entitled" or are "spoiled." But in reality, you worked hard, did what you were supposed to do, and ended up with nothing (actually, less than nothing, since you are so deeply in the red).

    May 26, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  12. MIT grad

    For those of us wondering how he racked up 275K, I did some math: assuming his loans were all private at 7%, then he owed interest while in school and in deferment. Assuming 2 years of deferment, and exactly equal loans, they would have each been 54K for 4 years. Given tuition of 40K, living on 14K a year in NYC isn't exactly high on the hog.

    There are tough choices. I too had the choice to a full scholarship to a good state university or a few Ivy's. I went to my dream school, MIT, by 1. taking cheaper summer courses locally (transfer credit) and AP courses to eliminate an entire year of college 2. living in cheap housing and cooking for myself 3. taking on jobs where I could get study time in – I was able to earn enough to pay all my room, board, books.

    Of the total, I said that MIT paid 1/3, my parents paid 1/3, and I paid 1/3. Well, the federal government paid a portion of my third. All of my loans were through the school, so I accrued no interest in school, including grad school and 9 months after leaving. I was paid to go to grad school, not a large income by any means but I continued living a frugal lifestyle and saved money on it. By the time my loans were due, I could pay them off from that savings. I waited a few years until the interest rate on the loans was higher than what I was earning in the bank, and then I did pay them off. Was it worth it? To me, absolutely! As someone who has never believed in herself (or had family believe in her) – MIT grads often think of themselves as a fake – it was enormously powerful to be amongst like-minded souls, to hear profs tell me I was one of the top two students in my hardest class, to know I'd pushed my own limits.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  13. bbg

    If private student loans could be discharged in bankruptcy, then predatory lenders like SLM would not be making the loans that allow students like Ryan to get into this kind of debt.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
  14. Ryan Durosky

    Just to address a few comments above:

    1. I acknowledge my mistakes
    2. I'm not asking for pity; I'm raising awareness so that other students won't fall into the same trap
    3. 275K = 180K (4 yr. tuition at NYU) + 35K (capitalized interest) + variable interest to be paid ( app. 60K) on 5 private loans
    4. NYU Stern is actually top-tier

    May 26, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  15. Wojo

    I got into every college I applied to after graduating high school, including my dream school Cornell. I worked my butt off in college to get in and I did. However there was a problem with my application and by the time it was sorted out the school was unable to offer me some financial help. I don't blame them, they are a business after all, but I knew I couldn't put myself and my parents in that financial hole after graduation.

    I also had full scholarship offers from Fordham and Macaulay Honor's College at Baruch and I decided to join the latter. After hearing of stories such as yours I don't regret my decision at all. I'm actually thankful for a high quality free education and the fact that I will graduate debtless when compared to my friends just gives me a bigger satisfaction.

    This false sense of entitlement and independence that drives many college students to not worry about their futures astounds me. Be responsible for your actions. NYU is a good school with a lot of name power but at the same time there are worthy substitutes. Especially since New York City is filled with quality business schools that don't cost an arm and a leg.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:45 am |
  16. Questioning

    I love reading articles like this... people who say they're taking responsibility, all while complaining about how they ended up in the situation in which they find themselves.

    I fail to understand why anybody would attend NYU. I definately don't understand why a kid who could have paid in-state tuition at Penn State.

    Students have been making very poor financial decisions regarding where to attend college. There is widespread public perception that attending an expensive private school is infinately better than attending a less-expensive in-state school. For the life of me, I cannot fathom why people are so naive.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:44 am |
  17. Andrew

    Since when is NYU a "top-tier" university?

    May 26, 2010 at 9:32 am |
  18. College Counselor

    As a college counselor working for a non profit I see this on a daily basis. It's nothing for me to see 3 out of 5 kids a day CHOOSE to go to a college that will subject them to loans exceeding 80k (add on the federal sub and unsub direct loans and they are over 100k). The one thing I think Ryan did get right is that, yes it is your fault. I sympathize with the market you graduated into and the difficulties you have faced, but in complete honesty colleges, parents, and high schools counselors all need to do a better job of educating high school students on debt and what it means. 100k in loans means nothing to a high school student, if you ask them what that is in a monthly payment they have no clue.

    I realize they are not dischargable in bankruptcy but for the people saying they should be dischargable and they should be forgiven, isn't that just feeding the fire? If they were dishchargable then what stops a student from going to whatever college they want and simply saying I'm not going to pay that back and filing for bankruptcy while still having the diploma, that the issue, they are high risk loans with no collateral if the student defaults. If you default ona a car loan they take your car, don't pay your mortgage they'll take your house, what will they take if they don't pay back there student loans, that's the difference.

    I follow the private student loan market quite closely and I realize the ranges on the interest can be anywhere from 4-15% (variable) and the terms are not favorable but at some point the kids should be accountable, and knowing they can't get them without a co-signer, parents should certainly know and be resposible enough to look at the terms and decide whether or not it is a smart decision financially.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  19. Frank

    Parts of his story are misleading...he didn't rack up $300K in debt to get his education...that's what he expects to pay including interest over the next 10 year. And, when you "forebear" your loans, the interest keeps accruing and the balance has no where to go but up since no payments are being made. How much of that debt went to the real cost of school, and how much of it was used for partying, spring break, and living the big life in the big city?

    When living with mom and dad and hanging out with gf and doing little of nothing, why did you need to buy a car? I'd say a co-signer and $3000 down would still be quite a risk for the bank. Move back home, live rent free with mom and dad, and pay every penny you can to the student loans and get them paid off faster. THEN, if you want to be on your own and live like a big boy, you can afford to.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:15 am |
  20. CYNYC

    I feel for you, kid. You were boondoggled by the marketed 'glamour" of NYU, and I reckon by the bank that made those loans with such ease.
    Corporations will pick the bones of any of us, even while we are still walking. The USA will apparently let them. I'm a patriot, yet I am ashamed.

    I am 54 years old. I get called every single day for my unpaid student loan balance of a paltry 17K. Student loans are not discharge-able in bankruptcy.

    It doesn't matter if you lived at the base of the WTC on 9-11, or if you devoted your life to social services, or if your kids are sick and you had even a 9-11 change in luck causing you to only get medicine if you pay cash. It's not their problem. We are the problem to them.

    But lets not be bitter and poor us pour us a drink, every one.

    Send the bank $10 a month, every month, on time. And live. Live in a way that doesn't rely on dreams of a three figure income.

    My kids? If they want to go to college they'll have to learn a trade first. I'm thinking barber school.

    College is for dummies. 🙂

    May 26, 2010 at 4:48 am |
  21. Yessiree Bob

    Yup, very true. Let this be a lesson to you kids: go to state. Nothing wrong with public universities. And get a decent degree, you english and com majors! Engineering, CS, something that will get you a good job. Learn from this young man's mistakes.

    May 26, 2010 at 2:47 am |
  22. AntW

    Can you please break down that $275,000 debt?

    Something just doesn't add up. It seems like I'm missing an important detail about the source of your debt.

    Most people can finance a bachelors and a graduates degree for around $150k.

    How in the world did you only get a bachelors for $275k?

    Just a question! lol.

    May 26, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  23. Monica B

    I understand your situation after picking up $60,000 in student loan debt for graduate school. I do not regret it at all. The economy went sour as we all know, and I have not been able to utilize my MBA in the manner I would like. I have a job in the health care field, which I am grateful for.

    My advice to students with a modest or no income starting college, should really consider the community college to reduce costs. The first two years are your basic courses, and there is no sense in paying the tuition fees at the four year university. I am sending my 18 year old daughter to the community college first, then have her transfer to the four year school. My child should be able to graduate with less than $10,000 debt in this manner. I want my child to have a decent chance to enjoy life a little without the big burden of so much debt.

    We all should really evaluate the financial return on paying for pricey schools.

    May 26, 2010 at 2:19 am |
  24. Nicoleasm

    I completely cosign to your entire article. I graduated in 2008 and because I couldn't find a [really] well paying job to start paying back all my loans(plus medical bills from high deductibles, living off credit cards in college) know what I did? I went back to school, lol! to graduate school..atleast it put my loans back in deferment, and Im able to take out more student loans to live off of, until I find a great job. That might sound crazy to most people, BUT, I graduated with a BS in Biology...what can I do with that? I love the subject, the only thing really is teaching(at about 40-50k/year), or medical tech(same salary or less)...With a doctorate in the medical field, I know I can do a lot better and it's in high demand. You never said what your degree was in??
    But that's what Im counting on now, after I finish my Ph.D Maybe you should try that, masters or higher?
    The other part about going to an expensive school, I definitely understand. I went out of state, but the only way I afforded it was that I did everything required to set up a residency so I could pay in state tuition. With your private school, I don't think I could have loaned my way through that. I just wouldn't want to see all my income going to paying off that much money. If I had scholarships/grants, definitely I could do it! or like you said, had parents that were rich. But its done now, so I say go back to school, to a public university, and work on a professional degree, or try to start your own business, write a book..I wouldn't just sit and wait for people to come pick you.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:45 am |
  25. NYUx2

    Perhaps Ryan needs more of a reality check – my two children are NYU graduates and still can't find permanent fulltime employment – from 2003 and 2008 grad dates. All four of us are in debt because of this (they & Mom & Dad), additionally my husband lost his job, we are unable to sell our house and our future looks bleak since we have been using credit cards to pay utilities, food, mortgage, etc – and they are almost maxed out.Ryan is 24 & was a salutatorian – he's got lots of time to have a better future – my husband and I don't and no one knows(until now) how bad our situation is because we don't whine, we don't feel a sense of entitlement, and most of all, we believe we can still be happy. We encourage our children that things will get better and they still will have fulfilling lives.I suggest Ryan start thinking positively, and if necessary, get on those anti-depressants.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:45 am |
  26. getalife

    This story makes it sound like we should feel sorry for this guy. What a joke.......I'm all for pursuing "dreams", but not when it actually comes at the expense of real dreams, This is another example of someone who didn't prioritize the correctly, and now he's paying the price (literally).

    Moral of the story- it really doesn't matter where you get your degree. What matters is who you know, how good you are, and how much your skills are in demand.

    Obviously this guy doesn't have the skills, the contacts, or the talent to get himself out of this jam anytime soon. I hope some people learn a lesson from this guy......

    May 26, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  27. Bruce Levitt

    On one hand I feel bad for this young man being caught up in the recession, but on the other hand I feel like he took a giant stupid pill. His insistence that he HAD to go to NYU to get the best education he could is absurd. Sure, NYU is a fine school, but what the heck is wrong with Penn. St. for a PA resident? It costs a fraction of what NYU does. He says he realizes it was his mistake, but why did his parent or parents allow him to get himself so far in debt? Also absurd. A good student can grow and develop at a state university, and the research field he's in is full of people with degrees from public colleges. My own son was an excellent high school student and is now a happy camper at our state university, which has somehow managed to produced some of the brightest, most interesting, and most successful people I to know, including my wife.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:41 am |
  28. SuckItUp

    It would appear that Ryan understands that every aspect of this
    "problem" is his to solve. If he had access to ZERO interest money as the banking industry does, he would be able to quickly pay off his loans by charging his fellow students the same Reagan induced usary levels that currently exist in the USA in the public arena. BUT,
    given the massive corruption that exists within the banking "system" that is aided and abetted by the corrupt federal government, it is STILL Ryan's POOR choices that got him into this mess!! $300K!!!
    What were you thinking????

    May 26, 2010 at 1:40 am |
  29. Marshall Frith

    Feel pretty bad for you Ryan. In 2002 I was granted a Presidential Appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy (free education and harder to get in to than Harvard). Ended up leaving after Plebe summer and headed back to a state school, Florida State University, definitely no where in the realm as NYU. However, I did not let that set back my career goals, but what I had going for me, was an in-state tuition that was essentially covered in scholarships and parental help in the range of $12K from my parents, completing both a bachelors and masters degree in 3.5 years. What do I have to say about your story?

    Well, for one, name means absolutely nothing in my world of defense contracting and most jobs. You either get it or you don't. Roughly quoting the movie Wall Street, I want graduates who are poor, smart, and hungry. At what point did you think $300k in loans was worth just a bachelors degree? A bachelors degree in fast-paced cities like NYC, DC, Chicago, etc. is like a high school diploma. Unless you were guaranteed an investment banking job out of college, your $300K in debt was beyond foolish, it was a travesty a bank/s allowed you to take out that much money. On top of that, here's my advice I give to FSU students. Your degree/s mean absolutely nothing to me unless in a hard science, because in the end, the hard fact for students to know, is that this world is about who you know, not what you know. If you don't believe this truism then you live in a fantasy land.

    In your case, I hope you default on your debts and achieve the 'American Dream' you want. It's much easier at 24 to walk away from the debt and take the hit on the credit for 7 years than be shackled until you're 50 years old+. I'm just appalled that 300k bought you only a bachelors degree. If you gave me 300k in terms of loans in a different part of the country, at a lesser school I'd have multiple graduate degrees and vacation money to boot, and likely start out at a higher salary (taking in account cost of living).

    I wish you the best of luck, but your return on investment was a poor choice in my opinion and you could have gotten much bigger bang for your buck elsewhere. I feel horrible for your situation and hope you share your hard-earned wisdom with future college students to not fall in to the same trap.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:25 am |
  30. David

    Outstanding blog. I've had a very similar experience, as have many other students.... over the past few years, Congress has taken significant steps to ease students' burden, but it does nothing to help recent graduates.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:13 am |
  31. Cameron

    Student loan debt from loan shark private loan companies is a massive and devastating problem across our country that is at least as equal in its scope as the mortgage crisis that we've recently experienced. The difference is that these companies have lobbied congress into making this debt the only debt not covered by consumer bankruptcy protections. This is disgusting, and it is leaving a generation of young people who are trying to begin their lives as indentured servants in the United States of America. The debt commonly exceeds six figures, and the payments are often over $2000 a month. This renders these young graduates incapable of ever buying cars or houses and contributing to our economy. I encourage you all to contact congress about this immediately.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:08 am |
  32. Blutoski

    The student loan industry is HUGE and generates millions for lenders. Used to be student loans could be discharged via bankruptcy, but no more. Back in the mid-90s industry lobbyists convinced lawmakers to exclude education loans from bankruptcy, so now we have an entire generation trapped in lives of financial servitude. Ideally there should be student loan amnesty for all who carry debt. Furthermore, undergraduate education should be free, at least at public universities. Loan amnesty would be another way to stimulate the economy, but the big lenders are making their money, so who cares?

    That said, unfortunately, you made a mistake in taking on so much debt for a Bachelor's degree. Attorneys and doctors rarely carry such a huge debt load. Higher education has turned into just another industry looking to separate people from 'their' money.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:01 am |
  33. Steve

    It's your own fault. Many students go to less-prestigious schools than they got accepted to because of financial reasons. You could have done the same, instead of blindly accepting large loans.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:56 am |
  34. J.C. Hall

    I feel you Ryan. As a 35-yr old recent law school graduate and current graduate student finishing a masters degree, I've accrued nearly 200K in debt in pursuit of higher education. I managed to get a job out of law school, a remarkable feat given the job market and economic recession, while I finish up my graduate degree, but I still work paycheck to paycheck.

    Not wanting to take a loss because the housing market dropped, I decided to rent my condo which I own in another city, but it has remained unrented in a saturated market for 9 months now. My monthly bills (car/life/home/renters/health/dental insurance, utilities, and rent) consume a good chunk, along with 2 of my private student loans and my credit card debt which built up when I was jobless and studying for the Bar last summer.

    But soon, my other 2 private loans and my federal student loans (which comprise 50% of my total student debt) will become due and I'm going to struggle just to be able to save a few hundred bucks a month; that is, IF my condo gets rented. Once my food bills, automotive upkeep and fuel costs are factored into my monthly budget, I could even flutter at the break-even point. It's very scary how much the student loan debt has set me back, and I often question why the hell I spent 7 years spending money for education and foregoing an income.

    I just trust that in the end the hard work and sacrifice will pay off and I'm more fortunate than many, even if I feel like I'm way behind where I want to be financially at this time. So good luck to you, Ryan, and all the others out there in a similar situation. And if you don't need to rely on student loans, or can avoid them by making other choices, I second Ryan's cautionary tale and say count your blessings for starting with a clean slate.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:54 am |
  35. Jason

    I am in the same boat (so to speak). Except I went to a lower cost state university in Missouri. I started my job search approximately three months ago and have almost nothing to show for it. I did all the right things such as tailoring my resumes and cover letters to specific employers, getting my resume critiqued by professionals, and sending resumes to a varied assortment of companies. I was only able to net two interviews. The first company offered me a salary that I thought was insulting ($26,000) and the second company only offered a fully commissioned salary. So those interviews were a complete bust. I was able to get a testing opportunity with Procter & Gamble, but they were only looking to build a "talent pool" for future job openings. Now, I am a college graduate who has no idea if he will be able to find a decent paying job. When I first started college 6 years ago I thought I would be one of those lucky few that would end up with a nice home and an income to give my family everything they needed. I'm also not a 'typical' college graduate. I have 8 years of military service under my belt. The way people talk, that is supposed to give you an advantage over the competition. But I have learned over the past several months that it is no longer about what you know or your background, it's about 'who' you know. Today, I am sitting here, unemployed trying to think of a new strategy that will enable me to find a decent paying job. It's obvious that the things which helped someone get a job in the past are no longer sufficient. Looks like I'll have to use that 6 month student loan deferment after all.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:51 am |
  36. larry manthe

    the costs of higher education has skyrocketed!!!

    May 26, 2010 at 12:38 am |
  37. Shem


    You are not alone, we are moving on the same direction, I do a gree with you that the rich will continue to get the best education, while the poor we will be paying for the rich's expenses.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:34 am |
  38. EDD

    As someone 20 years Ryan's senior and in a position that hires employees in Ryan's age range I seriously questions his logic and thinking skills. Who in their right mind takes on a $300K debt with no real indication that it will pay off? This is exactly the kind of thinking that drove people to take on subprime loans because "real estate always goes up". Also his comments that "I realized that good schools were meant for the ‘rich’ kids from upscale suburbs whose parents could afford to pay for it outright. I had no business attempting to get a good education on my own. Equal opportunity only works in favor of wealth" show a lack of real word perspective. Ryan states that he is from PA. Penn State is a fine university that would have provided a degree at a fraction of the cost. There are plenty of good schools that will provide an educational background for success. It is not your school that dictates how far you will go in life. It is how you choose to use you education.
    My suggestion is Ryan is that he develop some common sense and street smarts to go along with his private school degree.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:32 am |
  39. guyfromflorida

    I have been paying my student loans since 1998. I now owe about $135k on an initial loan of $85k. I pay $900/month, and have to share a home with roommates to make ends meet. It seems to me that college really is the realm of the wealthy. I would have liked to be able to afford a home and to have a family. As such, I can not sincerely recommend to anyone to pursue a college education if you don't have parents who can pay for it.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:28 am |
  40. Eric Watson

    Hi, Ryan I wanted to let you know that you aren't alone in this student loan devastation. I first started my college education at Wright State University located in Dayton, OH in 2001, and graduated with my bachelor's in International Studies in 2007. Then later graduated with another college degree in 2009 in aviation technology with a commercial pilot certificate, but come to find out that the airlines is not hiring low time pilots anymore. The airlines has actually taken action and are continuously laying high time pilots off which really decreases low time pilots with an education from ever being hired. Unfortunately, over a period of three years I have not had any luck finding a job within my career field or even a job that pays decent to where I am able to pay my student loans back.
    Although, in mid 2008 I had a management job with a company that had been around for decades I decided to get married, but it was the end of 2008 when the economy took a nose dive and several managers including myself were let go. It was approximately a month later that the company I worked for filed bankruptcy.
    To say the lease my wife and I both had credit card debt, student loans, apartment rent, car loans, and the usual utility bills. It was the worst feeling ever when we had to file for bankruptcy, it really hurt us, but we persevered. Since, I was with the company just under 6 months I was not eligible for unemployment, health benefits, nor food stamps. So, we were forced to move in with the in-laws and my wife would drive one hour one way to work, when before our apartment was located but 2 miles from here work. So, I focused on getting any kind of job that would give me quick cash, and soon to find out that job opportunity would be with Papa Johns.
    However, while I was working at Papa Johns I was taking classes to become an aircraft mechanic; I thought if I can't get a job flying them I would try fixing them, but shortly after one quarter I ran out of money again.
    Soon did I know that I would be accepted into a internship program with an airline's safety management team. Although, it was a great experience while I was working there did I know that during my internship the airline would file for bankruptcy. This did not ensure my future with the company at all, and I found myself taking a low paying job working the ramp back in Dayton, OH.
    It has been quite the life experience these past two years, but no body included you Ryan and any other college graduates should have to experience. As individuals we were work hard to try to pay for education and study to get good grades, so that there will be a career waiting for us after our education is complete. One thing that I found that really is discriminating is when a company will not hire you, because of your credit score. Believe me before we were forced to file bankruptcy I had a fa-nominal credit score. How can a country that is so focused on helping it's citizens let them continue to drown in debt
    when apparently based on the current amnesty bill will illegal aliens free college tuition. Instead of our government paying for their education, help pay for US citizens education and help pay down and reform the student loan financial institutions!

    May 26, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  41. john

    I got accepted to a top school but i refuse to sign the intent to enroll. Thanks for sharing your story, it means a lot.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  42. Alessandra Giannini

    This is an unfortunate story. However I do believe that a lot of your issues have more to do with poor financial advising and/or decisions. Seriously, tuition at NYU is about 37,000 for the year, times 4 years that is roughly 150,000. Why are you 300,000 in debt. I mean I understand you needed money for rent/living expenses, but twice as much, basically $40,000 extra per year seems a little excessive. I wouldn't say recent high school graduates should forgo their dreams of attending an IVY-league or a top school in the nation. I think that with proper financial advise and scholarships you could make your dreams come true. Furthermore, you were class saludatorian. Didn't they offer you some type of scholarship? I was class saludatorian and attended the University of Miami, which has similar tuition rates, with a 50% scholarship. Sorry for what happened to you, I just don't agree. I think there are other ways and I have many friend's who looked for ways to make it, and found them and they are doing just fine.

    May 26, 2010 at 12:02 am |
  43. Andy

    I find one HUGE flaw with your forward path, Ryan. You are up to your eyeballs in debt trying to figure out how to pay for everything you'll need (let alone want) and the first step after you got your new job is MOVE OUT of your parents house! I am 24 and I get it. I came to Washington, DC for greener pastures. I am fortunate to have had a great job as an engineer for 2+ years since I graduated from college. No way, no how would I ever want to move back home, but in the event I found myself laid off (I just survived RIF last month, thank goodness), I know I could return home and live rent free. Were you not able to stay at home after so long? I see no point to getting your own place in your hometown to commute 2+ hours to NYC for work if you're parents are giving you free room and board (and possibly food?). Seems to me like that could be a couple extra hundred bucks you could seriously be saving and spending on necessities like cell phone bills for example or paying down your hospital debt. Not to mention you have utilities. More wasted money. New grads in Ryan's position, I know you don't want to move back home and stay until you really get on your feet but seriously bite the bullet if you have to. You'll be on your own before you know it if you play your cards right!

    May 25, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  44. Alphageek

    Your college choice was a huge mistake and a mistake that is being repeated over and over again across the U.S. You could not afford to go NYU just like another person cannot afford to buy a Masserati or live in a 5,000 square foot home. It's great some people can afford those things but most cannot.

    The error in your thinking was when you got the attitude, "I had no business attempting to get a good education on my own." Education is what the student brings to the table. Sure going to the Ivies may have a certain cachet but I am sure you could have gotten a "GOOD" education at the institution that offered you the FULL RIDE.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:59 pm |
  45. Brian

    I can't put into words how grateful I am for this story! I am in the exact same position as you. In retrospect, I realize that I had no business going to the school that I attended. It is my own fault for accepting the advice of countless teachers, administrators, parents, etc. I don't blame them for their advice. I just feel that it was somewhat of a perfect storm. My financial situation has spiraled out of control. I can give up and walk away but it has an incrediblely detrimental impact on my co-signing parents! My life will be forever negatively impacted by my decision to better myself by getting an education!

    May 25, 2010 at 11:43 pm |
  46. Dave

    It will be interesting to see what the breaking point is for college costs. At some point folks will realize it isn't worth it to go to a private school when you don't have a lot of money going in. College will look a lot different a generation from now.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
  47. cynthia dunne

    I feel your pain. My eldest son fell into the same trap you are in. I am now encouraging my youngest son to stick with the college he is in, despite the fact he has 'outgrown it' within his career path. Too sad. If I win the megabucks I will send you lots of money to pay off those dang stupid ripoff loanshark higher education bank loans. Hang in there and remember to stop and smell the roses.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:23 pm |
  48. Jason Franks

    This is exactly why I turned down all the acceptance levels to private universities when I entered college. Should I put myself, my parents, and three siblings in financial peril to provide myself a marginal increase in educational merit? Nope. I graduated from Western Washington University in 3 years with a Bs in Mathematics for approximately $50k. Then I went to UW for a 1 year accelerated Masters program in Applied Mathematics (the #16 AMath program in the world) completely paid for because I applied for and was offered a physics TA position. So for $50k and 4 years of education I have one undergraduate degree, my MS and 2 minors. I know am making about $70k in my first year on the job. Private schools are about as intelligent of a financial investment as a yacht.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  49. Bill

    "I realized that good schools were meant for the ‘rich’ kids from upscale suburbs whose parents could afford to pay for it outright. I had no business attempting to get a good education on my own. Equal opportunity only works in favor of wealth. " Clue up, you made a bad decision, don't blame it on the wealthy. Have you ever heard of scholarships??? Do you think those only go to the wealthy???

    May 25, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  50. Jim

    Looks to me like a) you ran into a tough time and b) you're well on your way to digging out. That's part of the American Dream, too.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
  51. I_understand

    My child wanted to attend NYU for musical theatre and didn't get in. I feel much better about that after reading this. My child instead got into an excellent smaller school that offered significant financial assistance. I'm glad she won't be graduating in such a difficult state.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  52. denise

    This reminds did mr obama pay for his expensive college?

    May 25, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
  53. KT

    Dude – good luck.! It all works out at the end. Hang in there.! One question though – how do u commute from PA to NYC daily.? That might be hike.

    May 25, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  54. Judy S.

    It is truly amazing how few avenues there are for help when trying to figure out how to pay for college. It's more expensive than many houses yet there is no one there to represent those in need; most middle class kids and their parents. It's an outrage that this young man is now $300,000 in debt.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  55. angie

    Ryan, hang in there, things will get better.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:52 pm |
  56. Justin

    Ryan, what in the hell were you thinking? Racking up that much debt for an education is irresponsible, unless its for a degree in medicine, law, or some other high in demand job.

    And regarding your statement: "While big banks and homeowners get free government money for their mistakes". I guess your expensive NYU education didn't teach you that "government money" is tax money. The government has no business using MY money to pay for your 300K education.

    Be responsible. Pay it off.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:47 pm |
  57. BayouMan

    It is nice and refreshing to see someone make a conscious effort to accept responsibility for personal choice. It does not seem to happen often, or at least be shown often in the media.

    I live in a state where tuition is free for good students. Yet the complaints about paying for books and fees is like they are being tortured in a crucible. How different things are these days. Parents and students PAID for college in the 80s. Even scholarships were nearly non-existent. A college degree meant you either took out loans and planned on that expense, or paid as you went. I took the latter road, working full time and going to school full time. It wasn't easy, but I also graduated with NO student debt.

    Ryan, you seem to be a fine young man who will persevere and land on your feet. Times are tough, pretty much everywhere. I hope I still have a job in six weeks when our fiscal year runs out. Nobody ever said reality was pretty, at least to me. I thank my parents for not extending that fallacy.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:46 pm |
  58. jpl89

    I think this story has a valuable lesson for young people thinking about college: you don't have to go to the rich and famous schools to get a good education and an enjoyable college experience.

    People should make the best of what they do have and stop comparing themselves to what other people can afford. You can have a great college experience for a fraction of what this university cost.

    May 25, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
  59. NYU Grad too

    You are not alone and it is not your mistake. I graduated NYU 10 years ago with a Master's degree. It left me with 100k of debt in the post bubble bust. I was determined to bring my debt down to something reasonable. To reach my goal, I moved to the hinterlands of Brooklyn to save on rent. I held down my day job plus 2 part-time jobs. I didn't spend anything for 4 years. Through what has felt like monumental effort, I've brought this nightmarish debt down to something manageable but still extremely aggravating. I have no retirement. With so much energy focused on student debt repayment, other areas of life have taken a backseat and suffered severely. Our system is slanted towards the rich and we've all bought in to this illusion that education is worth it at any cost. It's not. You so nailed it by stating that NYU is only a school for rich suburban kids whose parents pay the bill. The rest of us our suckers. The playing field is simply not equal. It's truly amazing that students, most of who are hard working people with decent work ethics, are given NO break but the most financially irresponsible person who declares bankruptcy has avenues for relief. I agree with everything you say in this article except the part that it is entirely your fault. It's the fault of a system that provides no counseling about the real financial repercussions before you sign the dotted line. You are not alone not by a long stretch.

    May 25, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
  60. Josie


    You said "On a separate tangent, I realized that good schools were meant for the ‘rich’ kids from upscale suburbs whose parents could afford to pay for it outright. I had no business attempting to get a good education on my own." NYU isn't the sole source of a "good education." You were offered a full scholarship elsewhere. I made a similar mistake not staying at a college that gave me a full ride and transferring to a more prestigious East Coast school that gave me limited financial aid. I never paid full freight though because of the smaller scholarship my "dream school" had given me.

    NYU isn't even that good of a school. It's not Harvard, it's not MIT, it's not Columbia. Over 50% of applicants get in.

    A lot of Stern grads work in finance. Market research doesn't pay that well. Perhaps you should have attempted to take a different career path. There are very few students graduating with $275K in loans. NYU should have said something to you.

    I'm sorry things aren't going well for you, and I really hope they improve.

    May 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  61. Mike

    So for over a year you didn't feel like really looking for a job..... you set yourself up with a STUPID pay-off plan? and now your conclusion is you have to be rich to get a degree..... amazing - you clearly missed out on logical thinking in college

    I ran up huge debts and graduated when the IT bubble busted. I have worked in 8 states to keep my job. I looked for jobs everywhere with everyone throughout. I got a good job with a good company with the cost being move all the time. I paid that price for 7 years because that is what I signed up for.

    I am sorry you need your parents to make your bed and think for you

    May 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  62. kw

    I think you are not alone. Many graduates find themselves owing $100K plus and those with advanced degrees frequently go over $200K. Often, those with advanced degrees have to create their own job or business with additional finance in a down market while facing stiff competition.

    You probably fell through the cracks and could not get a Pell grant for school because you weren't poor enough.

    Collecting wages to pay your school loans actually puts you 20 years behind someone who didn't go to school at all. Such is the fall of Rome.

    May 25, 2010 at 1:37 pm |