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.