Student Stories: High College Costs

Hundreds of Americans wrote to Sen. Bernie Sanders about their struggles with the high cost of college and student loans. Read some of their stories below.

Brittany Holman, 29, Portland, Oregon

~$200,000 in debt

I'm scared and am desperately in need of help. I'm nearly $200000 in debt from student loans all because I wanted to get an education.  Was that not what I was supposed to do?  I graduated from Syracuse University in 2006 went to Japan for two years to teach English and then came home to a crashed economy and a bleak job market.  Despite my two B.A. degrees from a great university I had to settle for underemployment in a minimum wage retail job.

Kelly Weiner, 27, Brooklyn, New York

~$134,000 in debt

I went to law school because I wanted to help people and communities who are underserved by the law… I am currently paying back my loans on an income-based repayment plan with a 7.3% interest rate which means I am not even making a dent in my debt… According to my repayment plan I will be in my 50s before I get out of debt.

Saul Barraza, 23, Littleton, Colorado

$35,550 in debt

I feel like I'm sinking further and further into debt. The interest rate on my loans is eating me alive. I don't believe that I've ever touched the principal on my loans I simply pay interest and avoid default…  I feel that my debt is holding me back from being able to contribute to society. It is a ball and chain that follows me everywhere I go preventing me from starting the rest of my life.

Dustin Green, 28, Yukon, Oklahoma

~$50k in debt including wife

Between my wife and myself we pay over $600 a month for our student loans. I have a good job and can barely afford these payments along with normal bills. After graduation dealing with each loan company was a task of its own. They do not care if you have enough money to eat but simply to pay them back. My wife and I are wanting to buy our first home but with so much of our salaries going to monthly student loan payments we can’t make that step yet. We have both wondered if the yearly income difference with a college education is worth the extra debt.

Christopher Shindler, 30, Lisle, Illinois

~$36,000 in debt

Due to the high cost of student loans and the interest incurred my wife and I had to cancel our wedding and reschedule it for a year later (this is also because even though we had our degrees we simply could not find decent paying jobs anywhere). We couldn't move out of our parents' homes and were both working two minimum-wage jobs in order to pay our bills. Later on when we did finally go to purchase our own home I was told that I could not put my name on any of the paperwork because my student loan debt was so high that the bank would have denied our efforts to purchase said home. Currently we're hanging in there okay but I've had to call my loan company to defer on my loans twice and re-work my payments multiple times due to the fact that I simply could not afford to pay them what they wanted. College was an absolutely wonderful experience but sadly the damaging financial repercussions have been such a burden that I don't often encourage people to enroll in higher education anymore. Let it be known that I do not speak only on behalf of myself and my own experience; countless friends and people I meet are experiencing the same struggle as well and often times have it much worse than I do. College is no longer a necessity for employment advancement but rather it has become either a monetary impossibility or a financial death-trap for far too many. Truly a shame.

Justin Vinson, 30, Port Orchard, Washington

~$30,000 in debt

I have about 30k in student loan debt at 6.8% interest and I've used all the forbearance and deferrals I am alotted so I have effectively been imprisoned in my current city and state. I would love to travel and explore the world but I can’t do that. I must instead work to pay my bills so traveling is no longer an option for me. Owning a house is also no longer an option for me. 

Joshua Druckerman, 28, Brooklyn, New York

$134,000 in debt

As a former Vermonter I graduated with a full scholarship from the University of Vermont. I went to a New York law school that offered me over $96000 in scholarships. I graduated cum laude and landed a great job at a small firm where I work with amazing people and where I love to go to work every day (no small accomplishment in this tough legal market). I live in a cheap apartment in Brooklyn with two roommates and pay less than $800/month in rent and utilities (no small feat in New York City).  I should be a success story and compared to many of my peers and classmates I am.   But there's a problem.  Partway through my law degree Congress let the student loan interest rates double from 3.4% to 6.8%.  I qualify for Income-Based Repayment and have never missed a monthly payment. I chip in extra whenever I can. At an APR of 3.4% these IBR payments would slowly be whittling away at my debt and my future income growth would only accelerate that process. At an APR of 6.8% and 7.9% however I would have to spend nearly double my IBR payment (that's approximately 25% of my yearly income) to even make a one-cent reduction in the principal amount of my loans. Since I cannot always afford to spend that extra amount my debt is ballooning despite my best efforts.  The worst part? As I noted before I am one of the 'lucky ones.' I can't imagine how hard it is for my classmates who did not have the scholarships I did or the familial support I did or who are still looking for full-time career-oriented work.  I'm not asking for complete loan forgiveness. I racked up the charges I have to pay them back. However I think it is only fair that I receive the same interest rate I was paying when I made the decision to attend law school in 2010. That would make an enormous difference both in my ability to pay back the debt and to my piece of mind: my ability to do things like plan for retirement save for property or start a family.  Is that too much to ask for?

Shannon Lucy, 29, Essex Junction, Vermont

$90,000 in debt

I currently live in my boyfriend's parents' basement because I can not afford to pay both rent and my nearly $900 per month student loan payments. Despite working two jobs and living rent-free I am barely making ends meet. I can't even dream of buying a house or supporting a child- I can't even support myself. Getting married would mean burdening someone else with my debt so that's not financially possible either. I thought I did everything right. I thought getting an education was an investment in my future. But now there's not a single day when I don't feel like I'm drowning under this massive load of debt. And the worst part is that even though the president is introducing student loan relief measures because my loans are mostly privately funded there's still no relief for me. 

Zachary Pearo, 26, Nelson, New Hampshire

$40,000 in debt

The rules for repaying all change and notification systems change.  Once in a while I miss a payment and get slammed for it. Once in a while my loans go into forbearance as I don't have the extra money that month to pay for them. Last year I made $24000. I would love to have a home have a family and I would love another degree. But the fact is it is way to scary to bring a child into a world when I know it would be a struggle to provide for them I may not have a home for them and I have a career that if other people are struggling they won't be able to come see me. I'm not saying all loans should be forgiven. But why does the government need to profit off of student loans?

Eric Anders, 29, Chicago, Illinois

$125,000 in debt

My law school debt is astronomical. It will keep me from being a homeowner for a long time. I believe serious efforts need to be made to reduce the costs of attending both college and graduate school.

Andrew Englebrecht, 23, New Lenox, Illinois

$80,000 in debt

It makes me depressed. I have no hope. Nothing will ever get better. I'm scared. I can't go get my masters because my life has already been ruined. I ruined my parents’ life. The bank finally was willing to work with us and not take our house; that doesn't mean we can pay the loans back either. I can't move out of the house. I can't propose to the girl I love. I can't live because I can't dream. I'm afraid to have kids because I'm scared they wouldn't have a chance.