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It is that time of year. It is the time of year that thousands of high school students are about to make decisions to enter into an enormous amount of debt for a higher education. The crazy part about school loans is that it is considered acceptable and encouraged by many.

Dear high school graduates, you will hear many things in the next few years. You will be encouraged to not work during college in order to focus on studying and to enjoy the experience. You will be told that many students take out student loans, and it will be incredibly easy for you to obtain them. You will be assured that you will obtain a job as soon as you graduate to and will be able to pay for student loans.

While college is a fantastic experience for many, the experience is often based on what a student makes of it. With the right attitude, any college will be a great experience. In reality, college is not intended for an experience; it is intended to prepare a person for the reality of life. The reality is that a college student that can balance a part time job, grades and have a social life is a person that is likely to achieve great things later in life.

I have two degrees. I was fortunate to earn my first degree with no need of student loans. I graduated and obtained a job for a whopping $25,000 a year in the heart of a major metropolitan area. I quickly discovered that my meager salary did not spread far to cover many living expenses. If I had had student loans to also pay, I would not have had enough money to cover all of my bills.

My second degree is a Bachelor’s Science in Nursing. I received several scholarships, but still came up short on tuition. I was quickly steered towards student loans and after a few forms, I had the money I needed to attend school. I left Emory University with a degree and $42,000 in student debt. Granted, the seven years that I worked as a nurse outweighed the cost of my loans, but as we wrote checks for my loans years later, we watched money be paid to the bank that was needed for other things in our present lives.

Unfortunately, not everyone is able to obtain a job as soon a degree is earned. If college students choose not to work, lack of real world experience is often frowned upon by employers. When I graduated from college, it was the beginning of an unexpected recession. I had friends who took two years to obtain a job, and may resorted to working for retailers that did not require their expensive degree.

Class of 2018, be brave. Go against the norm. Choose a school you can afford and work a little to pay for it. Better yet, if you do not know what you want to do, delay college until you have a clear direction. Be smart and pick classes, majors and college experiences that will add to your resume. Your future self will be glad you did.

Writer Bio: Summer Bolte

I spend most of my time and days with my three kids, husband and dog. My kids frequently play near me as I garden, cook, DIY and volunteer. My most unusual paying job has to be feeding fruit flies in a research lab, and my most fulfilling job was being an oncology nurse for seven years.

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