Last month, when I was packing up my on-campus apartment and trying to unload my extraneous stuff, I avoided people for the most part, as much as I could. Everyone kept asking me the same questions, over and over again. Chief among them: “why are you leaving?”
I often cited the financial aspect, which was not small potatoes amongst my reasons. Of course, people – especially fellow film students – seem to underestimate the degree to which I am “poor.” When I explained that I could no longer pay for school, their first suggestion was to get more loans.
I was always leery of this option. More loans? I was already looking at over $40,000 in loans to pay back upon my graduation, did I really want to raise that to $50,000 or higher? Of course, I’ve since found that I was absolutely right in my thinking… or, at least, I’m backed up by the financial advice over at MSN Money.
The article How much college debt is too much? has solidified my opinion that I was in over my head. According to the article, your payments “shouldn’t exceed 10% of your expected monthly gross income once you graduate.” According to their calculations, the $25,000 I’ve already borrowed will cost me around $300 a month. Keep in mind that I am only two years into my degree so far, so a safe estimate is that my total monthly payments, on the road I was on, would have been $550 or more. The volatile and periodic work that befalls recent film school grads will never guarantee $5,500 a month in pay… no way. My boyfriend, who’s been out of film school and working in LA for over a year, made $28,000 that first year. But come to think of it, I can’t think of any programs that would get you $66,000/year the first year after graduation.
Also, the article alerted me to another fun tidbit that would have sent me into a tailspin, probably around the beginning of my senior year. I didn’t know this, but apparently, there’s a cap on the amount you can borrow in federal subsidized Stafford loan. After hitting the $23,000 mark (I’m at $17,367 at this very moment), my loan would have suddenly run out, and I’d have to scramble to start pulling in loans from private sources. No one ever alerted to me this, and I’m lucky at this point to have found and read this article, or I else I might have someday found a nice brick wall to run into.
I skipped even reading the part about parents and borrowing – my mother’s credit would never earn her a loan for me, and even if it did, she doesn’t have the means to make payments on it. This, honestly, is where I started to get rather pissed off at the other film students. After I would shoot down their “more loans!” suggestions, they would shrug and say “Well, that’s what parents are for.” I sometimes forget that film kids are generally suburban, upper-middle-class types who can actually ask their parents for money on a whim, and don’t even feel bad about doing it.
The end of the article offers some suggestions if you can’t borrow the amount you need. The first one, “Look for a college that wants you,” would have been useful advice three years ago. Back then, I was a cocky high school senior who was going to film school no matter what, and would find a way to make the money work. True, it was bold and courageous, but it also was a factor in landing me where I am now. The next suggestion, “Consider low-cost alternatives,” doesn’t apply to film students. Film schools make you go through their full four years – spending two years at a cheaper school will just make your degree more expensive, and take up two more years of your life. Thankfully, I knew this when I was applying, so I didn’t waste my time or money on some other school, and then transfer.
The final suggestion, “Get a job,” is pretty much a no-brainer. I didn’t get a job my freshman year, because I was sure I couldn’t handle the time constraints of my course load and a job. I was right – my inability to continue juggling my school work and my 20-hour-a-week job this year was a major factor in why I took my leave of absence.
So, where do I go from here? I’ll, uh, let you know.