7 Women’s Stories of Student DebtJune 01, 2017
AAUW’s 2017 research report Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans found that when it comes to student loans, women bear a disproportionate burden of student debt. Due to the gender pay gap and occupational segregation, what should be manageable debt becomes especially unmanageable for women. This debt burden can follow borrowers for their entire lives and careers, leaving them with less funding to afford further education, owning a home, and saving for retirement.
The women you’ll read about below made the decision to invest in their futures by pursuing college degrees. But those degrees came with a hefty price tag.
Ashley thought she made the financially responsible choice by attending community college before pursuing her bachelor’s at a state school. Once she graduated, her deferments went into effect, leaving her six months later with $20,000 in debt. After experiencing sexual harassment during her fellowship as a reporter at the state capital and facing a stagnant job market, she decided to get her master’s degree in order to open up her career opportunities. With that degree came even more debt. When asked what her expected payoff date would be, she replied, “Never.”
Denied Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) aid and afraid to take on any student debt, Valerie took on a waitressing job to put herself through community college. She eventually transferred to a state school; however, in her junior year, she hit a funding wall. Deciding her only option was to drop out of school and work full time, she took one final Hail Mary and applied for an AAUW scholarship. She won the scholarship and was able to finish her undergraduate degree. But the fear of student debt is creeping up again, as she needs an advanced degree in order to make more money to support her family as a public interest lawyer. Valerie says she can’t justify going into massive debt for a career that still holds financial uncertainties. She thinks she may hang up her dream of being a lawyer once and for all.
Khallilah was a first-generation college student. At the age of 18 she had no idea of the onerous burden paying back her student loans would be. Now with $70,000 in student loan debt, she uses her story as a cautionary tale for others seeking loans to fund their education: “Attending your dream school is great, but it’s important to understand all the costs involved.”
Curry was accepted into her dream school, Howard University. While her family expected her to attend college, how to finance it was up in the air. Curry took out student loans for the degree that she hoped would put her into a stable, well-paying career in health management. But she graduated in 2009 just as the economy collapsed and no hospital was hiring, especially not entry-level workers. Forced to take low-wage jobs just to get by, she could barely afford food while paying off her student loans. Then, the government began garnishing her wages.
Many students who pursue law degrees believe that the careers they enter after graduation will be profitable enough to be worth the student debt they incur. In some cases, they’re right; but for Christina, who graduated from law school with $200,000 in student debt, things aren’t quite so straightforward. Christina faced unique challenges as a single student parent, but those challenges became still more complex when she graduated from law school and began dealing with the day-to-day grind — and the long-term consequences — of student debt.
Jaclyn decided to take out student loans for college when she was only 17 years old. Now, at 22, Jaclyn is getting her first taste of the world after college — and of life with $38,000 of student debt. She estimates she’ll have paid around $68,000 toward her student debt loans by the end of her 25-year fixed payment plan. Student loan debt isn’t just changing the way people experience college: It’s changing the way they experience the rest of their lives.
Like thousands of others, Candice had the bad luck of entering the job market as the Great Recession hit. “I couldn’t find a job for eight months,” she says. “I moved back home with my parents, applied to 200 places, and never got called back. I went on one job interview that was at a dollar store, and the job went to someone else with more retail experience.” While Candice was frantically searching for a job, her loans went into default, and the interest kept mushrooming. She graduated with a student debt burden of $69,000; but thanks to interest and fees for her time in default, her loan burden is now about $120,000.
This post was cowritten by AAUW Political Media Manager Amy Becker and AAUW Editorial Assistant Femi Sobowale.
The gender pay gap plays a large role when it comes to women and student debt.
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Find out more about why student debt disproportionately hurts women.