Saturday’s letters: Some tips to avoid crushing student debt and to get a job

Published August 29 2018
Updated August 31 2018

A diploma, big debt, and then what? | Column, Aug. 25

Life tips for indebted student

The columnist seems like a good kid, but why on earth would you incur more debt to get a graduate degree that wonít make you any more employable? He writes, "There have to be more entry-level jobs that would allow me to use my education that do not require five years of experience." No sweetie, there donít. College degrees donít guarantee jobs.

I was in the same place 35 years ago. I graduated from college in Michigan in the í80s when the economy was at its lowest, came to Florida with a business management degree thinking I would get an entry-level management job. It didnít happen; 112 resumes and 34 interviews later I ended up managing a Pizza Hut. I worked double shifts, rented an apartment with three roommates I had never met before, and continued my job search while I was employed. Long story short, I ended up working not in the field of my choice but in a secure job with benefits and a good retirement. Sometimes just making a living is enough.

We baby boomer parents bombarded our kids with messages to "live your dream," "donít settle" and "follow your heart." Is it any wonder they are now confused, disillusioned and even a bit angry? But blaming the system and wishing things were different isnít going to change anything.

So put the graduate degree on hold for a while, get an unpaid internship but keep delivering those papers at night to pay your bills. Or begin to think way outside the box. The Sheriffís Office is hiring and they start at almost $50,000 a year. Get your foot in the door, and youíll discover areas, including community outreach, and public information, where you may be able to use your degree. Youíll be getting life experience. And maybe you will come to see things differently in a few years.

Katie Swanson, Apollo Beach

A diploma, big debt, and
then what? | Column, Aug. 25

Older, but in the same boat

I knew it was simply a matter of time before the writer of this column would be presented with a perfect solution to his predicament: Seems all he needs to do is start from scratch. The thing is, there was a time not so long ago that putting in the work to earn a college degree (of any kind) showed something to employers. I am in his situation myself, the biggest difference being Iím more than twice his age. And I was lucky enough to work for a company that helped with my education, so I am not saddled with debt, which is a good thing since I am now working one of those jobs at less than $13 an hour. My previous two long-term employers no longer exist, and despite my experience and degree I spent most of a year in manual-labor temp jobs and working full time to find something permanent. The writerís problem is not his course of study, but an economy that works only for the people at the top, who all too often have no interest in investing in the people who drive their businesses.

Jim Holliman, St. Petersburg

Education is lifelong

I could not help but notice the number of times (five) that the writer correctly identified the true problem: lack of experience. The advice I have to offer may not help the writer; he will have some difficult years and choices ahead. We used to call that paying your dues. This is for those who come after the writer: Slow down and build your network and experience along the way. Seek internships, volunteer, meet people, write about your experience (beyond social media posts), get invited to social events with people in your industry, join professional organizations, meet people. Most jobs are found the old-school way, through someone you know.

Gain job skills early and use them along the way. If you have the means to self-finance a four-year degree right out of high school, great. Youíll still have to suffer those years of entry-level pay, but at least you can do so without the debt. Otherwise, try to pay as you go. Thereís nothing wrong with taking your time to get your education. If all you can afford to do is take a few classes at a time, whatís the problem? It just means that youíll be able to give those subjects your full attention, and if you are able to continue working while you go to school, you can graduate with the full package: a degree and years of experience!

Mark Twain once said, "Never let your schooling interfere with your education." Education is not a race to an end, itís a lifelong mission. It is meant to be a time for us to match our academic acumen with the real world and gain what will eventually define us as individuals: our unique experience.

David Dusseault, St. Petersburg

Hereís what we did

My husband and I are the parents of three daughters, two of whom are millennials and close to the columnistís age, and one who has just begun college at Florida State. So, I should be a good candidate to offer him the empathy he is seeking. However, a few things stuck out to me in his story.

One: Did he seek an internship, either paid or unpaid, while in college? Both of our older daughters and many of their friends took internships during college to gain this experience.

Two: Did he seek employment in his field or a related field during college? Many entry level part-time jobs can offer both a paycheck to help pay for your college costs, and valuable experience in your future field.

Three: Why go back to grad school when already burdened by substantial student loan debt? Some career fields almost guarantee a good "return on investment," and an advanced degree is necessary. However, that is not necessary in journalism, and the additional debt he is taking on for an advanced degree may not be justified by the anticipated future salary.

I applaud the columnist for working and beginning to pay back his student loans. But he may want to re-evaluate some of his choices. Graduate school makes sense for some but not for all, and it shouldnít be used as a crutch for delaying real employment and paying off student loans. Most companies desire and hire those with actual work experience in their field along with a four-year degree, and entry level positions are out there. Keep looking, keep interviewing and be willing to start at the bottom. I wish him success in his endeavors. Hard work does have a way of paying off.

Terry Holden, Lithia