Let’s Talk About School.

For those of you who are not aware, I am starting school again.  In the past four years I have attended four different colleges.

First, as a hopeful freshman, I attended Hofstra University.  I was going to double major in film and philosophy (after which I would become an ethicist and independent filmmaker), but the tuition freaked me out and the education level was reminiscent of my high school’s.  Granted, I went to an awesome high school, but college should be a step up, regardless.  My philosophy and math classes were especially bad and my religion class was hands down the easiest I’ve ever taken anywhere (although that professor was also one of the nicest I’ve ever had.)  My English and Latin professors were superb, but two out of five classes that meet expectations (is it wrong to have high expectations?) do not warrant the excessive pricetag.

Then, in the middle of a quasi- life panic-attack/depression I did what I said I never would and I went to the family school.  My mother, father, brother and sisters all attend(ed) North Park and I had no intention of doing the same, but sometimes when you’re under duress it’s easy to let people make decisions for you.  North Park is a good school.  I had some great teachers and took some interesting classes while I was there.  I would never go back.

I have recently decided that I might want to be a professor at a community college.  (Yes, Grantley, you thought I was joking, but I wasn’t.)  I was consistently impressed with the caliber of my teachers at Inver Hills, and, as a general rule I found that professors at my community college were more interested in creating and maintaining relationships with their students (Dluger [NPU] and Fichtelberg [Hofstra], you are exceptions to this rule as I found both of you to be extraordinarily, impressively invested in your students).

Honestly, I had really negative connotations regarding community colleges before I started, and I am still unnecessarily defensive about my education at Inver Hills (“I just wanted to finish really quickly”, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I wanted to get an AA under my belt.” etc., etc.), but in reality it was probably my best year of school.  I was very involved (theater, outdoors club, art club, and more) and I was positively challenged in most of my classes.  I would like to be a part of the education system that doesn’t get the respect that it deserves and continue providing students the opportunity to learn in a challenging environment even if they don’t have the resources that people who can attend a typical university for all four years do.

Now I am slotted to go to Shimer.  First, I should say that I am outrageously excited about this program.  It is a great books school, which means that our curriculum is centered around classic texts that scholars (and people in general) claim continue to be relevant, challenging and informative throughout history.  Classes are small and discussion oriented.  We meet around tables instead of in lecture halls.  And, wonderfully, although centered on the progression of Western thought (we do live in the United States, which is a part of the Western world, after all), Shimer seems to do a decent job of representing minorities in their curriculum, so we are not a Dead White Male focused school.  We study Flannery O’Connor, W.E.B. Dubois and others.

School is going to be awesome.

The problem that we have is this:

Or…more accurately, the fact that I don’t have that.

I was looking over my financial aid package today and despite Shimer’s generosity I am still screwed for coming up with tuition.  I will rack up $19,500 in loans over the three years I go there (it would be $6,500 less if they had maintained their initial claim that I only need to attend for two years) and, on top of that, I need to muster up $16,000 per year after financial aid.  That is $48,000 of upfront costs in three years.  Altogether (loans and immediate cost) I need to come up with $67,500.  This does not include books or living expenses.

I spent a lot of time looking and applying for scholarships today, but even when using fastweb and zinch I did not discover the overwhelming scholarship opportunities people say are out there.  A lot of the scholarships are oddly specialized (must be a member of the llama club?) and a lot are seasonal or scammy.  I don’t get how people do it.  Scholarships seem to average at $1,000…according to my calculations above that means that I would have to apply for and win SIXTY EIGHT scholarships.  While attending school.  And presumably working a job or two.  And not, evidently, having a social life.

Is a piece of paper and boxy hat really worth that much money?

I mean look at them.  They’re pathetic.

The problem is that now that now that I think I know what I want to do I also know that I need the education.  Becoming an educator mandates higher education, so any wiggle room that I used to have has been obliterated.  Still, I am putting $67,500 that I don’t have into a future that is not guaranteed.   I want to study Shimer’s reading list on my own and then Sparknotes the hell out of their curriculum and read other related commentaries if need be.  But the truth is that I think discussion and community, especially the kind that I’ll find at Shimer, are important.

I believe in the program that Shimer offers; I couldn’t justify a fraction of Shimer’s cost at another school, but because I believe so strongly in their program I have to do it.  It scares me because I hate debt, and dollar amounts that I cannot wrap my tiny middle-class brain around freak me out.  I have no idea how I will pay off the next three years.  I have no idea if I will be able to scrounge together the finances that I need to go on and get the Master’s degrees I want (religious studies, philosophy and/or literature, in case you were wondering).

This is me biting the bullet.