Not all debt is bad debt after divorce

Picking up Carolyn’s story, you’ll recall that she’s in her second year of an associate’s degree nursing program. Going to school full-time, being active in student government, volunteering in the community and raising two children leaves no time for employment. I guessed from our previous interview she probably wasn’t getting any maintenance from her ex and that her parents probably weren’t supporting her either. So how is she paying for this?  Here’s Carolyn:


First of all, I fill out my FAFSA* every year. I get financial aid from the school, and the student loans that are offered me, I take out the max. I don’t ever turn any of it down. I’ve been applying for scholarships like crazy, and I try to focus on the bigger scholarships that are like $1,000 or $2,000.

Nursing clinicalsThe scholarships can be time-consuming because for each one of those, I usually have to ask one or two professors, sometimes three professors, to write me letters and I have to give them copies of my tax returns and my financial aid letters and then I write the essay.

Luckily, I’m a pretty good essay-writer, and honestly, I have a pretty good story. When they’re looking to give scholarships to somebody, I’m able to put a good spin on being a high school dropout because I have good grades now. I’m able to show that I was a high school dropout, a single parent and I came to the community college and now I’m getting straight A’s.

Because of my work in the student government, my professors who write me the letters, they know me so they write me very good letters. Out of the four scholarships I applied for this year, so far I’ve won three of them and I’m waiting to hear back on the last. Each of the scholarships is $1,000 or $2,000. The one I’m waiting to hear back on is $3,000. If I get that, that’ll be considerable. That obviously helps.

On a month-to-month basis, if funds are low, I rely on my mom mostly, and luckily she is in a position to be able to help me when I need it. Even occasionally my father, which is surprising because he is an estranged father. I don’t really know him, but last fall I was required to purchase insurance to be in the program because we have to do clinicals in the hospital. The insurance through my school is $800 for the year and I didn’t know how I was going to come up with the money. I called him and he paid for half of it.

Honestly, I try not to think about the loans too much because it’ll freak me out, and I feel like I don’t have much of a choice. My rough estimate is that I’ll be in at least $20,000 of debt when I finish, and that’s just for this program. I want to keep going, but I’ve heard that you don’t start making repayments until you’re done with school.

Ultimately, it would be great if I got my Master’s degree because you make considerably more money as a nurse if you’re a nurse practitioner or advance practice nurse, but even just with the RN my income will be pretty decent. The average income in this area, when I looked it up the other day, was around $70,000 for an RN. For a starting position I probably won’t make as much, but at one of the hospitals around here, I heard you can expect a starting salary for a brand new grad around $23 an hour. That’s not too bad, I feel like making student loan payments will probably be do-able.

As I said I felt the alternative of not getting through school, not getting this degree and working in the mall forever wasn’t really an option. Every time I get worried about how much debt I’m going to be in, I remind myself that I don’t really have much of a choice if I don’t want to be working in a mall forever. Although I have considerable student loan debt, I don’t have any credit card debt whatsoever, I’ve never had a credit card. I’m at least not digging myself in a hole like that.


I know that taking on debt when you’re not use to it, as in paying a mortgage each month, could be intimidating but in Carolyn’s case this is debt to invest in her own personal development, debt to invest in her future. It’s different from debt to pay for discretionary items because this investment has a high probability of significantly increasing Carolyn’s earning power and giving her stable employment thereby increasing her ability to repay the debt.

Even though it’s different, student loans still require careful consideration, weighing up the future monthly repayments against potential monthly income and careful attention to the loan terms such as the interest rate and when repayments start. Although the scholarships require a lot of upfront effort, Carolyn will appreciate them even more when she starts to repay her student loans and sees the difference those scholarships made to the repayments.

When Carolyn left her marriage she had never lived on her own before, she’d never paid a bill, she’d never had a bank account or credit card. Everything about managing her money was new and in the next post, Carolyn gives us an update on how that’s going.

*FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid. There is no fee to complete and submit the application form. There are commercial sites that charge fees so make sure you know which site you’re on. The no charge site is a “.gov” site.

Photo credit: Lower Columbia College

  • Sumant

    Love the nurse in that photo. She looks so pleasant and sprightly !