A problem has arisen and I need your help! I am a college student who got carried away with new friends and, bored with school, skipped classes, and spent my financial-aid money on mindless, self-indulgent, mundane things. As the months passed, my erratic behavior continued, and when the financial-aid money went dry, I used my credit card thinking I could easily pay back my credit card with the financial aid I would receive the next semester. As the semester came to an end, so did my fun. I have no one but myself to blame for the failing grades I received, the suspension I incurred, or the debt I now owe.
Now, that is problematic enough, but here’s where I need your help: My parents keep asking me when I will return to school, but I keep avoiding the question, or vaguely answering it.
You see, my parents don’t know I failed. In their eyes, I’m still their Straight-A perfect daughter. My older brother failed out of college, and has struggled in the many jobs he’s had. If my parents were to discover that I, too, have failed, I fear they may disown me, and I will end up living in a homeless shelter or on the streets. I can’t let them find out, but as the fall semester looms closer, and my parents’ persistent questioning about college grows ever more. What can I do?
Failing (and Frightened) in San Antonio
Dear Failing and Frightened,
You’re screwed, and it’s time to grow up. Lying to your parents any further is not going to solve this problem. Does one parent take bad news better than the other? If so, consider starting with that parent, and then let them decide how and when to discuss it as a family. Let your parent know that you have something important to discuss, and that you would like to sit down and have a talk as soon they have time. After a meal is good, when everyone is calm and satiated.
First, you need to plan a little. Being repentant is one thing, making amends and offering solutions — even partial ones — is better. Begin by organizing your debts. Find out if you can place your student loans in forbearance. Stop using your credit cards. Collect all your recent statements, and determine what you need to meet your monthly minimum payments. You need to pay more than that if possible, but start there.
Have this information with you when you speak with your parent(s). You don’t want to be vague, and you don’t want to forget important details in the emotional stress of the moment. They will be angry. You probably know how they will react — but don’t project, and stay calm even if they go crazy.
Get a job. Think restaurant or retail — somewhere willing to work around a school schedule. Yes, a school schedule: You are signing up for community college for the fall, if at all possible. Head to the nearest campus today, and talk with a counselor. Tell them your situation. Find out if you are eligible for student loans again (and deferment on your existing loans while you’re enrolled full-time). If not, part-time enrollment should, at the very least, allow you to place your past loans on hold for payment. San Antonio’s community colleges are a true bargain (and a great place to figure out what it is that will hold your interest in school), and there are payment plans available to make the new tuition manageable.
The job is necessary to pay your credit cards, and school is the fastest way back to the college of your choice. Let your parents know that you see this as a mistake, not a way of life. Be willing to barter with them. Move back in with them if you don’t already live at home, or accept other probationary terms they may want in return for a second chance. If they agree to sign for loans for school again, offer to bring home proof of your grades and progress monthly.
Your older brother’s situation may help you out. If you sincerely want to succeed at school and your parents want that, too, then they should help. Don’t shame him, but point how important it is for you to jump immediately back on path. You may need to be persistent. You may need to do these things on your own without their assistance. It’s your future. Learn from your mistakes, not by them.
Much love and understanding,
Your Uncle Mat
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