This essay is from a finalist for the 2019 Student Loan Planner Scholarship.
In March of 2017, my wife and I sat down and took a look at what we wanted in life. I had just spent 5 years in undergrad and 2 years as a Resident Athletic Trainer while earning my Master’s to be an Athletic Trainer.
I was finishing up my first year at a high school outside of Seattle, WA, and the hours I was working did not seem to be conducive to the life we wanted.
As some may know, the hours of a high school AT are not ideal for a family. I would go into work between 12:30 and 1:30, which was great. But I would get off anywhere between 6:00 and 10:00 at night depending on what sports were going on. Then there was the occasional Saturday game.
We wanted to be able to be with our kids in the afternoons and evenings and we wanted my wife to stay home and raise them until they go to school. On a high school AT salary, that would be difficult.
The Decision to Go Back to School
So my wife and I sat down and looked at our options. We decided that continuing my education and going to Physical Therapy school or getting my Ph.D. was our best option. The only problem was the additional student loans and time commitment. So we started researching different programs.
It looked like most of my options would consist of getting some additional prerequisites and applying the following year.
I think my wife may have a superpower though because she has a knack for finding amazing deals and random things that make our lives easier. She was able to find a hybrid Physical Therapy program through the University of St. Augustine. The school had just extended the application deadline for the following September cohort so I thought why not.
After speaking with admissions, I would only have to take 1 or 2 additional courses and I thought I had a pretty good chance of being accepted.
At this point things seemed to move very fast. I received an interview a few days after I submitted my application and then was accepted within a few weeks of the interview.
The great thing for us about this program was that it is a hybrid program. During the week, your courses are online with videos, assignments, and reading being completed on your own, and then roughly every other weekend we would be in class completing all of the hands-on work and getting practice with different techniques.
This allowed me to continue working and ensured that we would not need to take loans out for living expenses, only enough to cover tuition. It also meant we wouldn’t need to pause our lives and delay having kids (more on that later).
To make everything easier, we ended up moving to Austin, TX, where my campus is located and lived there so I would not need to fly into town.
I began my doctorate program in the Fall of 2017. And let me tell you, even though the courses are spread out a little bit (the program is 4 years as opposed to the typical 2.5-3 years), it is no easier than usual.
Working 30+ hours a week plus spending just about all of my free time studying and completing coursework is no walk in the park! There have been tough times for my wife and me. Late nights, early mornings, long hours studying have made me a crank at times. And she can get frustrated and short-tempered with how much school requires as well.
But we continue to remind ourselves that everything we are doing now will pay off in the end. This program and education will allow us to more closely live the life we want in the future.
The additional student debt is the biggest issue so far as it may be difficult to keep up with the loans in the future if salaries do not rise as much.
Higher Learning and Higher Student Loan Debt
Since going back to school, I feel like I have grown a lot as a student. A lot of this information comes naturally to me. And since my previous coursework was very heavily focused on anatomy, physiology, and biomechanics, I had a good grasp on a lot of the information in my first few semesters.
But there are definitely things that do not come easy to me and as the information is now delivered and expected to be understood at higher level requirements of a doctorate-level education, I have had to learn new strategies to succeed. Up to this point, I have done a rather good job with a GPA above 3.6 and I am about 75% of the way done with the coursework.
My ultimate goal after graduation is to become a professor within a Physical Therapy or Athletic training program and help teach the future of these two great professions. We have the opportunity to help a lot of people, but I have always felt like my place is in teaching those who will be in the field.
I have always gravitated toward leadership roles, whether it be coaching youth sports teams, being team captain during my own sports, or being in leadership roles during my undergrad and graduate studies. I think I can best use my abilities in the world of academia, and it would also give me some freedom to be there with my family when I want to be.
Family has always been important to me and as I begin my own family in the near future, I want them to be at the forefront of the decisions I make.
As I have continued to progress through school, and subsequently increased my student loan bill, I have begun looking for ways to offset this cost and eventually came across the idea of Financial Independence.
I started looking into this about 5 months ago and since then, whenever I have free time in the car on my drive to and from work, working out, or am taking a break from studying, you can probably find me listening to a number of podcasts or reading different blogs to learn as much as I can about finances.
As you can probably guess, spending my whole adult education in science classes, I did not have a very good understanding of anything related to finances, whether it be calculating your savings rate, how to invest, or tax optimization.
I tell myself I am playing catch up and continue to remind myself that at least I found out about this now. To make things easier during my last 2 years of school (1 of which is spent on internships where I am unable to work) we decided to move to Fort Collins, CO, to live with my in-laws
The Cost of Starting a Family
Earlier I mentioned that we were planning on having children while in school. At first, this scared me and I was worried about how we would be able to make it work while in school. But pretty quickly I saw that many of my classmates were able to make their lives work with multiple children or being pregnant while in school and I began to soften at this idea.
We have been trying for about a year and a half now but have not been successful yet. In early May, we started to wonder if something may be wrong, so we saw one of the leaders in infertility in Austin.
We found out that my wife has PCOS and it was causing her not to ovulate at the right time, if at all. Within a month they were able to get her ovulating but we were still unsuccessful. At this time we found out that I have low sperm count and motility.
So now on top of the stress of school and life, we find out that the cards are stacked against us. We are not giving up on having a family of our own but it is looking more and more like we will need to use additional means to have children.
The different procedures, be it IUI or IVF or even adoption, all cost money. This would not be an issue had it not been for my student loan bill continuing to rise.
Before we even got married, we both decided that family was our priority and we have continued to stand by this. In the end, we want to work to live, not live to work.
Physical Therapy school is going to give me an opportunity and a platform to provide the life we want but it is not the reason I live. Receiving any assistance during this time will help us in our path to beginning our family as well as completing my education.