Dave Says: Be patient, find your path…and forget about student loans

Dear Dave,

My husband and I are 30, and we are on Baby Step 2. He wants to go back to school and become a social worker. He currently makes about $20,000 a year as a teacher’s assistant, and he wants to take out student loans to do this. He already has an associate’s degree, which wouldn’t mean four years of loans, but the idea scares me a lot. I have a good job, so how can I still support him and his desire to further his education without agreeing to go deeper into debt?


Dear Britney,

So, it’s kind of a situation where you’re working the Baby Steps and he’s not. On top of this, he wants to go into debt to do social work. Does he know what social workers make these days?

This guy obviously has a heart for helping people. That’s a great thing. But I’ve got to believe there are ways to expand his options. Social work is one path, but there are probably several paths he could follow to get involved in what he loves about the idea of social work.

I’m guessing he has a passion for counseling and advocating, too. Finishing a four-year degree would put him in a position where he could potentially move into a guidance counselor role or something along those lines, considering his background. But taking out loans isn’t necessary. He just needs to be patient, and wait a little bit while you two buckle down on the Baby Steps and get out of debt. He could get a second job for a while nights or weekends, and then you’d be able to pay off your debt faster and avoid those stupid loans thanks to the cash you set aside. Plus, there are millions of dollars in scholarships out there for traditional and non-traditional students.

Sometimes when people feel stuck in a job, they automatically default to the idea they need a degree. What your husband really needs right now is a clear idea and direction. Then, you determine if a degree is necessary to get there. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not against social work. But I’ve talked to so many people who went six-figures into debt, only to wind up making $38,000 as a social worker for the state. That’s crazy!

You two need to sit down together, and talk all this out. Tell him why you’re worried, and point out that borrowing a bunch of money isn’t the only way—and definitely isn’t the smart way—to make this happen. If you really want to support him, Britney, you need to help him see there are steps he can take to pursue his dream without it turning into a financial nightmare for both of you.

— Dave