Caroline MacKenzie is driving herself crazy trying to stay on top of paying for college and actually having enough time to attend it.

MacKenzie, a junior, needs to work as many hours as possible to pay her rent, food and tuition at the University of Maine. But she also needs as much free time as possible to take classes and study so she can graduate as quickly as possible.

It’s a constant pressure cooker.

“I think the hardest part is that you are always sacrificing something. I have to work to pay my rent, but if I didn’t have to work, I could study more and get better grades,” said MacKenzie, 23, a wildlife ecology major at the University of Maine.

“I want to take summer classes, but I’m trying to pay rent, so there’s no way I can save a grand to take that one class in the summer.”

This summer MacKenzie has a full-time, paid internship at the Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden. But she also expects to graduate within two years with about $45,000 in student-loan debt.


The average debt for a UMaine graduate in 2013 was $34,389, according to The Project on Student Debt.

“Compared to other people, that’s probably not a lot. But for my major, it’s probably too much,” she said. “It’s not a field you get into for the paycheck.”

MacKenzie, who lives in Bangor, said she grew up knowing she wanted to study ecology. Originally from Massachusetts, she went to Salem State University for two years before her family moved to Maine. After taking a year off to work, she enrolled at the University of Maine in Orono.

Taking that time off and paying her own way as much as she can has given her some perspective on the college experience.

Looking back, she feels like many young high school students are automatically funneled onto a college track.

“They make you feel like college is your only option,” she said. “Even community college is made to feel like that’s a poor choice, and with the rising cost of college, it really isn’t.”

Lower-cost options, such as trade schools and community colleges, should be presented to high school students as good, viable options alongside the four-year college track, she said.

For now, MacKenzie just tries to juggle her bills and courses.

“Every single time I get a bill, I panic and look at my options,” she said. “I look at job postings every day.”

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