Yarr, staying afloat!

By Andrew Ross

Since you’re reading this, odds are you already have some first-hand experience with student debt. If that is the case, you may want to keep reading.

Sarah Deveau, a surprisingly well-educated product of this university, as well as a former Gauntleteer, knows a thing or two about student debt. Her new book, Sink or Swim: Get Your Degree Without Drowning in Debt, provides ample evidence of that.

While the title may suggest a work of fantasy, Sink or Swim is actually a practical guide. Deveau masterfully balances reckless optimism (such as the notion of graduating without going into debt) with bleak realism and tough love. And if that isn’t enough to sell you on this book, there’s also the foreword by CanLit’s current "it girl," Will Ferguson.

How did she get Will Ferguson–who is nearly famous enough to be referred to by surname only, like Atwood, Ondaatje, and Leacock–to do the foreword on her first book, which isn’t even a novel? In a massive stroke of luck, she met him when he was only a little bit famous, showed him her book proposal and he made a promise to write a foreword if the book ever happened, a promise she would keep him to.

But enough about the CanLiteratti.

When asked about the common financial mistakes students make, Deveau started with the usual refrain about looking for a fiscally rewarding job instead of a socially rewarding one, and keeping your expenses down by living at home for as long as you possibly can; but then she struck a little closer to home.

"If you spend your student loans on things like Gore-Tex jackets, Oakley sunglasses and MEC bags," she explains, "you’ll really regret it later."

Deveau is not condescending though; she admits that she racked up student debt herself while she was in the early stages of developing this book. "I finally applied for student loans in my last year," she confesses. "My husband and I took out a student loan and used it to pay for our wedding."

With all the talk of misspent student loans, the question inevitably arose as to the wisdom of buying this book with student loan money.

"Ask your parents to buy it for you," Deveau suggests, only half-mockingly.

"If you really can’t afford it, get a copy from the library," she says, noting that you can also borrow many textbooks from the library instead of buying them. "I’m not going to be a hypocrite and say ‘you have to buy this book’ because it’s only going to get worse, tuition’s going to keep rising."

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