One Crisis Away: Musician With Two Bachelor's Degrees Drowns In $38K Of Student Loan Debt | KERA News

One Crisis Away: Musician With Two Bachelor's Degrees Drowns In $38K Of Student Loan Debt

Sep 20, 2016

Some people borrow $200,000 for law school—others, $10,000 for a bachelor’s degree they never finish.

One Lewisville musician is somewhere in between. She has two undergraduate degreees. One’s paid off, one isn’t anywhere close. KERA's series One Crisis Away: Drowning In Debt zooms in on America's trillion dollar problem: student loans.

When she was 13 years old, Katie Combest found the clarinet, by accident.

“I actually initially wanted to play saxophone. And they ran out of the saxophone. And my grandmother was like, ‘oh this is better because she can play in orchestra and band.' And I got the clarinet, and I loved it," she says.

Pursuing Her Passion

Katie was good, and decided to study music in college—a conservatory called Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. After graduation, she won a prestigious audition, with one of the U.S. Army bands.

“I wasn’t able to accept the job because I didn’t pass the physical. Because I can’t hear low pitches out of my left ear. I had about six sets of tubes growing up and I have a lot of scar tissue in my ear. Even with the TV I have to have the subtitles on if a male is speaking," she says.

It crushed her to lose out on the job—as well as another perk of a military career. Loan repayment. For qualified applicants, the Army will pay up to $65,000 thousand dollars of an enlisted soldier’s outstanding student loans.

Going Back To School

Symphony auditions across the country got too expensive, so she went back to school. This time, she studied business and Spanish at the University of North Texas.

“I thought, well I need to be marketable if I decide to do something else, or if I can’t support myself doing music," she says.

She tried a couple of office jobs; medical scheduler, another at a  realty inspection company. She never lasted more than a couple months. She just couldn’t leave music behind.

She teaches, plays in chamber groups and at churches. She brings in between $1,000 and $5,000 each month. She has $38,000 in student loan debt.

Explore the entire series One Crisis Away: Drowning In Debt here. See a video of Kate Combest teaching clarinet below.