I have a friend, a year older than me, who left school at 16 and married at 20. She and her husband worked in clerical and administrative jobs and bought a flat, then a small house and, later, a larger house.
I left school at 18, went to college for three years to train as a teacher, and began my first permanent job at the age of 21.
By that time, my friend and her husband had a joint total of 13 years paid employment behind them. I vividly remember visiting them in their home during the summer holidays before I began teaching. I had spent August searching the less expensive areas of Brighton for a bedsit to rent. They had a well-furnished and beautifully decorated three-bedroomed house.
I didn't regret my decision to stay on for A-levels and then go to college, but I did wonder just how long it would take me to catch up financially. I felt slightly aggrieved that in choosing a career in which I hoped I would be contributing to the successful future of the country's children, I would lose out in building up my own life.
Now, I worry for the future of some of my former pupils. If I was disadvantaged materially, it will be much worse for the next generation of students. Not only will they lose five or six years of earning power, they could then be faced with a heavier tax burden once they are earning, to pay for the degrees they've taken.
Well-educated and well-trained young people are the future for industry, commerce, health and education. But who can blame potential students if they decide not to take on the commitment of training if they face not only loss of earnings but also a large debt imposed on them before they begin to earn a regular salary?
Sally Smith is a mother and part-time basic education tutor living in Surrey