Surviving Student Loans

The student loan juggernaut, before it became a national scandal, was a way of life for many middle-class high school students like myself. Better known as a “necessary evil,” than a reason to be embarrassed or worried.

But you can't change the past, so here is advice for students past and present — whether you're about to make the leap and want a glimpse of your future or you are still recovering from the fall.

Prep for Success
Student loans do not equal a free education, even if it seems like it at the time you sign on the dotted line. Put the math in terms you can accept: According to its 2012-2013 rates, one year at Princeton is like buying 109 iPads and paying for them for the next 30 years. Four years at Penn State is the same as buying a 1,867-year subscription to Forbes magazine. Talk about a legacy.

Many high schoolers just don't think about what student loan debt means (not to discredit those who do, of course). But there's a fine line between heading off to college because it's what will benefit you the most and just doing what all of your classmates and peers are doing.

And remember: People will actually pay you to go to school. In the very rare case, a company you work for will foot the bill in exchange for years of your service. In other circumstances, nonprofits have money they need to get off their hands. They want to give it to you. You just have to prove that you aren't a scammer and that you deserve it by responding to any and every essay scholarship you can find.

Minimizing Damage While Attending
It seems like a common phenomenon for today's college student to see attending college as a social outlet and not the investment in one's future it really is. Newsflash: College ends. Friends move out of town, and the money stops coming in unless you get a competitive job.

By all means make the most of the social aspects of college, because networking is valuable too, but don't over-network at the expense (literally) of your future financial happiness. Move off-campus and get your hands on some sub-$500 rent. Pick up an hourly job at Blockbusters (oh wait, they're closed) or a super-sketchy gas station (oh wait, I regret that) and put that money not towards the bar tab, but towards your groceries. Then cook and pre-game at home to keep restaurant and alcohol costs down.

The very last thing you should be doing is rounding up when you calculate your expenses and using the “leftovers” as padding. Student loans don't exist to make your life easier, they exist to help you get an education. Don't take advantage because even if you skimp you'll be paying for a long time.

Most importantly, major in something that will make money and leave your passions for your minor.
You can read Hemingway and ponder 1700s French philosophy on your commute home from a high-paying corporate gig. You can even save for a few years while working there and then quit to do what you want while you pay your own way. The alternative is having some really cool ideas and then trying to make it in the freelancing world right out of college. The alternative isn't that great.

Consolidating and Paying Off
Maybe all of this information comes too late. Well, never fear, the US government is here.

If you have loans spread among different banks and all of the loans are in your name, you may be eligible to consolidate those loans into one big loan (and one big payment) by visiting Direct Consolidation Loan, a government website.

You'll also have the option of choosing an Income-Based Repayment plan if you aren't making very much, or even getting your loans forgiven after a period of time for working in a public service industry (check the website for more details).

For a more in-depth look at consolidating your student loan debt, look no further than the GRS archives.

Stay Motivated
Loans can be paid, and the clutches of debt can be escaped. Use the resources here at Get Rich Slowly to manage your income — no matter how much or how little there is of it — to get out of debt. Even student loans, once considered “good debt,” are now an uncomfortable mark on your credit report… and more importantly, on your standard of living.

But make sure you're informed, not afraid, and if you regret the choices you made, you can start saving for your kids early. After all, that's the kind of legacy you want to leave.

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tekym
tekym
8 years ago

You can’t consolidate private loans (Sallie Mae, banks as mentioned in the post, etc.) into a federal consolidation loan. Consolidating post-2006 federal loans doesn’t make much sense anymore either, because as of 2006 all federal loans come with fixed interest rates. The primary benefit to consolidation before 2006 was locking in a lower, fixed rate, and you can’t do that anymore (the consolidation calculator averages the interest rates of your fixed-rate loans). Re: “Most importantly, major in something that will make money and leave your passions for your minor.”: I highly recommend “How Art History Majors Power the US Economy”:… Read more »

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  tekym

Thank you for your comment! The article you mention brings up a great point, that “the commentators excoriating today’s students for studying the wrong subjects are pursuing certainty where none exists,” in reference to this idea that majoring in science or business will guarantee success. A successful person will be successful in any major, I am sure, even in (or especially in) the Arts and Humanities. But I am curious about the percentage of students who major in English “to write” but might not be better off in something like Communications or Psychology. I do apologize for not being specific… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

It depends on what you mean by “write”. I don’t think it’s realistic to graduate and expect to free lance, launch a full time blog or write a novel. However, I know many successful writers who work in communications, technical writing, marketing writing, grant writing, etc. Writing can be quite lucrative in some industries like high tech. If a person is only going to study literature and not get any experience (like publishing work or volunteering with the school paper), then a lit degree isn’t going to be that useful. However, studying practical aspects of writing like communications, media, stylistics,… Read more »

Sherry
Sherry
8 years ago

There are so many free, high quality courses that folks can take now, IF they have to take student loans for college (and I think more could do it without getting strapped if they planned better), they can take free courses online to satisfy their need for just knowledge. It is actually a wonderful time to be a student. My husband and I signed up for a history course on http://www.coursera.org and cannot wait to start it!

Sherry
Sherry
8 years ago
Reply to  Sherry

So if you MUST pay, and especially if you MUST take out some student loans, use those for the courses you MUST take in order to gain a certification or degree in something you are more likely to be able to actually get a job when you are done.

CR
CR
8 years ago
Reply to  tekym

Thank you for the link; that is an excellent article.

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

“You can read Hemingway and ponder 1700s French philosophy on your commute home from a high-paying corporate gig.” Your point here is certainly well taken, but I also cringe a little bit when we as a culture devalue the skills that humanities majors bring to the table. The stress on practical degrees goes hand in hand with the hyper-professionalization of nearly everything. NPR just had a piece today on this very thing – “Why It’s Illegal To Braid Hair Without A License”. Whatever happened to learning on the job? I write professional biographies, and one thing that strikes me is… Read more »

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I could not agree more. Unfortunately, I think my suggestion speaks to my more cynical world view at the moment. And it is something of a catch-22 — the folks who would read Hemingway and ponder French philosophy on their way home are exactly the folks who should be majoring in English, etc, because they are proving themselves interested and dedicated (in a weird kind of back —to-the-future way). But it’s the students who are driven to the Arts and Humanities like that who deserve (and benefit) to be there. Everyone else is wasting (and building up) student loans! And… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I’m going to be a little contrarian. I have a master’s degree in history and I don’t consider that the pursuit of that degree gave me any workplace “skills” at all, beyond a freakish typing speed. Reading and writing and research are necessary skills in business. However, reading and writing and research are not things you can only learn from studying the liberal arts. Having a college degree helped me get my first job in a law office – they would not have hired anyone with a high-school diploma. But *every* skill I needed to learn to succeed in that… Read more »

minimalist
minimalist
8 years ago
Reply to  Jane

I do think that the humanities are important, but most employers do not look highly upon those majors. I think that students should major in something practical (engineering, science, business, economics) and major/minor in another field of interest (philosophy, religion, English, etc).

Sarah L
Sarah L
8 years ago
Reply to  minimalist

I agree 110%!! While I enjoy and easily pass any english or writing class I take, and while I deeply enjoy history, what good is a degree in that going to do for me? It seems like too many people have degrees in subjects that interest them, and while I guess that’s not a bad thing, to me, a mom who stopped school to raise the little ones, and plan to go back, I am inclined to agree, I can read and study what I enjoy on my own time, but need to get a degree in something that is… Read more »

IdaBaker
IdaBaker
8 years ago

You make some good points. I wish there was a high school class that taught about college loans, the value of them, the value of using them, and value of paying them back. I’d also like to see scholarships and grants as part of that class. Three of my daughters have scholarships that are currently paying or have paid for almost all of their graduate studies. Plus, some of their undergrad was also included. School loans, depending on how much is owed, can determine the career choices for students. I don’t think they realize that when they start. But, I… Read more »

Heather
Heather
8 years ago
Reply to  IdaBaker

Great point about a class for high schoolers about how to pay for college. I didn’t get any guidance from our school’s guidance counselor beyond how to fill out the FIFA form. It would have been useful to have someone talk about where and how to find scholarships and how to select a school and finance my post-secondary education.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

As advice on affording the cost of college goes, this article is pretty sparse. 🙁

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

You are very correct — my goal here was to provide some insight in how to survive the whole experience in good shape, not necessarily pay for it.

For a better look at paying for the whole shebang, check out Chase Miller’s story here: https://www.getrichslowly.org/paying-for-college-a-high-school-students-quest-to-stay-debt-free/

Thank you for your comment!

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

Nice, direct writing style.

Amy
Amy
8 years ago

I understand why people steer students toward more practical majors, especially given the price of an education. However, that doesn’t always work: has anyone spoken to a newly graduate, jobless law student lately? Or the problem accountants are having finding jobs? Over saturation of candidates flooding a job market can and does happen. What students need to think about are their expectations. There’s nothing wrong with majoring in English so long as you realize you may not have a job in that exact field after college. Not everyone can be an English teacher and the higher the English degree, the… Read more »

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  Amy

I agree. I think that a lot of people enter college with a path in mind and then try to “backwards design” how to get that life that they want. When, like you said, you should start with what you know, what you love, and what you want to do, and build a path from there. Building that skill set (and that unique story) is what makes a person attractive to a hiring committee.

Amanda
Amanda
8 years ago

My dad always used to say, “You can do whatever you want as long as you are the best.” If you don’t want to work that hard, you have to be more practical. A college degree in any major proves that you are a hard worker and you have follow thru. I think the main problem is that college grads have too high of expectations for their first job, even with a college degree you still have to prove yourself in the job market.

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Great point!

Do you think it’s easier to be “great” in some majors and harder to stand out in others?

DanM53
DanM53
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Amanda’s dad makes a pretty good point, but I’d like to add that being smart about what you choose to do can go a long way. You might have to be the very best Art History major to find a lucrative career in that field, but even mediocre results in an Electrical Engineering program can lead to solid employment prospects.

College can be all about getting that first job, after that the opportunities are created based on your accomplishments, timing and a little luck.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
8 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

Yes, most students do have pretty unrealistic ideas of their first jobs. When I was teaching an upper-division business writing class at a large state U five or six years ago, a lot of my students were complaining that they couldn’t get to class on time because it was “too early” (9:30 a.m. two days a week, I think). So I decided to have a talk about job expectations because they did realize that once they graduated (within a year) that they’d probably end up with a job where they had to be somewhere by 8 a.m. EVERY DAY, right?… Read more »

Michael
Michael
8 years ago

You mentioned Income Based Repayment if you don’t make much. I think that is a bit inaccurate; my wife and I combined make six figures and have combined 120k in Federal loans and participate in IBR. It is a great program that you can participate in at any level of income. If you don’t make much, you simply will not have to pay until you make more.

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  Michael

You’re absolutely right – I assume, based on the name, that the intention is for the minimized payment to be available for folks with a lower paycheck.

The official wording is that it’s an amount “intended to be affordable based on your income and family size,” but since that amount is left up to the user it’s fair game to use it to your advantage!

I can definitely see how having a reduced payment for a period of time would help one reach personal financial goals.

Bob
Bob
8 years ago
Reply to  Michael

While IBR is not limited to low-income people, it is limited to people with a partial financial hardship. Basically, the payment under IBR has to be less than the payment would be on the standard 10-year repayment plan. This makes it so people with large incomes still qualify if they have a lot of loans, but also so middle income people may not qualify if their loan balance is not high enough. I’m a big fan of IBR and plan to use it all the way to public service loan forgiveness, but it’s important to remember that the amount of… Read more »

Andrea
Andrea
8 years ago

Thanks for the information. I especially liked your suggestions here: “Move off-campus and get your hands on some sub-$500 rent. Pick up an hourly job at Blockbusters (oh wait, they’re closed) or a super-sketchy gas station (oh wait, I regret that) and put that money not towards the bar tab, but towards your groceries. Then cook and pre-game at home to keep restaurant and alcohol costs down.” When you’re living on borrowed money, I think it’s good advice to earn any money you can and live as cheaply as you can. Many college students enjoy a lot of luxuries that… Read more »

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Skimming this article, I had a hard time following it. There were lots of words on paper, but not a whole lot of content. “Get a job while in school” isn’t adding much to the conversation. As someone who has $85k in student loan debt coming out of school, the author’s advice didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, and “hang on tight,” well, I don’t exactly need motivational words of wisdom.

JD, I like to see articles with a lot of substance on your site, and this article falls short.

Sarah Greesonbach
Sarah Greesonbach
8 years ago
Reply to  Dan

Hey Dan, I’m sorry to hear that!

With this article, my intention was to provide a fresh perspective on the generational narrative we have for attending college.

Fortunately, I can promise my second article will be much more nitty-gritty with the details!

Dan
Dan
8 years ago

Nitty gritty would be a reasonably well researched article that talks about the average costs of college and housing, and what a student might expect to make with a part time minimum wage job while in school.

Set the stage for “this generation is different” and why it’s so much harder.

Rachel
Rachel
8 years ago

You don’t have to choose between a humanities and STEM major. If you pick your electives carefully you can do both! I did! 🙂

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago

Being a recent college grad in this exact situation I take as much student loan related advice as I can get. Although there are some good points made in this article, it’s not the best article about the subject I’ve read and it certainly doesn’t give the best advice. As a graduate from the Humanities and Social Science college at my school I’m a bit skeptical toward anyone who would tell someone to sacrifice their dreams for money. I worked in the business college for over two years as a student assistant and was convinced over and over again that… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

I think it depends on your personality. I know people who are perfectly happy working jobs they aren’t passionate about because their focus is elsewhere (family, hobbies, etc.) It doesn’t have to be a “dream job” for them to find satisfaction.

I also know people — myself included — whose passion aligns with their career. I find it incredibly draining to work a job that I’m not passionate about and don’t excel at. (Hence the reason I’m not an engineer!)

Different strokes for different folks, as they say.

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
8 years ago
Reply to  Elizabeth

It’s also worth mentioning that those programs (Teach for America, for example) are EXTREMELY competitive. In my day job I advise graduate students. One of my PhD students who left our program (totally the right choice for her, she was MISERABLE) applied for Teach for America. You’d think that someone with six years of graduate school and teaching experience would be a shoo-in, right? She didn’t get the job.

thethriftyspendthrift
thethriftyspendthrift
8 years ago

This article felt too short to me—I think it’s missing some “meat” so to speak. Some other suggestions: 1. What about avoiding as much as you can in terms of loans? Sticking to city or state schools, for example, can often be cheaper—although I know that isn’t always true. 2. Do not assume what they offer you in loans is what you need. 3. People generally apply for scholarships and grants when they are getting ready to enter college but don’t forget to keep looking while you’re in college. 4. Aside from looking into jobs that will pay for your… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago

I thought this advice from a couple of top economists was good: http://money.cnn.com/2012/06/11/pf/college/student-loan-value/index.htm

Basically to sum: you’re unlikely to get into trouble with low interest subsidized federal loans– those are capped, so you just can’t go into staggering amounts of debt. It’s the private loans that rack up the fees, because just like with mortgages, lenders want students to borrow more than they need because it’s good for them. (Which is really the same as thethriftyspendthrift’s #2.)

Bettylion
Bettylion
8 years ago

In my experience, applying for scholarships was a complete waste of time and energy, because schools counted it as income and simply deducted the dollar amount of the scholarships from the grant aid they would have given me. For example, one semester I was given a $10k grant from the school… the next semester, when I had won $3500 of scholarships, they deducted $3500 from the grant aid. So I left with exactly the same amount of out-of-pocket expense either way. I was ecstatic when I won the scholarships, thinking I was reducing my personal bill… imagine my disappointment to… Read more »

Courtney
Courtney
8 years ago
Reply to  Bettylion

The new myedaccount website they switched to last fall is AWFUL. We paid off my student loan at the end of last year just so I didn’t have to deal with the website anymore.

imelda
imelda
8 years ago
Reply to  Bettylion

Isn’t that infuriating? The scholarship thing, I mean.

Why is that allowed? If students win a scholarship, shouldn’t they benefit from their hard work, rather than their school?

Tom
Tom
8 years ago
Reply to  imelda

The same holds with savings; if you have money saved, the school just deducts it from your grant award. Our student aid system is byzantine and completely untransparent, more so, even, than used car dealerships. In a class of two hundred students, no one pays exactly the same tuition. One practical point to keep in mind: the more expensive schools are more likely to give you a larger aid package. This is counter-intuitive, but the pricey, elite schools are often cheaper, unless you really have a lot of money. Many students attend community college for the first two years, to… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Bettylion

One of the amazing things about my undergrad was that it split scholarship savings 50% (half to grants, half to loans or out of pocket). It really doesn’t make sense for schools to discourage getting scholarships by reducing grant aid 100%. Whether or not this issue is important depends on how much your parents make and how generous the school is. Some schools don’t give any grant aid, and if your parents make a lot of money you won’t be eligible for any grant aid. But for the vast majority of people, it is a really important thing to check… Read more »

DanM53
DanM53
8 years ago
Reply to  Bettylion

Yeah, my daughter worked as a dorm counselor in her sophomore year. The compensation (room and 1/2 board) was worth about $10,000. They took over $8,000 off her grant for the year. Go figure. A lot of the RA’s at her school come from well-off families who don’t get aid.

Kim
Kim
8 years ago
Reply to  Bettylion

My advice after having completed two bachelor’s degrees and put two kids through college is to plan at least a few years ahead so that you can paint yourself in the very worst possible financial light. That will lead to the best financial aid package. Eliminate as much debt as possible so that you can pay as many expenses as possible out of pocket. On the FAF, you will be penalized for income, scholarships, savings, retirement accounts, and many other assets. If all else fails, ask your parents to get a divorce or get one yourself (ok, maybe that’s going… Read more »

Bella
Bella
8 years ago
Reply to  Kim

I know someone who worked for his Dad’s company – made the minimum amount to be considered an independant (so he paid his own taxes teh two years prior to school and was not considered a dependant for his dad)
so when he applied for financial aid – it was all based just on him – not his parents
Seemed pretty shady to me then…

Lauren
Lauren
8 years ago

This is exactly the opposite of what I wanted out of college (then and in retrospect, even after several years of underemployment). If I wanted job training, I would have gotten a job or gone through some vocational program. I wanted to learn. So I did. (And managed to do so while acquiring a perfectly manageable amount of debt that I am about to pay off now, five years out, even on my pathetic little what-do-you-do-with-a-BA-in-English* salary.)

* actually psychology, but that’s not the song

SB @ One cent at a time
SB @ One cent at a time
8 years ago

It’s also important to live a self-imposed hardship life upon joining the workforce, to payoff debt quickly.

Janette
Janette
8 years ago

Enjoyed the article and will be sharing it with several friends who are in various stages of college.
I totally agree with leaving your passion for your minor. You can still get exposure to those excellent professors and can even afford follow on classes!

Corinne
Corinne
8 years ago

I agree with your last statement, that educating our own children is a legacy that we should be leaving behind. I am a product of such legacy as my two hard-working parents (one a teacher and the other a jack-of-all-trades) sacrificed so much for both myself and my sibling to attend 4-year in-state colleges (with grade and location stipulations of course). However, just because you may have no educational debt does not mean that a future spouse won’t!! I agree with a fellow reader above that all students in the high school realm should be more informed and be REQUIRED… Read more »

Jessica
Jessica
8 years ago

Due to financial need and my academic accomplishments, I received a great deal of financial aid for my bachelor’s degree at Northwestern University. Otherwise I would never have been able to attend, as the annual tuition was equivalent to my parents’ combined annual income. I had a work-study award and found a job working in a research lab in my major. I worked there all four years, including during most breaks and in the summers with the exception of the summer between freshman and sophomore year when I went home. I also participated in paid psych experiments to earn “extra”… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

Fellow NU grad – 2011!

I don’t have anything to contribute really, except that I also worked as a Research Aide, I also did experiments for money (those were GREAT. The situation is not the same at my grad school), and that the above comment about scholarship money being directly deducted from your University scholarship was definitely the case at Northwestern.

Jessica
Jessica
8 years ago
Reply to  Samantha

2001 for me, 2002 for my DH! What’s sad is that 10 years later, my DH’s salary just now equals the cost of room and board at Northwestern. We get solicited constantly for money. I’m now a SAHM and we live on my DH’s income. When I worked for Northwestern as a Research Technologist after I graduated, they paid me less per year than tuition cost. Even though I was an alum! I was actually treated very badly as an employee and was very happy to leave for graduate school. And had 4 years of experience in the field doing… Read more »

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

I’m sorry to hear you guys had a bad experience with NU. I’m only a year out, but I’m pretty confident that undergrad at NU contributed to my being accepted where I was for grad school and the scholarship packages I was offered (of course there’s no way to know that for certain), and I got the job I’m procrastinating at right now because someone here is an NU alum.

As to how the school itself will treat me, I’m not sure yet. I’ve gotten a couple calls but I think they know I don’t have any money!

Samantha
Samantha
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

Oh, and to bring this back on topic (where is the edit feature?), I laughed out loud when the article suggested sub-$500 rents. Not in Evanston! I was paying $725 for one bedroom, in a two bedroom apartment, with three people living in it (one in living room). College towns are smart. They know students are captive to the area, and they know almost any rent will be less than what the school charges for Room & Board. And if you’re in a place with poor town-gown relations, it’ll be even worse.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Jessica

In Northwestern’s defense, it is a great place to be an undergraduate woman in engineering. Much better than UIUC, from the experiences of people I know who went to either place.

But I thought they had a reputation for not giving much in financial aid.

Marisa
Marisa
8 years ago

I feel like I’m the lone dissenter but I agree with Sarah that students should choose a practical major. It was fun to read novels and talk about them with my classmates in college but now that I’m a few years into the real world (in a terrible economy), I sure wish I had chose a different major. I think the minor is a great place to follow your interests. Another option, at least at the state school I went to, is take more classes at the same cost. The way it worked was we paid for 12 hours of… Read more »

Jessie
Jessie
8 years ago

To be honest, I found the tone of this article very condescending and it reads like someone with a lot of opinions on ‘kids today’. If you’re going to make the claim that many young people head off to university because they think they should and haven’t evaluated their options, or don’t know how to live within their means, I’d prefer some advice on how to address those challenges, rather than suggesting that they… What? Live within their means and get a job and apply for some scholarships? I’ve worked closely with high school youth and this is all basic… Read more »

getagrip
getagrip
8 years ago

I tried putting college loan costs in perspective for my children: Two years community college and two years in-state school (living at home). On me, no debt. Four years in-state school, living there, after I help you still graduate with a nice shiny new car payment on something you’ll never drive. Go ahead, look at the price of that new Dodge 300 or Ford Edge. Imagine buying it and the next day it gets run over by a steam-roller and the company goes bankrupt so now you’ve got years of payments on a big pile of scrap metal. That’s what… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
8 years ago
Reply to  getagrip

I won a full-tuition scholarship to our hometown college. I had other awards available if I chose to go elsewhere. My Dad made me an offer: if I took the home-town scholarship and lived at home, he’d buy me the car of my choice at graduation. I ended up getting the car a year early because he & Mom decided to renovate my bedroom :-). I moved to a cheap studio apartment near campus. I worked part-time throughout college. It was, financially, by far the best choice for me (and I drove that car for 14 years). Would my life… Read more »

Jane
Jane
8 years ago

In 1999, I managed to get out of a very expensive private university with only $17,000 in subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans. How did I do this? Well, not through very many grants. My middle class parents paid over $85,000 for my education. God bless them. They are very frugal people, and I am grateful to them. In hindsight, I should have gone to the big state university that accepted me into their honors program on scholarship. But at the time, I wanted to get out of my region, and I loved the matching granite buildings and the small student… Read more »

Christina
Christina
8 years ago

Just a note that the Special Direct Loan Consolidation program (on which information can be found at studentaid.ed.gov/specialconsolidation/) will allow you consolidate commercially held FFEL loans (serviced by, for example, Sallie Mae)and move them to a federal servicer. It’s an effort by the US government to make it easier to pay back student loans by allowing people who have both Department of Education and commercially-held loans to bring them all under the federal servicer so that they can make one payment to one servicer. There is a interest rate reduction incentive of .25% on all commercially held loans that are… Read more »

Honey Smith
Honey Smith
8 years ago
Reply to  Christina

I just did this to my last Stafford that was commercially held (Sallie Mae). I only heard about this last week, though the email I received strongly implied that they had sent me other messages (which was not the case).

Steph M
Steph M
8 years ago

I think that students need to put more emphasis on what they want to do for a living and determine their major from that. I feel like the majority of us determined our majors by saying “I like Shakespeare so I’m going to be an English major” or “I’m a finance major because I like money”. We don’t really take into account job prospects or what said jobs entail. If college students did some sort of shadowing for their future career paths, there would be a lot more accountability for (and hopefully a lot less of) the “I’m a waitress… Read more »

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Steph M

Some of my English major friends are technical writers, marketing professionals, social media professionals, teachers, researchers, college professors, corporate educators, corporate communications specialists and librarians, to name a few.

I find when people critique “English degrees” they often think English is only about literature or creative writing. Depending on the label the university/college uses, “English” can include professional writing, technical writing, linguistics, stylistics, rhetoric, communications and journalism.

I think it is possible to turn your passion into a career — you just have to balance theory with practical skills.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
8 years ago
Reply to  Steph M

Oops.. Forgot to say that i think you’re right about focusing on topics we like, not necessarily what we want to do. Liking money isn’t really a compelling reason to go into finance or economics. Wanting to help people as a financial planner? That to me would be a sound decision.

Marisa
Marisa
8 years ago
Reply to  Steph M

I was an English major and have managed, after many years as an overeducated secretary, to finally find a job as a grantwriter. I love my job and am glad I’m able to use my writing skills, but the years of doing something I hated made me wish I’d chosen a major where I would have at least been paid much more to do something I hated.

Philip
Philip
8 years ago

I couldn’t agree more with the writer about minoring in things that you love and majoring in something practical that you enjoy and can make money with. Yes, everyone wants to be a rock star, art dealer, or movie critic, but the reality is this: this is a very, very tough job market. It’s hard to find jobs in industries that used to be automatic (such as working in restaurants), so spending thousands of dollars on an education that does little-to-nothing for your marketability is silly. For example, think of the big books over the course of the last several… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
8 years ago

If you get a degree in a particular field not because you love that field, but only because you think you can make money in it, you are making a mistake that will follow you for years. You will probably be unhappy (to a greater or lesser degree) in your profession, and no matter how well you think you are hiding that fact, you will not be fooling employers and managers. The pay you end up receiving will reflect your lack of real enthusiasm. Only those who truly care can truly succeed. Life is tough enough without giving away your… Read more »

Lori
Lori
8 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

I don’t think the author was suggesting we “give away our souls…” That’s a bit melodramatic, don’t you think? I think she was simply saying it’s important to build your skill set so you can provide a better future for yourself. But c’mon now, how many French poetry majors go on to be millionaires by writing sonnets about Toulouse? You don’t think a back-up plan is a good idea just in case you aren’t the rare, artistic gem your mommy said you are? As for the “lack of enthusiasm,” I think it’s more your work ethic that can’t be hidden… Read more »

June
June
8 years ago

This is a great article! Pretty much exactly the advice that I would give to anyone headed off to college, and it’s advice I wish I had myself. My mom told me to just accept all of my student loans, and since she’s an accountant and should know what’s going on, I did. Now I’m paying for my two years of living the friggin’ high life. I especially appreciate your idea of “major in something that makes you money.” A lot of people are figuring out what their passions are in school, but it’s completely legitimate to major in something… Read more »

Gloria
Gloria
8 years ago

As someone with 3 degrees, all in the art field, and with a substantial amount of grad school debt, this article frustrates me because I feel like it fails to show how to make a rational choice to go into debt. I had very little debt from my undergraduate years (a combination of work, scholarships, and grants took care of that for me), and I took 2 years to work before making the decision to go to graduate school. When I chose to go to grad school I only had 4 school options, (because of the field I’m in) and… Read more »

Marty
Marty
8 years ago

Good overview and I like the way you hit some the highlights of what to watch out for (in an upbeat way). It’s easy to get bogged down in the detail (there are whole sites on each of the topics you mention).

Perhaps, in the future, you’ll be able to do more articles on each of the topics you hit on in this article?

Marty
Marty
8 years ago

I liked the way you covered the high points, but didn’t get too deep in any one (there are whole websites devoted to each of the topics you bring up), and the light-hearted tone.
Perhaps, in a follow-on article, you can go into more detail on each of these from the perspective of a student through the process (getting the loan, living the loasn, paying back the loan) so people in a particualr phase won’t get bored reading stuff about the phase they’re not in.

JMV
JMV
8 years ago

What I never hear is this advice – pick the college you can afford, not the college you just HAVE to go to or the one all of your friends are going to. There are many excellent state colleges and community colleges that offer options at a fraction of the cost of private institutions. I chose a 2 year business college and then got a full-time job at a company that would pay the remainder of my bachelor degree tuition. I graduated with about $15,000 in debt and had that paid off quickly (becuase I already had a job). It… Read more »

Lori
Lori
8 years ago

I think the details in this article are perfect for someone whetting her appetite, so to speak. Coupled with all the great links, it is an amazing reference. Very helpful!

rageon
rageon
8 years ago

This probably isn’t helpful aside from adding yet another reason to why student loans are terrible. My wife had tons of loans from private undergrad and law school. Every 2 years or so the loan servicer will sell the loans to a new one, who will then sell the loans, etc… So we’ve got to re-setup payments and all that. The worst is trying to make additional payments to these companies. They basically do everything imaginable to prevent you from doing so, and if you don’t follow their instructions exactly, any extra money just applies to your next payment, rather… Read more »

jim
jim
8 years ago

If you don’t want to major in STEM fields thats OK, but just make sure theres a realistic plan to get a job after graduation. People need to look at jobs that have demand and find a way to get one. If you can do that from a humanities or social science field then great. If you can’t get a decent job then you should reexamine the plan. Its certainly not impossible to get a good job with a humanities degree but its not as easy as if you started with a major in a field that has practical applications… Read more »

Ari
Ari
8 years ago

I didn’t much care for this article, but I appreciate that the author has taken the time to respond to the many comments above (I tend to agree with the ones that say this is not new information, and seems too “motivational” without specifics). While I didn’t think the content was very well thought out or researched, I thought the style was fine and easy to follow. One thing I haven’t seen anybody criticize yet is the advice to work a low paying job in college. Certainly, if a student can’t find anything else, this is worth doing to pay… Read more »

elysia
elysia
8 years ago
Reply to  Ari

I totally agree – the internship part of my degree paid a little but got me skills and a job post-college.

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  Ari

We had a spirited discussion about this topic on our blog a few weeks back, mainly about the luxury of taking unpaid internships or summer classes vs. working for minimum wages.

http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/should-kids-have-to-take-a-minimum-wage-job-while-theyre-teens

I think there’s some real class differences– if you can afford to do some of these kinds of things rather than working for the (usually low salary) money you can get a real leg up once you graduate. That’s not even including extra time spent on studies and sleeping that can increase what you get out of school itself (both in terms of GPA and real learning).

Audrey
Audrey
8 years ago

Headed to grad school soon. Was fortunate to finish undergrad without any debt, but now find myself very unfamiliar with how loans work… thanks for some valuable insight!

elysia
elysia
8 years ago

I am so sick of things telling me to save early for my kids education. I would love to (seriously) but then you get the “save for retirement because no one will give you a loan to pay for that.” Finally – seriously – they tell me to save 10,000 a year per child. I only have two, but finding 20,000 a year in savings after tax is seriously a huge deterrent. I think our system is broken. I expect I’ll have to pay part of kids college, they’ll pay part, we will try for financial aid (scholarships), and hopefully… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  elysia

Those recommendations don’t usually take into account financial aid packages and just look at sticker cost. Generally if the parents are not high income the kids will get grants (and loans) from a good portion of the places they get in.

elysia
elysia
8 years ago
Reply to  Nicole

I don’t know what our salary will be 10 years down the road, but I’m guessing we won’t qualify for aid. And I took the lower numbers on everything, not the high end schools. I know it’s not truly accurate, but it is quite a daunting number to look at. It’ll cost the same as my house, for each child!

Nicole
Nicole
8 years ago
Reply to  elysia

If you won’t qualify for aid, then you and your kids can probably afford some package of direct payment and loans including saving now. Assuming that these are things that you value. Not everybody values higher education.

We’re not planning on qualifying for aid and have been putting away $500/month/kid on top of our regular retirement savings. It just comes directly out of savings into the 529 each month without us really noticing.

Lori
Lori
8 years ago
Reply to  elysia

Yes, truly, the system is broken because it has not provided for your children’s education or your retirement. Seriously. I say, don’t try. The world needs janitors.

elysia
elysia
8 years ago
Reply to  Lori

Well, aren’t you a nice lovely bucket of fun. My kids will go to college, we’ll figure it out, and we’ll have retirement money and I don’t expect we’ll benefit from social security. But I don’t think the system is working, because I think that we’re in the minority, and a lot of kids will have to either be janitors, as you so kindly suggest, or go into massive debt that will suck for them for life. I guess you do find it reasonable to have to save 10k/year per kid in order to send them to college, and you… Read more »

Lori
Lori
8 years ago
Reply to  elysia

My parents worked full-time, my father as a mechanic for many years, to put me through school. I worked part-time myself, and applied for scholarships. So “privileged”? Only in the sense that my parents didn’t treat my education like a painful obligation. Insane, right? To be clear, I don’t think all families have those resources. But I do think people shouldn’t have kids unless they can afford them. They’re a little more expensive than goldfish or terriers, usually. So with regards to your being “so sick of things telling you to save early for your kids education,” all I can… Read more »

Dani
Dani
8 years ago

When graduating high school, the whole “you can be anything you want” spiel is everywhere. While I do appreciate this (and I totally did become what I wanted), sometimes it’s nice to have a different, real-life take on what you’re in for. The author’s approach feels like tough love– a nice balance to many other opinions out there. Would’ve loved to have this resource back when I graduated!

Dana
Dana
8 years ago
Reply to  Dani

I agree. But I feel like myself at 18 would never have listened to the advice I could give my past self now that I’m 25. Live and learn, I guess.

Dana
Dana
8 years ago

Can’t help agreeing with Sarah and others here who warn against making your passion your livelihood. There should be some middleground between parting with your soul and planning your career around a passion that might leave you eating ramen noodles seven nights a week and living in a van down by the river. And as appealing as the idea of making your love for 16-century French philosophy into a career may be, for many people, the 9-to-5 grind has a way of taking the joy out of whatever it is you thought you wanted to spend your life doing. There’s… Read more »

Liz Wiz
Liz Wiz
8 years ago

Excellent article about the mindset shift necessary to succeed through (not just in) college. Our parents were thrilled to let us borrow from our futures because college wasn’t a given for them. It was valuable at any price. However, we kids discovered that we had left ourselves with no room for error, and when we erred we found ourselves in a financial hole that our parents couldn’t imagine (and that couldn’t be discharged with bankruptcy. Now I am a parent and I realize the true value of a college education, that you can over-pay. I’ll pay off my own kids… Read more »

Patch
Patch
8 years ago

Sarah,
Great article. The direct, honest approach is refreshing. A keen point you bring up is motivation. The best plans not followed through due to a lack or a loss of motivation can (and have) resulted in dire consequences. I look forward to your next article!

Dana
Dana
8 years ago

Regarding the last sentence of the article, I know I’m young and don’t have kids (and don’t know if I really want any since they’re f’ing expensive), but I don’t really regard having kids and paying for their education as what my legacy would be. I’m not trying to be nitpicky, but wondering if anyone else thought the same?

gerald
gerald
8 years ago

” You can even save for a few years while working there and then quit to do what you want while you pay your own way”

in other words, don’t go to college, and find a smart way to pursue your passion, you’ll save 5 years of your life, another 5 being miserable, and those 10 years invested in your passion and deliberate living will get you to a higher point than this back to square one option.

CB
CB
8 years ago

I just posted a comment on a similar topic over here: http://jlcollinsnh.wordpress.com/2012/05/23/the-college-conundrum/. Here it is again, for the students reading this who have not taken on debt yet… I went to community college and transferred as many credits as possible over to the local university where I finished my bachelor’s while living rent-free at home (I paid my own insurance, phone, books, and chipped in on groceries). My mom covered two years of tuition with college savings for me; I paid for the community college credits (as a result my education came in under budget so my mom gave me… Read more »

Anastasia
Anastasia
8 years ago

An even better option in majoring in a money-making field and minoring in a passion is to work with the career counselors at your university to find a way to use your passion in a way that will support you financially. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

Chase Miller
Chase Miller
8 years ago

I love Sarah’s first point that Student Loans don’t make college free. I think it is very easy to feel like all I have to do is sign a piece of paper to attend one’s dream school and forget that in 4 years I will have to start paying the loans back.

Chase Miller

Student Loans Worked Out For Me
Student Loans Worked Out For Me
8 years ago

In the comments, I see a lot of comments to the tune of “I wish they taught me that” or “I wish they showed me that”. I grew up in a third-world country, and when I came to US I did not know how to write a check, let alone understand anything about student loans. I learned them – it’s not rocket science, you know, not that different from other loans. Student loans for my education worked out great. When people – including young people – just wait for others to show them the way, hold their hand – how… Read more »

Liberal Arts Success
Liberal Arts Success
8 years ago

I agree with a lot of the financial advice here about college (keep debt manageable, work through school), but going to the cheapest school isn’t always the right call. What it comes down to is being smart and determining if the goals of the program align with your goals for your education. I’ll admit to being lucky, but taking out student loans to go to a private liberal arts university is not always financial suicide. I went to a brand name private liberal arts university, turning down a full ride at the state school, and it was the right decision… Read more »

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