One fell swoop of the pen is all it takes to place oneself into unimaginable debt. Whether taking out a private loan, or a standard federal Stafford or Perkins Loan, about 12 million of the 20 million students in the United States borrow money each year as they fight their way through debt in order to earn their college degrees. But is it worth it?
According to the Project on Student Debt, 65 percent of students attending college in Massachusetts graduate with student debt, and the average deficit is $27,000 for each individual. On top of that, about 9 percent of students in the U.S. are still jobless one year after graduating.
And $27,000 is just the average. Next time you take a trip to the Student Union, take a look at the fence by the ongoing construction behind The Hatch. You will find a couple dozen sheets of paper, each stating complaints regarding student loans. One student wrote: “70 thousand dollars in debt, 70 years it will take to pay off.” Another wrote: “What kind of system trusts 17 year olds with signing their name for $80,000 of debt?”
That leaves the question: Do students really know what they are getting themselves into when signing those loans? It’s safe to say that your average 17-year-old is not entirely educated on today’s economy. For most high school students in the Northeast, however, the opportunity to go a four-year college is not even thought about twice. If the loan part of the process is overlooked, the student will probably have the mentality of: “I won’t worry about this now. I’ll just enjoy my college experience, get my degree and worry about the money later.”
That mentality won’t work if a job doesn’t present itself upon graduation. It takes a lifetime for some people to pay off their college loans. To be constantly in debt and having to worry about your financial situation for decades after graduation can be disconcerting, but the outcome really depends on your own decisions.
One thing to consider when taking out loans is your major and intended career path. If you are projected to have a debt of say $60,000 after graduating, it’s best not to be majoring in arts, history, journalism, communications, etc. I’m not saying you can’t make money in those fields, but generally from the start, don’t be expecting even half of a six-figure salary. The best way to measure it is to not take out more than the average starting salary for your desired job. As a journalism major, the average starting salary is around $25,000, so I would not take out more than $25,000 in loans over the course of four years.
If $25,000 in loans isn’t affordable, there other alternatives. You don’t need to take all of your courses at the college or university that you attend. You are in college to focus on one area of study (maybe two or three depending if you have a minor or another major). If you’re going to have outstanding debt, there’s no need to take the general education or global education classes at the primary school you are attending – especially if attending an overly expensive private school. Take advantage of the courses that community colleges have to offer. They may get a bad reputation, but these are general education classes that most likely will not have an impact on your desired field.
There’s also nothing wrong with taking a semester or a year off to earn a little bit of cash. Don’t feel rushed to get through college so quickly. It’s common for a student to take longer than four years to get through an institution. One extra year is not going to make an impact on your future.
It’s a fact that the college degree is losing value. Of course, one is obviously better off with a degree and it would be wise for every student to consider college as an option. Degrees are now so commonplace, that it is no longer the deciding factor when an employer makes his pick of the flock. Nowadays, it’s all about connections, experience through internships and a high range of skill sets.
Most students in the U.S. are in debt, but no matter the financial situation, there are ways around it so that it won’t take a lifetime to pay off loans. Having a degree is something that won’t necessarily be the highlight of your resume when on a job hunt, but not having one is something that will most likely hurt you. Just don’t sign off on those loans without a game plan.
Taylor Snow is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com