If you are (or have) a high school student thinking about taking out student loans to pay for college, you need to read this! From someone who has been-there-done-that with student loans, you’ll find out helpful advice and things to consider before taking the debt plunge.
Americans owe $1.48 trillion in student loan debt (source: https://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/g19/current/default.htm).
Over 44 million Americans share a piece of that debt pie (source: https://studentloanhero.com/student-loan-debt-statistics/).
Some describe their debt as suffocating. Overwhelming. A death sentence.
Woah. Have I scared you? That would have terrified me as an 18 year old wanting to get a college education but having no money.
I sometimes wonder if I ever would have taken the leap to go to college if I heard these depressing debt statistics and stories as a high schooler.
That makes me sad.
While student loan debt sucks, it’s not the end of the world. In fact, it could be a path to opening up your world.
College has led me to a happy, successful life. And I couldn’t have gone to college without my student loans.
So I’m writing this for all of the high school seniors out there that might be scared of going to college. That might be scared of taking on debt.
Of course it’s risky business to take out any debt. It’s very risky to take out thousands, possibly tens of thousands of dollars of debt. But if you make smart decisions in college, it will be worth it. So, let me help you on some very important decisions that you may have to make in college.
Advice for college students taking out student loans
1. Major in something that you can get a job in (and that pays decent)
The point of going to college is to get a job.
You aren’t going because it’s the law (like your previous schooling).
You aren’t going because all your friends are going.
And you certainly aren’t going to learn how to party and play flip cup.
You are going to get an education which will help you get a job and contribute to society. This job will support you and your future family.
You need to be smart about picking your major. I know that can be tough to hear. You may feel like you should be allowed to do whatever your heart desires. Sorry, that’s not real life. That’s fantasy. Especially if you are taking out student loans.
You need a job so you can pay back those student loans (and of course pay for shelter, food, other necessities, and hopefully some wants).
You just don’t have the luxury of majoring in something that might not result in a job. You need money when you graduate. And the only way to get money is with a job.
I think it’s really important to remember that you don’t have to give up on your passions. If you love to paint, you can still paint! If you love to write, you can still write! Free time and hobbies don’t disappear after college. They still exist. But you can’t fulfill your passions if you have no money.
Action step: Think about what you want to do for the rest of your life. Talk to your friends, families, neighbors, guidance counselors…everybody…on your quest to find your future profession.
2. Major in something that you like
I know I just went on a
rant tangent about how you need to be smart about your major. Your major needs to result in a job, preferably one that pays decent.
But that doesn’t mean you should just look at the hiring and pay statistics of each major. Find something that you truly care about. That you can picture doing for at least a decade.
Student loan debt isn’t going to be a walk in the park. You don’t want to add a miserable job to the mix.
I have a few friends who majored in law, medicine, and engineering. They financed their education through student loans (a lot of them) only to find out that they don’t really like being a lawyer, doctor, or engineer. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are forced to stay in their jobs because they need to pay back their debt. That’s not a good position to be in.
—> I also know people that love being lawyers, doctors, and engineers (me!), so I’m not picking on any one profession here 🙂
Action step: If you are interested in a major, shadow (follow) someone for a few days (or longer if you can swing it) to really see if that profession is something you want to do for the rest of your life. Don’t just follow your childhood dream of…being a cowboy, or a policeman, or a lawyer. You’re an adult now; do your research.
3. Go to a good college
I think this is going to be the most controversial piece of advice. All I am saying is that you shouldn’t spend a ton of money to go to an unknown school. Spend that same amount of money to go to a school that is recognizable, accredited, and has a good reputation. You don’t have to go to an Ivy League school, but skip the online university based out of the North Pole.
Action Step: Check out the top college/university rankings. Do you see your school on the list?
4. Don’t take out more money than you need
Did you know that you might get approved to take out more student loans than you actually need? That might sound great as a college freshman (hey, four figures in the bank account?!), but you’ll regret it when you graduate. You only need enough money for tuition, rent, food, transportation, and some clothes. Any extra money you have you’ll end up wasting. And then you’ll end up having to pay that money back when you graduate. Ideally, just take out enough money for tuition, and try to cash flow the rest with jobs and internships.
Action step: Find out how much money you need each semester and only take out that amount in student loans (or less if you are getting help from scholarships or parents).
5. Try to get scholarships
Every dollar in scholarship that you get is more than a dollar that you need to pay back (think: you’ll have to pay back the money you borrowed PLUS interest). Apply for the big scholarships. The small scholarships. The ones hidden deep in the internet. This is a good use of your time. Consider applying for scholarships as your part time job. Don’t stop after you graduate high school – there are a ton of scholarships for current college students.
Action step: Apply for as many scholarships as you possibly can!
- My Debt Story: How I Paid Off $125,181 of Student Loan Debt
- A Simple Explanation of How Student Loan Debt is Calculated
- Life Insurance and Student Loan Debt: What You Need to Know
6. Get internships
Possibly one of the most valuable pieces of advice you’ll receive: get an internship every summer. Internships lead to full time jobs (and that’s the goal of college, right?). Not only will you network with the right people, but you’ll also learn a ton about your future profession. You’ll know what to look for and what to avoid in your future job hunt.
Action step: Does you college have a program that helps students get internships? If so, join that program right away (I’m talking first semester freshman year!). If not, do research on internships that are available for your major. Ask older students what internships they’ve done, check out the companies at job fairs, and check out the list of companies that hire graduates from your college.
7. Work in college…if you can
Full disclosure: I did not have a job while taking classes in college. Don’t get me wrong, I had internships during the summer, but I didn’t have a job during the school year. I chose to focus on getting the best grades I could and applying for the best internship I could find. That’s what worked for me.
However, getting a job during the semester may help you get an internship. Also, there have been many studies that show students get higher grades while juggling a job and classes.
Action step: Try to find a job that relates to your major/future profession. Your school likely has a list of professors looking for assistants or researches.
8. Study hard
No employer wants to see C’s, D’s, or F’s on a transcript. It shows that you don’t really know your stuff. It shows that you aren’t working hard and that you aren’t motivated. I wouldn’t want to hire someone like that. Study hard. Get good grades.
Action step: Prepare for your classes. Do your homework. Go to the library and study for those exams. You don’t need Thursday, Friday, and Saturday to party.
9. Enjoy college
You’ve got four years. And then comes real life – bills, working, responsibilities, blah.
Enjoy your four years. Make smart decisions about your studies and your finances. Remember that you’ll have to pay back every penny of your loans. But don’t stress about it. You’ll have plenty of time for stress later.
Action step: Make friends. Try new activities. Join clubs.
10. Pay off your debt as fast as you can
Once you graduate, focus on paying off your debt as fast as you can. Don’t ignore it, don’t let it linger.
Action step: Stay informed about your debt while in college so you know your financial situation when you gradaute. Start paying off your debt while still in college if you can.
Going to college with the help of student loans
It’s okay to take out student loans to go to college. Sometimes, we have no choice. But that doesn’t mean we should be stupid with the amount of loans we take out or what we do with it.
Taking out loans is risky. That’s why it requires smart decision making. Pick the right major, the right college, and work hard. Apply for internships and make extra money through jobs or scholarships. Don’t take out more money than you need.
And then, pay back those loans. Pay them back with everything you’ve got. Treat them as the enemy.
Then, you can live your dream life. That dream life that was promised to all college graduates.
What do you wish you knew as an 18-year old about to take on student loan debt?