Doomed to a life of debt?

Is that the story for college students who aren’t entering high-paying professions these days? Or for students entering an “open-ended” type of major that doesn’t lead to one particular career path? (Psychology, history, and English, for instance.)

Personally, I don’t think so, as long as you pursue your studies with thoughtful planning and eye toward the future—even if that future looks fuzzy right now. After all, college isn’t just about pursuing your passion at any cost. Think of it this way: when you turned 16, you probably wanted a car. Maybe you were passionate about cars and dreamed of owning a Corvette. “That’s lovely,” your parents said. “Here are the keys to an eight year-old Honda Civic. Enjoy.”

And guess what? A Honda Civic will take you anywhere a Corvette can take you at a much more affordable price.

So what’s the lesson? Pursue your passion, but pay attention to the price tag. Good advice for any college student, but particularly pertinent to those who may be pursuing majors that don’t automatically dovetail into a specific career.

Getting out of analogy world, what does that mean if you want to major in English or history? It means that in order to avoid debt that outpaces your ability to repay, you’ll need to think ahead, plan carefully, and pay attention to the numbers (even if you’re like me and not very “mathy”).

Think about where you’re headed. Where is your major taking you? To grad school? To a specific job? Not sure? Start thinking in specifics, and work toward that goal, whether it means working internships to “test drive” some career opportunities and make contacts in your field or researching graduate programs that align with your major and your interests.

Pay attention to the numbers. Focus on keeping costs down when it comes to your education. When it comes time to start repaying your loans (and that day will arrive sooner than you think) you’ll be so glad you did. Don’t be intimidated by the big figures that get tossed around when it comes to tuition, room and board, and loan amounts. If you’re in the process of choosing a school, look long and hard at all these costs, what aid is available to you (especially free aid, likes grants and scholarships) and how the school is willing to work with you. If you’re taking out a student loan, learn the details and look at those repayment charts so you can understand what your monthly payments might be. Talk to your parents about the reality of how those payments might fit into your post-college budget.

Plan carefully. Many college students just head off to college and start borrowing. Those are the ones who end up with sticker shock when they enter repayment. Plot your course carefully, so you keep your debt to a minimum. Think about whether starting at a two-year school might be right for you. Consider getting a job right away when you get to campus. See if it’s possible for you to make interest payments on any student loans you might have. Keep searching for scholarship opportunities while you’re in school. Spend cautiously and avoid credit card debt.

Caroline Hanson

About Caroline Hanson

Caroline is a communications consultant for Wells Fargo Education Financial Services. Although she has been known to forget her own ZIP code, she has memorized the lyrics to every bad 1970s pop song ever written. Unfortunately, she also loves karaoke. Caroline spends her spare time at Target®. She also likes biking slowly and has participated in RAGBRAI. Caroline is a graduate of Iowa State University and has worked in journalism and public relations for the past 14 years. She lives in Iowa with her husband and has a 19-year-old stepdaughter and 2-year-old son.
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3 Responses to Doomed to a life of debt?

  1. Anonymous says:

    One of my strategies for on-time bill payment is to arrange at the outset, if possible, to have my bills due at one or two times during the month–that way I don’t have bills due at scattered times. The cell phone bill, for example, comes due the first of the month. So, I know that during the last week of the previous month, I can pay it. I usually do my bill paying online using the online portal of whatever company I’m paying–that way I know they got it on time. I also try to limit the number of bills I have to pay by either paying off the debt or prepaying any bill that permits me to do so. To avoid a monthly auto insurance bill, for example, I prepay the entire yearly premium at once. I do the same thing with the life insurance premium.

  2. Alex says:

    Excellent list of suggestions here! I know all to well the frustrations of keeping each of my lenders satisfied each month. The old adage of “robbing Peter to pay Paul!” Thanks for the great insight.

The Student LoanDown

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