College campuses will be full of eager freshman and first-year graduate students this fall, many of whom are already asking themselves the same question, “How am I going to pay for my college education?”
While this question is almost as old as higher education itself, the exponential rocketing of college tuition in recent years has caused it to weigh more heavily on the minds of today’s students than in years past.
Although the answer to this question varies situation to situation, there are several common habits or choices that individuals with minimal student loan debt demonstrate, which allow them to avoid monstrous loan repayments following graduation. We interviewed several (actual) students to see what they are doing to avoid the crushing weight of student loan debt.
LIFE ORGANIZED-Tell us about your schooling, goals, life situation:
Brett- I am a pre-dental student studying health sciences at Chandler Gilbert Community College. I got married in 2012 and our household has since expanded to include a dog. I want to transfer to Arizona State and then go on to attend dental school.
LIFE ORGANIZED- What is your current student loan debt total?
Brett- It’s zero. We don’t have any debt.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Nice. How did you and your wife manage to accomplish that?
Brett- Well, to avoid student loan debt I worked while my wife attended school. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree last year and landed a solid job. Now we’ve flipped roles; she works while I attend school full-time. I have also kept a part time job on the side. We try to live below our means. We drive affordable cars and don’t splurge much (haha).
LIFE ORGANIZED- Does the community college charge less than the local state university?
Brett- Yes, for sure. The cost between the two was definitely a factor in my not attending a “big” four year school yet.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Do you have any advice for incoming freshman or other students looking to avoid debt?
Brett- Ya, just be patient and don’t worry about having everything everyone else has right now. You will see your peers with a new car or purchasing a new home. Your day will come to own those things. Be patient, time will pass and you’ll get there but much more happily ‘cause you’re not worrying about a ton of debt.
LIFE ORGANIZED-Tell us about your schooling goals and current situation.
Michelle- I graduated high school in 2013 and have been attending the local community college since then. I want to get into a graphic design program when I transfer to a four year school, after I get my associate’s degree.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Why did you decide on the JC?
Michelle- I knew it was cheaper and that I could save a lot of money by living at home.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Smart choice. So how much money do you think you’ve saved?
Michelle- Hmmm, it’s tough to say. But you figure I cut out rent, a lot of food costs, some transportation costs and probably some other stuff that I’m overlooking.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Do you feel like you’re missing out on the “college freshman experience?”
Michelle- Yes and no. I still hangout and see my friends that chose to go straight to the four year schools. I think in a lot of ways I’m less stressed than some of them because I don’t have to worry as much about money. It does look fun to be living out on my own, but it will happen soon enough. I’d rather live with my parents now than after I graduate.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Great point. What advice do you have for incoming freshman and other students looking to avoid debt?
Michelle- Probably just go with the most cost-efficient option. If you got into a four year school that you’ll have to move away for, weigh the value of that option against a local community college or JC. Is it really worth it to you or are you just caught up in the desire to have an experience?
LIFE ORGANIZED- So tell us about yourself and where you’re at in life and school.
Jeremy- I graduated with a bachelor’s in athletic training in 2010, worked for a couple of years, and then decided to attend physical therapy school to get my doctorate. I am now in my third and final year of PT school. And I’m married and we have two girls.
LIFE ORGANIZED- So did you have some debt from undergrad?
Jeremy- Yes, between me and my wife we had a small amount.
LIFE ORGANIZED- And how about now with PT school finishing up?
Jeremy- Ya, we took on a lot more during grad school. But, I did attend a state school so comparatively my debt is much less than many graduating PT students.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Like how much less? Was the state school a priority for you?
Jeremy- The average tuition for PT school is like 25 to 30 thousand a year, my tuition was around ten thousand per year. The state school was something of a priority because it was much more affordable and had a solid reputation.
LIFE ORGANIZED- Any advice for students entering their post-graduate studies?
Jeremy- Don’t be afraid of some debt if it’s going to allow you to increase your earning potential and land you a job you enjoy. Be cautious of how you spend those student loans though. A lot of my classmates have travelled to Europe while living on student loans. I’ve heard some people say that you should borrow around or less than what you will expect to make during your first year of work. Why that is, I’m not sure, but I think it’s a reasonable rule to go by.
We appreciate our student interviewees and wish them all the best in their studies!
Some of the highlights we took out of the interviews include:
• Consider attending a junior college or community college
• Weigh the value of one school against another when there’s a cost discrepancy
• Don’t get caught up in the desire to have “a college experience” when it is financially illogical
• Live within your means or be frugal
• Be patient and don’t use student loans to live extravagantly
• Try to attend a state school for graduate studies (many private schools have affordable options but state schools are frequently less costly)
• Don’t borrow excessively (Total debt less than your first year’s salary)
What sorts of things do you currently do or did you do to avoid excessive debt while in school? We’d love to hear your comments and tips below!