Degrees CAN be Debt Free
Updated: Apr 7, 2021
"Student loans are worth it for the experience"
"Student loans were the only way I could go to college"
"Student loans are good debt"
These are probably a few of the things that you have heard about student loans. And the truth is, these statements have led to what is known in America as "The student loan crisis."
There is over 1.5 TRILLION dollars in student debt in the USA.
If that number isn't registering in your head... let this visual be of assistance to you. And that is just a visual for the 1 Trillion. The crisis is over one AND A HALF trillion!
On top of that, some more facts about student debt that you NEED to know include:
- The average length of repayment for student debt borrowers is 21.1 years
- 70% of Americans take out loans to go to college
- The average graduate leaves school with around $30,000 in debt
But... this is all "normal" right? There is no other way to get your degree or, better yet, to get your college experience. Student loan debt has become a part of culture. And it's adversely affecting the economy and real people's lives. 1.5 trillion dollars later, it's finally drawing national attention. In the moment, being a high school or college student making this decision, it feels as though loans are the easy route. It feels so normal, and you don't feel the weight of the consequences then and there. But, as people are starting their careers and being held back by debt, they begin to feel the ramifications and wonder "was that really worth it?"
If you aren't having these doubts about your loans, you either haven't hit the point in your life where it is affecting you, or you have become so accustomed to payments that you don't know what life would be like with out them... and take my word for it, life without payments is going to make growing wealth, living, and giving all a heck of a lot easier and more enjoyable.
I used a convenience sampling method to conduct a survey about student loans via Instagram Story. I was able to gain participants who are both currently in college, and who have already graduated. Out of the participants who are currently in college, I was able to attain responses from those who had not taken out loans and those who are currently taking out loans and will be paying them off. Along with those who had already graduated, I had participants who had never taken out loans, who are currently paying off loans, and who had finished paying off loans.
The questions in the survey were as follows:
Did you take out student loans?
If yes, do you regret your decision?
Any more info on your experience with student debt? (question sticker, they could reply with any response)
The results came in and here are the stats:
65% took out student loans
55% regret the decision to borrow money for college
But... let's break this down. 92% of the participants who answered "no" to question #2 (They do not regret their student debt) are STILL in college. This means, that they have yet to face the reality of paying off their debt. Let's think about that... wouldn't it be easier to have no debt regrets if you were asked before you had to come to the reality of paying it off?
Here are some responses that I received for question #3:
(Participants direct words to be written in pink)
1. 30 year old female, graduated college, already paid off debt due to settlement: Voted "Yes" I took out debt. "Yes" I regret it. "Felt like I had no other option. Felt like I wasn't very informed when I agreed to take out loans."
I messaged her directly after this response to get some more information on her experience. She said "I felt like all that money for my degree wasn't worth it, I also didn't make the greatest choice in major, so I feel like I have a $35k piece of paper that just says 'I went to college.' I'm SUPER lucky that I got a settlement and was able to pay it off, otherwise I would still have over 5 years paying it off." "Why do you feel like it wasn't a good major choice?" "I work in retail banking, and working full time made about $50k a year. Taking an entry level position in a marketing field I would have been taking a step back in pay because I didn't have specific 'sales' experience. It can be a great field to be in if you know exactly what you are aiming for- I had no exact aim."
2. 23 year old female, graduated with degree in film, currently paying off debt: Voted "Yes" I took out debt. "No" I don't regret it. "I would not have been able to go to the college I went to without student loans. I felt confident enough in myself and my choice that if I took out student loans I would be able to pay them back eventually and still enjoy life. You've just got to work hard and not take them for granted. I'm really focused on paying mine back as soon as possible but also still trying to have money to enjoy life with. I don't regret how I did it, but a more affordable option would have been to do my first two years of college at a local much more affordable college and then transfer my credit junior and senior year to a school of my choice. But no regrets!"
3. 20 year old female, currently in a gap year from college, currently paying off debt: Voted "Yes" I took out debt "Yes" I do regret it. "After being a junior in college and taking a year off, I have learned there are such easier ways to get money than to take out every cent you'll need in student loans. I am a first generation student who wanted to go out of state to get away from my family and felt that student loans were the only way to get money for school. Researching for scholarships, applying for every and any scholarship you can, apply for grants. I know that everyone always says this but there is SOOOO MUCH money, free money if I might add, that does not get used annually. It takes time and effort but it can make your life easier. Loans are not the only way."
4. 25 year old female, currently getting MBA, already paid off debt: Voted "Yes" I took out debt and "No" I don't regret it. "I wouldn't have the opportunities that I do now if I would have gone to a different school, though as Dave (Ramsey) says, it would still be an education! My parents definitely wanted to help but they didn't have the means for both me and my sister. I think that as long as you're getting a useful degree (!!!) and not going to a ridiculously expensive school, and getting scholarships, some people can't avoid them. I had about $40k and paid them in 2 years. I'm now cash flowing my MBA. Hindsight, I should've done community college for my first two years and then my school for the last two of undergrad."
5. 20 year old male, currently in college, currently paying off debt: Voted "Yes" I took out debt. "Yes" I regret it. "In all honesty, I wish I wouldn't have gone to college. I should have gone to a vocational or trade school rather and I would have had little to no debt and been making a better living than if I would have gone to college."
6. 19 year old female, currently in college, paying off debt after college: Voted "Yes" I took out debt. "No" I don't regret it. "It was necessary for me to pursue the education that I wanted to give myself and worked hard to have access to. Also due to COVID no student debt is accruing interest right now so that's not contributing. I also have faith that with my education and lifestyle (I don't care for spending money on extra things and mostly buy second hand) I'll have the means to pay off my student debt in under 10 years (hopefully).
7. 19 year old male, currently in college, currently paying off debt. "Yes" I took out student loans. "Yes" I regret it. "Going to school for 12 years, they try to instill in you that University is a must and I believed it, but when I finally made it to college I found it to be quite disappointing and not worth what I was paying to attend. You can afford to cash flow college by applying for scholarships, going to a community college, and by working your way through school. But others take the easy way out and do loans instead. It's not worth it."
8. 24 year old male, graduated college, currently paying off debt: "Yes" I took out student loans. "Yes and No" for regret. "It's honestly both a yes and a no, a very double edged sword. It has a lot of cons, like the fact that we are paying it off for the next few years maybe up to 8-9 after graduating. But, I wouldn't say I regret it. College can be expensive but the long term gain is worth the monthly payments in my opinion. My parents didn't have a ton saved for me but valued college education so it was a must and I really wanted to go. The best 4 years of my life, and I gained experience, jobs, internships, and other resources to make it not regrettable."
9. ___ year old male, graduated college, paid for college in cash. "No"I did not take out loans. "I worked full time at Starbucks. I was the youngest store manager in company history at the time. I was 19. I was homeless at 18 living in a motel, worked hard everyday and only spent $5 a day on food and transportation. When I got out of homelessness and got a management job, I was making $60k a year. Having lived on a super tight budget, I didn't increase my living expenses. I paid for community college and CSULB in cash."
A major commonality that these students had was that they were not all informed about other opportunities for affording college besides loans. "Felt like I wasn't very informed when I agreed to take out loans." "I didn't know about researching for scholarships, applying for every and any scholarship you can, applying for grants." "So much money, free money if I might add, that does not get used annually. It takes time and effort but it can make your life easier. Loans are not the only way."
Beyond this, college in itself is not the end all be all option for success, as I discussed in my previous post. In fact, 42% of people who start college, do not graduate. Dave Ramsey breaks it down like this: “Now, if I got a 58 on a test, they would have given me an F. But they're calling themselves big dogs because they got a 58% graduation rate. Translation: 42% did not graduate. So, everyone that takes out a student loan, four out of 10 times, does not get a degree. This idea that you're automatically going to get a return on investment assumes you've completed a degree in a field that will pay you more than you would have made had you not gone to school. And it assumes you freaking graduate. So, it's a stupid set of assumptions to get us to the point that this is ‘good debt.’”
All of this to say, the students who explained the benefits of their education are not wrong. We can't sit here and ignore the positives of having a higher education. The degree in itself can open many more doors for your future, the experience can provide networking and connections for internships and jobs, and everyone's favorite... "the college experience is FUN!" This is all TRUE. And would be great arguments if student loans were truly the ONLY WAY to get this college education. But this generation of students is NOT informed of the benefits of other options.
This is all TRUE. And would be great arguments if student loans were truly the ONLY WAY to get this college education. But this generation of students is NOT informed about other options.
One of these options is community college. Students tend to be more aware of this option than the others, but tend to brush it off as even the slightest option. Why is this? Well, community college has a negative stigma to it. People believe that by going to a community college, you will miss out on the college experience or that it means you "weren't good enough" to go straight to a university. First of all... NO ONE CARES about what you do with your life more than you, no one's opinion is more valid than your own. It isn't about where you start, it's about where you end. Second of all, community college provides you with an affordable education, and two years to work and save up for the final two years of college in cash. It also gives an extra two years of growth and maturity to the teenage student, which can help them to develop a plan for their future as they are more likely to have a firmer grasp on what they want to do with their life, where they want to go, and how they will be able to afford it. In a survey conducted by TD Ameritrade, results display that 50% of "young Millennials" plan to move back home with their parents after college (Forbes.com). This is the result of teenagers feeling pressured into making major life decisions at an age where they are unprepared both mentally and financially. According to the College Board, the average community college costs just over $3,000 in tuition and fees, compared to the average $47,000 for a private school (credible.com) and this is only tuition and fees! Cost of living is likely to be cheaper while living at home as well. CC’s also offer much more flexible scheduling, allowing one to work during off days or hours from school and use this money to pay off the tuition and have left over to pay for the final two years at a university. I could vent about the benefits of community college for hours, as this is the route that I took and it sits very personally with me. I probably will in another post, but moving on...
Another option for affording college besides loans are scholarships and grants. Forbes.com states "there's nearly $3 billion in grants and scholarships left on the table every year. -- Some $2.6 billion went unclaimed for the 2018-19 academic year." What's the reason for this? Well, obviously that students are not informed about these opportunities! If they had a choice to apply for a scholarship or pay back money with interest in loans, scholarships would be the option for sure. We need to normalize applying for and earning scholarships rather than normalizing student debt. There is no limit to the amount of scholarships a student can receive. Scholarships range from being awarded for grades, sports, and even applying via essay, drawing, or services. A simple google search for scholarships can open the door to thousands of scholarship and grant opportunities.
The third option that we don't normalize enough is paying for college with hard earned cash. It may be hard to resonate with some of you, but there is no rule stating that you HAVE to graduate in four years. If you need to take less classes per semester to pick up extra hours at work to pay for them, then so be it. College is on your own time, that's the beauty of it. And if you still want to graduate on time but pay for college in cash, that's not impossible either! It's not going to be easy, but if everything was easy—starting a business or becoming a millionaire, for example—everyone would be doing it. Anthony O'neal says, “Only the successful ones, only the ones who are willing to work, have integrity, have character, and do whatever it takes to become successful are the ones who are actually successful. Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do."
So, take what you want out of this blog post, but I HOPE you walk away realizing that student loans are NOT a must. You can get your degree and your college experience without them. And if you already have them? Check out Dave Ramsey's debt snowball method and pay those off ASAP! Beat the culture, and go get that debt free degree!
WANT MORE INFO? CHECK THESE OUT!
Shoutout to Anthony O'neal for the blog post name. If you want more information on this subject I highly suggest his book "Debt Free Degree" linked here
The podcast "Borrowed Future" also dives deeper into this issue, and how you can get your degree without student debt linked here
Here is another blog post from Ramsey Solutions with some more facts and detail on the student loan crisis linked here