Is Your College Debt Strangling You?

Do you have very little breathing space? Are you stuck living paycheck to paycheck? Does it feel like you can’t get ahead?

A few weeks back I asked you guys: why are you in college? Long-time reader and cool dude, Edward wrote in with:

“I originally went to school to become a teacher. There is pretty much only one path to get your teaching certificate (well, there are two, but at the end of the day, they both involve college). When I decided teaching wasn’t for me in my senior year, I dropped out only to return 5 years later when I realized I could graduate in a different program by taking just 3 classes.

Looking back, I probably would have been better not doing that. Instead, I should have narrowed down to precisely one career and started over to get the training I needed for it. By already having gen-ed’s completed, I probably could have graduated in 2 years with actual experience and training needed to get a job.”

I love to highlight what you guys have to say. The positives and the negatives. Phil recently left behind his thoughts on the value of college:

“Say you’re getting a PhD. Let’s leave out the arts entirely, which is a total loss financially. Also forget sociology, psychology, and other non-technical degrees. You’re in physics, math, engineering, etc., which are the highest-paying fields to get a PhD in.

Getting a high-paying career with a PhD–and we’re talking $200,000 at the most–requires going to an elite grad school. Going to an elite grad school is free, but requires going to an elite undergrad school. There are no academic scholarships to any elite undergrad colleges in the US, and every elite college costs at least $40,000/yr in tuition, plus maybe $15,000 in living expenses.

So here’s what a science career looks like if you go to an elite college:
– 4 years paying $65,000/yr. Hope your parents are rich; the govt. won’t loan you more than $10K/yr and there are no merit scholarships.
– 4-8 years of grad school earning $12,000/yr as a TA
– 4 years as a postdoc earning $40,000/yr
– Starting salary around $85,000/yr depending on field
– MAX salary $200,000

If you go to a non-elite college:
– 4 years paying $20,000/yr
– 4-8 years in grad school earning $12,000/yr
– 4 years as a postdoc earning $40,000/yr
– Max career salary $125,000
– You will never be given a grant, get a professorship, or direct research

This is completely different in Europe and the rest of the world, where attending college is often free, and in any case a very good student can get an academic scholarship to a top school.”

Debt can strangle you!

Debt can hold you back from living the life that you want. Debt can force you to work a job that you absolutely despise just because you need the money.

If debt is so bad, why are people in debt? Because most of us aren’t logical about our financial decisions. We act on default. We do whatever works at the moment. I’m the biggest culprit of this. I spend way too much money on food and going out, and I write about personal finance every single day of my life!

The reality is that as a college student you live in a bubble. You don’t think about this real world that exists out there somewhere.

I remember having a drink with this girl who was still in school a few years back. She offered to pay for the beers because she had been given more money than she need by the student loans company. She was treating her student loans as free money! Not cool. I didn’t want to get into a personal finance rant because, well, that’s not the best thing to do.

What if you’re about to attend college?

It’s never worth earning a degree with loans that you just won’t be able to pay back.

What this means is that if your degree doesn’t equate to solid earnings, then it’s not worth racking up crazy amounts of debt to earn this degree. You just won’t be able to pay this money back. What are you going to do?

If you’re not sure about what program to apply for, I suggest that you look for something with work terms. This will allow you to gain experience, make money, and pay off your tuition as you go through college. Plus, you’ll have enough money to buy the premium beers.

You absolutely need to check out my insanely helpful material on graduating from college debt free. I finished college with zero loans. You can too. You can also pass this piece on to a younger person in your life.

What if you’re already in student debt?

I recently posted my extensive guide on managing your money in your 20s. I also have a 3,000 word piece with calculators and tools all about paying off debt. I just wanted to remind you of the resources that are available for you here on Studenomics.

Once in a while, I’m going to touch upon student debt on here just to remind you guys that you’re not alone in this battle. You don’t have to be strangled to death with your student loans.

3 thoughts on “Is Your College Debt Strangling You?”

  1. I’m not sure I quite agree with all of Phil’s comment.
    Harvard is free for low income students who can get accepted. Plus, you don’t necessarily have to go to an elite undergrad college to get into an elite grad program. I have a friend who went to Seton Hall Law after attending a no-name D3 school in rural Pennsylvania.
    As far as money in grad school goes, TA’s at Colorado State receive a stipend equal to tuition, making grad school free for them.
    And I don’t know where the idea that if you go to a lesser school you can’t get a grant or professorship. The department chair of my program attended the University of Peru and three more professors have their Ph.D. from Rutgers.

  2. Chris @ StockMonkeys.com

    Great article. I hope prospective and current students read it and take away some of it’s important points. The government needs to take the issue of student loans seriously as it severely impacts a graduates ability to succeed in life and plan for the future.

  3. Great read. I personally am a couple of months away from finishing my Bachelors Degree. I am grateful for having my parent’s help with paying for my tuition since I am not eligible to receive financial aid from the government. I am not attending an ”elite” undergrad school but I have friends that are and are in similar programs as the one I am about to finish and they have similar knowledge to mine. Their College experience is much different than mine, having classes with 300+ students, while I sat in class rooms with an average of 30-40 students. The quality of the facilities of course vary between my school and this ”elite” one. But I don’ regret my decision to attend this school. Not that I had an option anyways. In summary, I will be graduating DEBT FREE thanks to the help of my parents. I consider myself very blessed and lucky.

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