Did Your Degree Come With a Course on Student Loans?

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. Read our disclosure to see how we make money.

going to college

Last month I was reading an article on NPR that related to student loans and the somewhat, albeit small, changing awareness surrounding them. On a side note, if you’re looking for a good source for a balanced perspective on news then I highly encourage you explore NPR. Back to the topic, this article stuck out to me as it was mentioning how students are starting, on some level, to ask more questions and make more informed decisions in regards to signing the dotted line on their student loans.

Seeing as that we hold $1 Trillion in student loan debt here in the States alone and the average debt is in the neighborhood of $25,000 to $27,000, this is an issue that affects many of us. That said, I thought I would share some of my personal dealings with my federal student loans and how I worked to pay them off. If you’re looking for more resources on this topic, then I highly encourage you to check out Andrea’s personal take on student loans related to the very same article.

My Experience With Student Loans


I remember signing for my first student loans like it was yesterday. Sadly, it was 18 years ago that I took on the first loan. My first two years of college were at a local community college and I paid for all of that out of pocket. The final three years was a different story though. Back then we registered for classes in rickety Ahearn Fieldhouse at Kansas State University.

Right after signing up for the classes you went on to the Financial Aid table. As I was on my own I had to fund the schooling somehow and it was in the form of taking on student loans. I was 20 and naïve and thought sure…you’ll GIVE me an extra $1,500 just for kicks and giggles? Sign me up! Oh, I get an extra $1,500 next semester too…bonus! Of course I needed some money to live on, but I lived on campus, had a part-time job and most meals were provided. Why would I need all that extra money?

*Related: Looking for money saving options? Check out our guide on ways to save money in college and still have fun.*

Well, a college student has to party somehow, right? Well, they had me sign some paperwork that I am sure told me that I had to repay the money, but I was either too dumb or negligent to realize that. Fast forward three more years and I left my beloved Alma Mater with a piece of paper and $15,000 in student loan debt to boot.

Now you may be thinking that $15,000 is not much, but you have to remember that this was 15 years ago. Not only that, I had also discovered credit cards while in school and had nearly $25,000 in credit card debt as well. I took advantage of all the offers to put my student loans on forbearance and the $15,000 ballooned to well over $20,000.

What Would I do Differently?


While I may not have known exactly what I was signing up for with my student loans, I by no means release my younger self from culpability. I signed up for the loans, I chose to go to school where I did and I knew that I was the one ultimately responsible for the student loan debt. Looking back there are a number of things I wish I would’ve done differently.

First off, I would’ve only taken the amount I needed to cover tuition and books. I see now that taking the extra was the beginnings of my giving in to the desire to live a life beyond my means.

Sadly, I spent most of that extra money on junk. I also would not have taken the forbearances. I was fortunate to not have any private student loans and took advantage of the grace periods due to me, but I should’ve looked for other ways to earn additional income so I could start repaying the student loan debt once the grace periods were over.

Simply, I would go back and see the debt as ugly as it was and work my tail off to get it repaid. As I sit here writing this now, it’s a bit embarrassing that it took me nearly 15 years to pay off my student loan debt but I am glad to be free of it now.

What’s the Solution to the Student Loan Debt Bubble?


I would like to believe that I am alone in regards to my dealings with student loans, but that is simply not the case. The NPR article noted that there are some 37 million people here in the States that make up the $1 Trillion in student loan debt, so it affects a lot of us.

The article notes several options that have been given to try and bring relief to this growing problem. Those options range from such things as student loan forgiveness to capping the amounts you need to repay and/or interest rates.

I am not certain what the solution is, but I think it starts with education about what exactly taking on such staggering amounts of debt actually means. I think it could be as simple as having a course in college that all would be required to take and ideally be the culmination to finance basics taught at the pre-collegiate level. In addition, we would also benefit from increased awareness about consolidating student loans to get the best rates possible.

This article offers hope that students are starting to question the validity of student loan debt and seek solutions to the problem we are facing. Whatever the solution is I think we owe it to current and future generations to seek one now to free them from the potential burden that this boulder of debt can be like.

Higher education may be big business now more than ever before, but that does not mean that a college degree has to come with an anchor of a price tag to weigh graduates down as they embark upon their careers.


What’s your experience with paying back student loans? What’s your solution to this growing problem?


Photo courtesy of: Tax Credits

The following two tabs change content below.

John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.

Latest posts by John Schmoll (see all)


  • Canadian Budget Binder says:

    School is not cheap, full-stop! Student loans are a huge problem not only in the USA but also in Canada and other places around the world. I’ve been to school twice now and both times I worked my butt off to save the money so I didn’t have to have school loans. It’s important for parents to encourage their kids to get out there and find work part-time during the school year on weekends and full-time in the summer and actually put the money away for them.

    Not many kids are responsible with money so if they are taught young you may be doing them the best service ever for their future. I wrote a post on the weekend about this little girl selling cookies at a garage sale. If more parents took the time to educate their children it would go a long way. Not all students can save the full amount for school but saving something is better than nothing.
    Ensuring that a student budget is used and the loans are used for what they are meant and not partying and boozing it up on the weekend and restaurant eating every night of the week.

    Student loans don’t have to be deadly but if used properly,coupled with savings from the student and potentially the parent and payback as soon as school is over then they may not have to be a stress on many people’s shoulders after school.

    • John says:

      “Not many kids are responsible with money so if they are taught young you may be doing them the best service ever for their future.” I could not agree more Mr. CBB. I think it should start in the home and should be coupled with education in the schools to help get a fuller picture. I think loans can be ok, as long as they’re done within reason.

  • pauline says:

    There should be a class about that in high school, before people even chose a degree. When I see people getting into 6 figure debt to be social workers I don’t get it. Also, students should be encouraged to borrow responsibly, for tuition and minimum living expenses, no more. Financial institutions seem so eager to give them credit for beer money and spring breaks.

    • John says:

      I agree Pauline. I think there should be numerous classes in high school to help prepare students and then another one in the first year of college to help cement the reality of student loans. I also agree that institutions seem to eager to give out those loans and why not…they know they’ll likely be receiving payments for years.

  • Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank says:

    The cost of getting a degree is nowhere near as expensive in Australia as it is in the US, but it still isn’t cheap.
    I was lucky enough to pay upfront for my education costs which meant that we got a 25% discount each year. When you are talking about 15-20K that is worth while.

    • John says:

      That’s awesome you were able to do that Glen. I have heard of similar deals here in the States and think it can be a great option given the right circumstances.

  • Jon @ MoneySmartGuides says:

    I agree with having to take a class. When signing the loan document, you really don’t understand what you are doing or how much you are going to owe and how you will be able to pay it back. For most people, me included, a student loan is the first loan we are taking and we don’t understand everything that comes with it.

    • John says:

      I agree Jon, I did not truly understand it either. I mean, I knew it had to be paid back but it was the first loan like that I had ever signed.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    I don’t foresee student loans becoming any less of a norm. If you want student loans, you will get them; the government has made sure of that. I think we likely will see the bubble burst at some point, though, which will probably force some new legislation similar to PMI for a mortgage to insure against all future losses. Not sure, it’s a tough topic. I am used to my student loan repayment outflow and just want to slowly kill it at this point.

    • John says:

      I don’t either DC, especially with it being the cash cow it is for the companies involved. It is a tough topic and I think that there is the possibility for a solution, I think it just requires some creative thinking.

  • Matt Becker says:

    I agree that some kind of coursework would be helpful, though I would like to see it happen before college started and the loans were already signed. I’m also not sure that coursework is the answer, as it seems to me that experience is the real teacher. I honestly don’t know of a nation-wide program that can give children the experience needed, but I think we can start as parents. I am hopeful that all of the news around student loans simply makes people think twice before signing on the dotted line, which will hopefully lead at least to more informed decisions.

    • John says:

      I agree Matt, that experience is the best teacher. With it being the first real taste of dealing with a loan for so many it’s no wonder why so many run into trouble. I think it should start in the home, but also classes covering the basics (starting in high school) would be a great tool to add to that.

  • AverageJoe says:

    It took me forever to pay back my student loans. What’s that joke about the hiker in Africa who is in the middle of the jungle, without a signal, and his phone starts ringing….he answers and the person on the other end says, “Hello, Bill? This is Sallie Mae….”

    You only get that joke if you’ve had student loans for a long, long time.

    Like you, I took extra cash from the student loan people to buy a computer (more for computer games than for anything I needed…and party money!) and other trash. I’m glad that the media latched onto this topic (instead of most of the drivel they report). I think with all this attention kids are starting to think “I’ve gotta pay attention to this stuff.”

    • John says:

      Lol, I love that joke. It’s sad…but VERY true. I too am glad that the media has started to spotlight this more as there does need to be more attention paid to it. If I knew exactly how much student loan money I spent on booze then I would be a very angry man. 😉

  • Kim@Eyesonthedollar says:

    I think loans need to be related to what sort of career you hope to have. I know people would say it’s taking away freedoms, but a major in library science that costs $100,000 is ridiculous, but I bet it happens all the time. I think the school should not keep renewing loans to someone who has no idea what they are going to do or if the student has no hope of paying them off. I do think if the loan officer told the student how much the payment was going to be it might help. I don’t know. It’s very hard to look into the future when you are that age.

    • John says:

      I agree Kim, it is very hard to look into the future at that age and could not agree more that there needs to be some relation to the major/career you hope to have. That’s just all a part of the informed decision making we need to help students with.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    I was lucky in that, attending only a tech school, my student loans were minimal. That being said, I would love it if, in ever post-secondary school and course, there was a course on personal finance mgmt. avoiding living beyond your means, and paying off those student loans.

    • John says:

      That’s great Laurie! I agree, having some sort of basic curriculum would be a great addition and tool to help mitigate this problem.

  • Do or Debt says:

    I didn’t really have a clue about my student loans when I signed at 17. Not a clue. When you are that age, you can’t comprehend what sort of income you need to pay it back and you have no clue what realistic incomes are. The second time around, I knew what I was getting myself into and I still chose more debt. Ugh. I take responsibility but it’s still so hard to pay back, especially because I want them gone in 4 years.

    • John says:

      Nor did I really. I knew they had to be paid back, but it’s so hard to wrap your mind around that when you have no experience with it.

  • debtperception says:

    We need to shut down the for-profit institutions. I am over $96,000 in debt with a worthless BFA degree. I just posted about this in my latest entry, but the current going rate for The Art Institutes is $87,480 for tuition alone!!! Yet their own grad employment statistics say most grads end up making less than $30,000. For-profits are not only scamming the students, but taxpayers too…90% of their funds come from Title IV federal money.

    I also just want to note that despite my $96,000+ in student loan debt, I had a part-time job that covered food, transportation and medical expenses. I didn’t drink, party, go on spring break vacations, or purchase the latest technological fads. My loans paid only for tuition, housing, books, and supplies. I received about $17,000 in grants and scholarships and didn’t know my loans had gained just as much in interest while I was attending, so the original $79,000 I borrowed turned into $96,000+. The biggest mistake was falling for a for-profit and not being educated about student loans. We need start educating our youth in high school about student loans, as well as other forms of debt, investing, saving, and retirement.

    Bankruptcy protections also need to be restored. Current student loans pose no risk at all to the lenders because they, aside from some rare instances with private student loans, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. They will be paid, and usually 200-500% of the original balance. Put the risk back in lending, restore bankruptcy and other consumer protections and the lenders won’t be as willing to lend unemployed students hundreds of thousands of dollars. When student’s can no longer afford to pay for tuition without loans, schools will be forced to lower their tuition rates.

    • John says:

      You bring up some great points and I agree that more light needs to be shed on the for-profit institutions. I am all for someone making a decent wage, but some of the stats coming out of for-profit schools is crazy ridiculous.

  • Grayson @ Debt RoundUp says:

    I didn’t have student loans, but that doesn’t matter with this topic. I really do think that people need to be more educated before signing the dotted line. They need to be shown what they are really taking on and how long it will take to pay it off. I think the education will help people see if a loan is right for them or not.

    • John says:

      I agree Grayson, people do need to be more educated about what they’re signing. Sadly, though, I do not see much in terms of incentives to get schools and loan providers to start thinking that way.

  • Jake Erickson says:

    Student loans are painful and I don’t think there is a quick solution or else it would’ve been done already. I think the biggest issue is that people like to keep them around like a pet even after they’re graduated. They should be one of your first priorities after graduation, not buying a new car or house. If we can change the way people think about that then we’ll be a lot better off.

    • John says:

      That’s great point Jake, and I think many do just get comfortable having those loans around for so long. I know that if I could go back that I would start paying them off as soon as I could as well as saving right away.

  • Debt Blag says:

    Now that is a very interesting idea.

    We had lots of short seminars in our first few days on everything ranging from how not to get robbed to how Excel works. Even the smallest bit on student loans would have been pretty neat — though since we were already enrolled, might have been several months too late 🙂

    • John says:

      Yea, it might be too late…but it could potentially help you for the remainder of your time there in regards to only taking what you need as opposed to taking everything offered to you.

  • Mackenzie says:

    Thankfully, I didn’t have to take out student loans, but think it’s just awful that people are having to pay down such high amounts for getting an education.

  • Kurt @ Money Counselor says:

    I finished school with about $15k in student loans. Through being a cheapskate–a habit necessarily formed through years of being broke–and by being lucky enough to experience regular increases in my income, I managed to pay off the entirety in just a few years.

    US taxpayers and voters as a whole either don’t accept or don’t grasp that widely available higher education benefits all of society and the economy. Taxpayer financial support of public universities has plummeted over the past couple of decades, so tuition and fees necessarily have skyrocketed. The result–a student debt bubble–is just another symptom of the borrow & spend mentality that has prevailed in the US for several decades now.

    • John says:

      You bring up a great point Kurt and I think you’re spot on. Couple that with the fact that I read the other day that salaries for many presidents of universities is skyrocketing. That money has to come from somewhere and if they’re not getting public support then it’s only inevitable where it’ll come from.

  • William @ Bite the Bullet says:

    I was fortunate in that my parents were pretty strict about no debt, and I was told I had to get a scholarship or I was on my own. At the time I thought that was cold, cruel even (hey, I was a narcissistic teen, what else would I think?). But that turned out to be one of the best pieces of advice. To get a scholarship I had to work my butt off. And that, as it turned out, was a lesson that stood me in good stead throughout life. Later, I chose to do my Masters part-time. Although I had absolutely no life while I did it, that, too, turned out to be the smartest way to go. And my Ph.D. is something I only attempted when we received a windfall and had the luxury of an early retirement. That turned out to be way too early (age 30) and I made some mistakes I wish I could do over. But we still ended up with no debt. By design.

    • John says:

      That’s awesome William and I think many would benefit from that same philosophy. I am sure you hated it as a kid, but it has taught you lifelong lessons.

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Greg had about 20K in student loans that we had to pay off. We made the minimum monthly payments for years until we got serious about it. He thought about getting another advanced degree in another area and I’m so glad that he didn’t go through with it. He’s learned plenty and another degree would have cost us a lot without much benefit.

    • John says:

      Those minimum payments will kill you and I learned that lesson as well. It wasn’t until we got serious about my student loan debt that we really started to see some headway with it.

  • Sicorra says:

    It is very unfortunate that so many people graduate with such huge debt. It makes it so difficult for them to start living on their own and becoming independent when many times their first job doesn’t pay all that well. That is assuming they find a job. I was fortunate not to have to deal with student loans but for those that do I think it really sucks that they work so hard on their education only to be held back in life by their huge student loan debt.

    • John says:

      I agree Sicorra and it can make starting out life difficult for so many. That’s awesome you were able to get out without any student loans, it’s something so few are able to accomplish today.

  • Girl Meets Debt says:

    I knew nothing about the serious consequence of student loans when I signed on the dotted line at the age of 18 and when I graduated at age 25 with over 40K in student loan debt, I was so much in financial denial that I accumulated an extra 13K in credit card debt thinking it would all be paid off “one day.” I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around my overall debt number and I don’t think there’s an easy solution to this problem except talking more openly about finances in general might make people feel less shame about their debt and more milling to act on it sooner.

    • John says:

      I agree MD, it can be difficult to wrap your mind around those numbers…especially while still in school. I know it was for me. I knew they had to be paid back, but how was I to know what that really would look like when I had no real experience with it prior? I think the best solution is education to the problems behind racking up the debt and making an informed decision so you as a student can try to mitigate this problem as much as possible.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    Great post, John! I would absolutely love it if there was a required seminar for parents and kids to attend at the beginning of their senior year of high school that explained to them what student debt is, how they need to approach from a cost/future job salary perspective and to truly understand the various options. Kids should not make those decisions by themselves but right now – so many parents let them. Debt is a foreign concept to most kids and they just naturally assume they will pay it off without problems and of course are going to take the maximum amount because at their age – who wouldn’t? I believe college is still a good investment in most situations, but parents need to make sure they think it through carefully because at the current rate it’s becoming an opportunity of unsustainable debt.

    • John says:

      Thanks Shannon! I agree that something like that would be an awesome tool to provide parents and students as I think we do not set many kids up to succeed with allowing them to take on so much debt to begin life with.

  • Debt Hater says:

    I fully agree with you that there needs to be some sort of course on student loans and the actual cost of attending college. Even some sort of mandatory seminar with the ability for parents to attend. My 18 year old self and my parents that never went to college were just constantly re-assured to just go to college you’ll get a job and those debts will be gone in no time! Both my parents are pretty frugal and they avoid debt unless absolutely necessary and live within their means.

    But even a simple course stating that if you graduate with a $50,000/yr job your take home pay per month will be about this. Then show me how much my minimum loan payment will be based on X amount of loans, and then show me how much cash I would have had left – it would have definitely been eye opening.

    • John says:

      I agree that a course showing those real numbers would be eye opening for many and ultimately should be the culmination of teaching financial literacy courses through junior high & high school. Thanks for stopping by!

  • KK @ Student Debt Survivor says:

    I was “above average’ (only slightly) in my student debt. I wish I had an easy solution to make this whole student loan debt problem go away. Unfortunately I think a lot of things will have to happen to make the problem go away: schools lowering tuition, fed govt stop backing ridiculously large student loans for 18 year olds, students starting to refuse to go to colleges that cost so much etc.

    • John says:

      That’s a great point, I would tend to agree that we do need a combination of things to help attack this as the problem is to big for a sole solution to it.

  • Squirrelers says:

    I too had to pay student loans, though for me it was grad school (MBA). I paid off those loans over the course of about 5 years, I believe. That, and a car loan I once took out, made me aware of how much I dislike debt. The idea of owing someone money, and having to work for it, is not fun. All that being said, my student loans (not car loan) were actually a really good investment, so I can’t complain too much.

    • John says:

      Five years is not bad at all in terms of loan payoff. I, like you, hate having debt and once the light went on did all I could to get it paid off asap. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Tara says:

    I think up front you need to shove it in a loan applicants face that if you take out $10,000 a year in loans, you will graduate with over $40,000/yr with capitalization on the interest and will face $550/month in payments. The training would continue to explain that you would need to make $XXX a month AFTER taxes, meaning the much higher amount before taxes in order to pay rent/bills in your desired town and make your student loan payments.

    They don’t do this at all. they don’t warn college kids how low of a salary they could easily make straight out of college in many of the Liberal Arts degrees (I’m one myself). No one warns you. the college is SO happy to be getting that money from your federal loans that they could care less the struggle you will face paying them back when all you’re qualified to do after you graduate from college is work in a retail environment. If the federal government finally decided to reduce the amount they can give out for student loans and withhold loans from “diploma mills”, colleges wouldn’t be raising their tuition at god-foresaken rates each year.

  • Alexa says:

    I never finished my degree. I started in community college and financial aid paid for my tuition and I paid for books out of pocket. I was offered loans but I never took them. I am thinking about going back to school but student loans are one thing I want to avoid.

  • Daisy @ Prairie Eco Thrifter says:

    I worked throughout most of my college education so that I didn’t have to take out loans. I knew some things about them based on my friend’s experiences, but I still think that if it’s between getting an education (a practical one with which you can actually get a job after) and having student loans, or having no student loans and no education, the former is better. It’s great that awareness is increasing! I don’t know that a course on student loans is appropriate, but maybe a mandatory seminar before taking them.

    • John says:

      I agree that it’s great that awareness is increasing. Though, I do think that a course and education towards financially literacy as a whole is appropriate. I think it’s part of the overall solution needed to combat this growing problem.

  • Untemplater says:

    I remember being so stressed and confused about student loans. I wish I was taught in high school even before getting to college about student loans, grants, financial aid, etc. My parents were just as confused as me so it was really overwhelming trying to figure everything out.

    • John says:

      I can relate Sydney. I was the oldest thus the guinea pig when it came to taking on student loans. I think some courses would definitely be helpful in regards to making balanced decisions.

  • Nick @ says:

    I agree that we need more personal finance education in the curriculum in our schools. Ideally, those lessons would be taught in the home by parents, but not all parents have the skills to do so. Implementing personal finance into core curriculum could go a long way to helping students to make wiser decisions surrounding college. Also, even though it took 15 years it is awesome that you are now FREE from your college debt, congrats!

    • John says:

      I agree Nick. Ideally it would be nice if done in the home, but not everyone has the knowledge. I would hope that the two could dovetail each other and be more impactful that way.

  • Mr. 1500 says:

    I came out of school close to the same time as you with $50,000 in loans and $10,000 in credit card debt. I thought that looked like Mt. Everest back then, but I shudder to consider what kids are coming out of school with now. Think of how much college expenses have risen since you and I were in school? Think of our children? I don’t know about you, but I’m considering sewing ping-pong paddles to my children’s hands (tennis scholarship!).

    I also remember doing the same as you: “I can have an extra couple thousand? I don’t really need it, but where do I sign? ”

    I also remember having to attend 1, one hour session that told us that ‘we are obligated to pay back the loans, blah, blah, blah.’ I hope they are doing a little bit more now.

    Nice post!

    • John says:

      Ha ha, that’s an excellent idea…I think I may do that this weekend. 😉 I agree, it’s going to likely be crazy once our kids hit college age unless something changes big time. I did not even get a session like that…but that is even a joke.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *