Advice for Students Worried About Student Loan Debt

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Are you a new or current student worried about looming student loan debt? While it might seem overwhelming there are actions you can take to manage it now.

How many of you actually gave serious consideration to how much student loan debt you’d graduate with before you attended college?

I’ve shared how I tried to make college as inexpensive as possible, but I still wasn’t 100 percent aware of just how much debt I’d be facing upon graduation, or how it would impact my life.

These days, that tune has changed for many students, likely due to the amount of publicity student loan debt gets. I’m happy to see a lot of soon-to-be or current students concerned with lessening their student loan debt burden now rather than later. It’s a mistake not to be forward-thinking when you’re in college because student loans can affect you in ways you probably didn’t think about.

If you’re like me, you might figure student loan debt is a normal part of attending college and getting a degree. A necessary evil, if you will. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re a student worried about how much debt you’re going to graduate with, here are a few things you can do so you can worry a little less.

Calculate Your Approximate Costs


It’s always a good idea to calculate how much debt you might graduate with, whether you’re a new student or a returning student. There are a few ways you can do this.

New student advice: Most colleges offer a “tuition fees” section on their website under “financial aid”. This should give you the full cost of attending the college. It doesn’t account for financial aid, but it’s a good starting point.

For example, I applied to Marist and Northeastern University. Both great colleges, both also super expensive (according to my standards, anyway). While I was accepted to both, I couldn’t stomach the cost of tuition, especially since I wasn’t eligible for much aid.

However, if you’re set on a college, don’t be afraid to ask the financial aid department questions about the types of aid available. Find out, on average, how much financial aid students receive, how much student loan debt they graduate with, and what work-study programs are available.

For returning students: Keep an eye out for letters from your college. Without fail, I received one at the end of every academic year, stating tuition would be rising the following semester. It’s discouraging, but it gives you a number to plan around. You likely already know what scholarships you have and how much aid you’re receiving, so just do the math.

When you have the approximate numbers of how much each semester or year will cost you, add it up, and get determined to earn extra money to offset any worry you might be feeling. At the very least, having the number in front of you gives you knowledge, which you can then use to form a plan.

Find Flexible Work


One mistake I made during college was not working enough. I had a job my first two years, but I couldn’t find anything with enough flexibility, so I focused on my studies instead.

Let me be frank here – in most fields, your final GPA isn’t going to be the deciding factor on whether or not you get a job. If I could go back in time, I would have stopped being such a perfectionist about my grades. Sacrificing a few A’s would have been worth having more in my savings account upon graduation.

The first thing you can do is inquire about work-study programs offered on campus. If you don’t have any luck there, ask your friends with jobs if there are any openings where they work.

If all else fails, you can always freelance. It’s literally the most flexible gig you could possibly hope to have while in college. Most of the time, you can work from your dorm room. If I had known freelance writing existed back when I was in college, I would have been all over it! You may not know how to break into something like freelance writing. That’s understandable.

Don’t let fear or a lack of knowledge stop you from trying. Visit online writing job boards, send out a message on Facebook or consider taking an online freelance writing course to get the knowledge and plan of attack you need to be a successful freelance writer and meet your income goals from it.

Bottom line: find a good way to make money around your class schedule so you can start making student loan payments as soon as possible. You don’t have to wait until you graduate – early payments help combat interest!

Spend Your Money Wisely


Let’s say you end up getting a decent job. Awesome! Don’t get in your own way and make a financial mistake that can cost you in the long run. Remember, the goal of working is to save up money to get your debt down and give you some peace of mind.

That being said, your college experience is meant to be enjoyed. You shouldn’t be missing out on tons of events because every cent you make is committed to your debt.

Get creative and go to school events with free food (my college had plenty). Have parties where everyone is required to bring some sort of food or drink item. Always ask if a student discount is available (especially if you’re in a college town). Find places to eat that offer amazing deals. Choose walking over driving when possible.

I’d recommend tracking your spending and creating a budget, even if your expenses aren’t numerous. It’s extremely easy to get carried away with spending, especially if your friends aren’t as frugal as you.

Lastly, look into cheaper alternatives. I know a few people who moved off-campus in their college years because it was cheaper to split rent with roommates. Or people who didn’t bother having cars on campus.

Oh, and a small piece of advice – please don’t be lured in by the free items credit card companies may be offering. If you’re already worried about student loan debt, you don’t need to add consumer debt on top of it!

Know You Have Options


At the very least, if you graduate with Federal student loan debt, you have repayment assistance options available to you. Among those are:

  • Deferment or Forbearance – For a set period of time, you won’t be required to make student loan payments. However, interest continues to accrue under forbearance and under deferment if you have unsubsidized loans.
  • Income-Driven Repayment Plans – There’s no shortage of different repayment plans available in case you don’t find an amazing job right out of college. This means your repayment term can get extended up to 25 years, giving you a lower, more affordable monthly payment.
  • Forgiveness Programs – While these aren’t available to everyone, there are some volunteer programs you might be interested in signing up for that would allow a portion of your student loans to be forgiven. If you’re a teacher or public service employee, you should look into those programs.

Don’t Despair


Given you’re thinking about student loan debt already and you haven’t even graduated, you’re in better shape than most. I really wish I had taken student loan debt more seriously when I was in college. Stay aware of the costs and how much you’re earning and spending, and focus on improving your financial situation. Don’t let student loan debt overwhelm you to the point where you don’t enjoy college. That’s giving your debt far too much control but don’t let fear control you either. Get the knowledge you need to attack your student loan debt while still having a fun and memorable college experience.


Did you worry about how much student loan debt you’d graduate with while you were in college? Or were you blissfully ignorant until the first statement arrived in the mail? What tips would you give students worried about student loan debt?

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Erin M. is a personal finance freelance writer passionate about helping others take control over their financial situation. She shares her thoughts on money on her blog Journey to Saving.


  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    These are some great tips, Erin! I actually think it’s a GREAT thing if current college students are thinking about their student loans. Most don’t, and it’s why I’m biased towards content that is more targeted towards those who have already graduated.

    I do think income-based repayment is a good option for some, but my only fear here is that it will make you unmotivated to earn more. I’ve seen this firsthand and I personally think a little discomfort is typically a good thing for your finances.

    • Erin says:

      I’ve actually been pretty surprised to see how many students are asking for help and agree it’s great they’re being proactive. I think the “horror” stories of student loan debt are being heard and spurring them into action.

      Income-based repayment plans are tricky. The bad part is you’re going to pay more interest over the life of the loan if you choose to extend your repayment term, but then some plans forgive the remaining balance at the end. I would hate for anyone to remain unmotivated to earn more or progress in their career simply because it meant they could skate by on their student loans (especially considering those terms are 20-25 years!).

  • Money Beagle says:

    The biggest thing that I’ve found is that many students understand that they’re taking loans, and they might even realize that it’s a lot of money, but they never get the perspective of how that fits in to real world (i.e. post-college) finances.

    • Erin says:

      I think that’s kind of what happened for me. I understood I’d have to pay the money back, but I didn’t have any clue as to how much I’d be making out of college, or how much my monthly payments would be. It’s really hard to figure all that out when you’re still in college, but hopefully the concern of students will motivate them to learn more about personal finance!

  • Cat@BudgetBlonde says:

    Great advice, Erin. As you know, we are still accumulating debt for hubs’ med degree but soon we’ll be at the point where we just have to pay it all off without any new accumulation. I’m looking forward to that day, but I’m also kind of dreading it because that’s a lot of money!

    • Erin says:

      I can’t imagine – I know I was “lucky” to graduate with less than $20k. I also know you guys will tear that debt to shreds, though. It doesn’t stand a chance. =)

  • Michelle says:

    I told my sister that she doesn’t need a student loan to finance her college education. I advised her to get a side hustle like being a virtual assistant, which is suitable with her situation, and be part of an organization that can subsidize her tuition fees. There are many ways and she doesn’t need to get worried so much.

  • Ramona @ Personal Finance Today says:

    I was lucky to have no student loans at all. My college did cost (not as much as in the US, but compared to our salaries here, it was steep), but I kept a full time job and did OK.

    It was difficult, I had no time to ‘have fun’, especially since I also got obsessed with web design, so I’d spend every spare minute tweaking my web sites.

    The good thing is that my passion is my job, I graduated debt free and also had a well paying steady job, while my colleagues were struggling to get any jobs, after graduation.

    We are stressed about our daughter though, even if she’s just 1. We’ll do our best to save money, teach her some good money habits and hope for the best 😀

    • Erin says:

      Balancing a job (especially full-time) with college is hard! I always wondered how others did it, but it’s great you at least had passion for your job. I’m sure that helped!

      Aw, it’s great to see parents being forward-thinking about college as well. My parents set up a little fund for me and it was (thankfully) enough to pay for community college. I’m an only child so my parents didn’t know what to expect; I think the next few generations will be more aware of student loan debt after what we’ve been through.

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