Every high school student in America knows that going to college is an important step in life. Some choose to jump right in, while others wait. For the majority of Americans, signing up for college also means signing up for a certain amount of debt. As college prices rise and more and more college graduates report that they are unable to find work, one might start to wonder whether or not they should attend college at all.

Student loans are easy to apply for, especially with the help of a college advisor. Additionally, everyone seems to have some type of advice to give to college students. Parents, high school counselors, and other advocates for young Americans can be a wealth of knowledge and provide tips when it comes to how to apply or what kind of funding to get. However, the truth of the matter is that student loans have changed a lot over the years.

A Brief History of College Funding

Student loans have been part of the college process since colleges were established. Granted, before the Higher Education Act of 1965, these loans were privatized. They required established family credit, a benefactor, or a way to guarantee private funding. With the Higher Education Act, the federal government backed certain loans and this allowed for lower interest rates on student loans. In turn, this made it viable that more people could go to college. Remember, this was in a time before the Cold War and countries were struggling to keep up with mathematics and scientific advancements. The GI Bill had already been established and veterans could attend college at an affordable cost, and in many cases for free. 

Changes to Student Lending

While the Higher Education Act was great for allowing more people access to college, it had some flaws and limitations. Mainly, the act gave access to certain kinds of funding for specific programs. However, it left a lot for individual states to determine. Through the years, organizations such as Sallie Mae have tried to bridge the gap by providing access to private loans and educating people about how to pay for college. The debate is still strong among Americans today. As the topic is discussed, the nature of student loans continues to change. For this reason, it is important to stay up to date on the vital details about student loans.

Student Loans and Debt

As college tuition continues to rise, students are in more need of money. Scholarship America reports that the average student takes on 26,000 dollars of debt in the form of loans over the course of attaining a Bachelor’s degree. While not everyone is granted that amount, those that do have an increasingly difficult time paying it back. When considering whether or not a student loan is a right choice, it is important to understand the nature of loans and how they are repaid. This is where many people seem to get in trouble. Most people understand what student loans are. However, the nature of the loan process and the kind of baggage that it can become is often misunderstood. Attaining a better knowledge about how the loans work and considering all of the options available to a person before attending college is the best way to make an educated decision on how to pay for college.

Many students going into college in America think that part of getting a college education is going into debt. While tuition can be pricey depending on where you go, there is not a requirement that says that one must take on student loans in order to attend college. There is no reason to think that this is necessary. For many students, doing a bit of research and making a solid financial plan before going to college is all that is needed to attend college without taking on additional debt.

Before student loans are considered, it is vital to understand how much college will cost and what options are available. For those students that need assistance, student loans are not the only choice to pay for classes. There are a number of ways to make college more affordable. 

Additionally, there are other resources that may be available for students, which include:

  • Scholarships
  • Grants
  • Work Study Programs
  • Tax Credit
  • Military Service (GI Bill)

All Colleges Are Not Created Equal

The college experience is vast but they do not all have the same price tag. Certain schools are notoriously more expensive than others. Private schools such as Brown and Cornell are typically the most expensive. Tuition for these colleges easily cost upwards of 60,000 annually. State schools will be less expensive, especially if you live in the state of the school that you choose. Some states like Colorado and Wyoming have agreements that students can come from the neighboring states and receive in-state tuition rates. Out of state students will pay slightly more. Technical schools can vary depending on the program, accreditation, and degree. On the low scale, junior (2-year) colleges are the most cost-effective out of all collegiate options.

Exploring the Junior College Option

The main way to determine how much money one will be spending on college is to look at the degree and goal of the student. For those looking for a 2-year Associates degree or simply to cut down on school cost and they can take their first two years in this kind of school, will easily save. In some cases, the savings by taking this route is astronomical and well worth it. For those seeking a 4-year degree, decide whether or not general classes can be eliminated more cost-effectively by going this way and then transferring. Two-year degrees or classes for transfer are often covered by government-funded grants through the FAFSA program.

Notes on Tech Schools

Technical schools are sometimes the most direct route to certain degrees. Nursing or IT are both industries that thrive on college graduates from tech schools. These schools can cost more money, or less, depending solely on the school. Before attending one of these schools, first, find out if the degree is not offered at the 2-year level. Additionally, research and compare different schools and make sure to verify the state and federal licensing and credentials.

For Those That Need 4 Years or More

Most 4 year universities will be easier to get through with student loans. Studies have shown that students at this level often do better with financial backing covered and there are positive numbers that show that getting a loan at this level can be the smart choice. However, before seeking out student loans be sure that you have all types of aid that you can get. If you aren’t sure, the Federal Student Aid department gives a good overview of all the available aid to college students. Beyond the typical FAFSA grants, there are many options for students to get additional funding. In some cases, this aid may negate the need for student loans or reduce the number of loans needed.

When to Consider a Loan

Truthfully, everyone going to school beyond a 2-year college program should, at some point, consider student loans as an option. Of course, they should consider all of their options as well. However, where loans are concerned, they come with a host of perks that many people will benefit from. In turn, these loans can mean the difference between dropping out or successful graduation.

Making Sense of Options

The best time to begin to study funding options, especially for young Americans thinking about college is when they attend high school. They will have scholarship options that will rely on how they do in their public education. Older students may want to check with their employer before considering loans. Many companies cover a portion of tuition costs.

Additionally, there are grants and scholarships available for individuals returning to school later in life. For those that do decide on getting loans to cover college, ask questions and do your research! It is definitely possible to pay off loans, with a bit of planning and education.

Pros and Cons of Going Into Debt for College

Ultimately, the college student is the one that needs to weigh out options about whether or not they should get a loan. Parents, school advisors, and several other people may have input about the topic. However, in the end, it is the student that will end up with the debt and the consequences of the loan once their schooling is finished. Every student should take into account the pros and cons of what a loan could mean for them before signing on the dotted line and accepting funding.

Pros:

  • Loans can help to establish a line of credit.
  • Private loan funding may cover the essential costs of college and allow a student to focus on school rather than work.
  • Borrowing money for college can cover living expenses, books, and other costs for college that grants or scholarships may not cover.

Cons:

  • Not graduating or being unable to find a job after graduation, can make it difficult to pay back loans.
  • Taking out a loan only to find that it was not really needed to complete the degree.
  • Impusively spending funds resulting in excess debt.

Additional Considerations

Student loans not only have an impact on the students that get them but the economy as well. One Brookings study reported that defaults for student loans are on the rise. Experts also warn that the millennial generation has less disposable income than generations before. Essentially, what this equates to is that the student loan deficit shouldered by younger Americans is changing the way the American economy functions. This has prompted some to argue for the whole of student debt to be withdrawn and absolved. It has also led to the free college tuition movement.

What About Free College?

There has been some buzz about possibly restricting college tuitions or absolving student loans altogether. Most of this is a hopeful ideal based upon the fact that certain states have offered tuition-free college options in the past. President Obama stressed that there should be something done about the student loan crisis. However, President Trump has made it clear that there will be nothing done on this front in the foreseeable future. While some student loan debt can be absolved, such as in cases where the individual becomes disabled later in life, it is unlikely that those students attending college now will have alternative ways to escape their student loan debt without paying for it in increments for years to come.

Manage Your Future

Any student looking into attending college should consider the cost and how they are going to pay for college from the beginning. While it is nice to have a lofty goal to attend an Ivy League school, ultimately the determining factor actually attending a college is whether or not one can pay for it. Students should weigh their options heavily and research before making a commitment to any funding source. Student loans can be a big investment or a heavy burden; it all depends on how they are approached. Be smart and manage the future wisely.