An eternity ago, back when I was just thinking about what college to attend, I was given a piece of advice by my guidance counselors.
Decide what school you want to attend first and foremost, think about how you're going to get into that school, and then and only then, worry about how you're going to pay for it. That part will work itself out
It sounded like good advice to me at the time. After all, they told me, student loans are the solution. They have low interest rates, and with the small payments you'll have to make on them each month, you'll hardly even notice they're there.
Okay, what I want to tell you is the truth...
I chose to attend a private school -- a fairly expensive private school. Now, I was a very good student, so I came away with a fair amount in scholarship money. I also did the whole work-study thing. What my scholarships didn't cover, my student loans did. Above and beyond that, my very generous grandparents helped me out.
With all that, I still came away from my four years of college with nearly twenty thousand dollars in student loans.
I had two sets of loans. One set was through New York State, and one set was a federally guaranteed student loan. That meant two separate sets of payments.
As for those miniscule payments, well the smaller loan I only had to make a payment on once every three months. It wasn't much either. $150.00 every three months fits into most budgets reasonably. The second, much larger loan was the real difficulty. I had a payment of over $150.00 ever month. Now that's not such a small payment.
And when I saw that my payments would run until the year 2002, I nearly fell over. Mind you, that was back in 1991. Of course, that's if you're able to make the monthly payment. It's well beyond 2002 now, and my loans still have a long way to go.
In today's world, a college degree, though I wholly recommend getting one, is no guarantee of a well-paying job. Unfortunately, paying off those student loans is far from easy, especially if you choose to try to make it on your own right away instead of moving back home. Rent comes first, if you want to have a roof over your head. So does gas, groceries, and car insurance.
In other words, life doesn't wait for you to pay off your student loans.
When you're in high school, looking into colleges, paying off student loans is probably the last thing on your mind. I know it was the last thing on my mind. But I suggest that you look into all of your options before you and your parents sign on the dotted line.
Check out whether or not your college has a work-study program. If so, don't keep your entire paycheck for spending money. Use it towards your tuition.
Check out scholarship money -- and not just the scholarship applications you receive in the mail. Search for them. The internet is a wonderful tool when searching for scholarships. Try Fastweb.com. It's a great scholarship matching service, and there are plenty of others.
Is one of your parents a veteran? There are scholarships available for the children of veterans. Does one of your parents work at Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart has scholarships. Check out large corporations in your hometown. Many offer scholarships to local students. There are scholarships for left-handers, redheads, etc. You name it -- there's a scholarship out there for it. Apply even for ones you don't think you'll get. It's well worth it.
Save money before and during college. Paychecks from those summer jobs add up. If you can fit in a part-time job during the school year, do so. Are you a good student? Consider tutoring. For a few hours a week, you will still have a small paycheck to take home.
This way, when you start paying off your student loans, you have a cushion.
The bottom line is that you do need to consider how you're going to pay for your college education. It's all too easy to say you'll worry about it later.
And, if like me, you went ahead and took out those student loans and are having difficulty paying them off, there are options. Talk to your lender. Some lenders offer payments based on income, or payments that increase proportionally as time passes, which is perfect for those starting out in a lower paying job. There are consolidation loans if you have more than one loan after college.
There is also the option of deferment, which is a very useful option. Just remember, if you choose to defer, the interest continues to accrue on your loans. They aren't frozen in time.
I'm writing this because I wish someone had told me these things before I signed for my student loan. Although I wouldn't trade my education for anything, my student loans have held me back from getting a bigger apartment, a nicer car (until recently at least), and from having greater financial freedom. If I could turn back the clock, I would be a little more thorough in checking out my options before I signed for those loans.
I'm not trying to say don't take out a student loan. What I'm trying to say is think about it. Like a car or a house, a student loan is a big investment, and you should thoroughly check out the alternatives before committing.
Sure you won't have to pay those loans off until your four years (or more) of school are done, but four years isn't such a long time in the scheme of things. Ten years, the normal duration for a student loan, is a long time, however. Choose wisely.