Nearly half of all Americans with student loan debt regret not going to a cheaper college, according to the FINRA Foundation's 2018 National Financial Capability Study.
And the study suggests many with student loans did not fully understand what they were getting into when they took out that debt, with just 43% reporting they tried to estimate monthly payments before taking out the loan.
If you or your child are among those who must borrow at least some amount to pay for college, fear not. Here are four ways to stave off buyer's remorse when it comes to that college education.
1. Understand the true cost
Student loans are not free. They are borrowed funds that must be paid back with interest (or paid back before interest begins to accrue). It's important to understand just how much you'll owe. The easy way to do so is to use a Loan Calculator, like the FinAid Calculator. Not only will it calculate how much your loan will cost you each month, but it shows the minimum annual salary you'll likely need to repay your loans without financial hardship. For Federal loans, you can also use the Federal Student Aid repayment estimator.
2. Manage your salary expectations
To determine if what you are borrowing is reasonable, you'll also want to understand the salary expectations not just for your expected major, but also for the city or state where you plan to base your career, for the salary expectations can vary greatly. For example, if you use an interactive tool from Georgetown's Center on Education and the Workforce, you'll find that the median salary for an undergraduate English major nationally is $53,000, while the median salary for an undergraduate chemical engineering major nationally is $96,000. Meanwhile, the median salary for an English major in Arizona is $49,000 but significantly higher in Massachusetts, at $61,000.
3. Find ways to borrow less
Just because you can borrow up to a certain amount doesn't mean you should. It's always a smart idea to find ways to borrow less, whether through scholarships, work-study opportunities, becoming a Resident Assistant or using community college or Advanced Placement credits to graduate early. Also: watch your spending during the school year. You don't want to replace student loan debt with credit card debt, which can be an even more insidious problem.
4. Know your goals — and how to achieve them
Before you decide on a secondary education path and how much you are willing to borrow, ask yourself some important questions about your educational and professional goals. Do you actually know what you want to major in? Or what you want to do after college? Is college the best option, or would a trade school make more sense? Is a private or out-of-state college or university the best option, or would a state or community college make more sense? It's important to have a clear answer to these questions and more. Going into debt without clear educational and professional goals can become costly if it means you need an extra year of school to finish your requirements, or if you need to go back to school or for more training later. If you don't know where you are headed, consider a gap year. During that time you could work to save money (and limit the loans you'll need later) or pursue different internships to figure out what really interests you.
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