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36% of Young Adults Say Their College Debt Wasn't Worth It

By Maurie Backman – Updated Feb 5, 2020 at 5:40PM

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Now that’s kind of depressing.

It's not uncommon to rack up student debt in the course of obtaining a degree. But unfortunately, a large number of graduates wind up regretting that decision after the fact. 

Earlier this year, Merrill Lynch and Age Wave released a survey of young adults aged 18 to 34, which found that graduates in that age range are coming away from college with an average debt load of $36,888. As such, they'll be allocating 9% of their pretax salary to student loan payments at an average of $371 a month for a period of 10 years. Ouch.

To make matters worse, while most of the people surveyed feel they're better off because of their education, a good 36% of those paying off student loans say the debt wasn't worth it in the end. If you're gearing up to attend college and anticipate graduating with a mountain of debt, be aware that you might land in a similar boat -- so borrow with caution.

Silhouette of college graduates jumping and tossing their hats.

Image source: Getty Images

Minimizing your student debt

The less debt you rack up in the course of pursuing a college degree, the less financial stress you'll have to deal with once you graduate. To this end, it pays to explore your options for getting a quality education on the (relative) cheap, so check out the public colleges in your home state and apply to those with the best ratings. 

For the 2018–2019 academic year, the average cost of tuition at a public, four-year, in-state school was $10,230. But that figure jumps to $26,290 when you attend a public, four-year, out-of-state school. And at private universities, tuition in 2018 and 2019 averaged an astounding $35,830. Attending college at a public in-state school could clearly save you a bundle, thereby minimizing the need to go into debt. 

Another option? Skip the dorm if it's possible to commute to college. Room and board cost an average of $11,140 at state colleges in 2018 and 2019, and over $1,000 more at private ones. Even if you’re forced to take on a car payment so that you’re able to get back and forth to classes, you can bet it’ll be far less than what you’ll pay to live on campus. 

Additionally, working during your studies could help you pay for more of your education costs as you go, thereby limiting the extent to which you need loans. If you qualify for the federal work-study program, you'll be assigned a job through the university you attend. Otherwise, you can look for one in town or even find work you can do remotely. 

Finally, pick a major as early on as you can. If you wait too long, you may not graduate on time, which will add to your tuition costs and put you at risk of racking up additional debt. On the flip side, accelerating your studies might help you graduate early, and if you do, you’ll save some money on tuition.

It's easy to regret the decision to take on student debt when you're struggling to make those payments. In many cases, student loans are an unfortunate but necessary means to an end, but it still pays to keep their costs as low as possible.

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