If you’re in the 70% majority of US students who can’t afford college without borrowing, you know what it’s like to have a loan hanging over your head, growing heavier in cost — and responsibility — with each year of your degree.
Every year, roughly 15 million students are enrolled in an American university, which means 10.5 million are borrowers. Most come from middle-class families who bring in just enough income to disqualify them from federal grants — but far too little to take on the incredibly steep expense of a college education.
Instead, through a blend of federal and private loans, they borrow. Each year, the bill comes again — tuition rises to reflect “inflation,” loan limits extend higher, and the burden becomes bigger. Students aren’t equipped to understand the financial responsibility they’re eschewing, but they also feel there’s no other option.
After graduation, when they’re theoretically earning an income and no longer tacking onto their loans, they expect the load to lessen. But for more than 44 million Americans, this is only the beginning.
What Is the Average Student Loan Debt in the US?
According to the Wall Street Journal, the average student owes more than $37,000 by the time they graduate, an increase of roughly $20,000 over the past 15 years.
Collectively, US students and graduates owe some $1.6 trillion towards their college education. Even with one in four Americans paying off student loans at an average of $395 a month, the total only continues to increase.
The Dangerous Cycle of Student Debt
To students, college — and debt — are a means to an end, the way to earn the qualifications that will earn them a living. To afford adult life, they feel they need an education. But conversely, because of their education, many are unable to afford their lives.
For many, it will take decades to start seeing the profits from their degrees — if they can expect a profit at all. It can take roughly 20 years to pay off an undergraduate degree, and 60% of borrowers expect to owe through their forties. This amounts to half a lifetime of hefty monthly payments and, unfortunately, uncertain financial stability through graduates’ adulthoods — because a college degree doesn’t always guarantee a steady, successful career or income.
For one thing, tuition cost the same across fields of study, even though not every career comes with an equal income. A fine arts major, for example, makes an average starting salary of $35,800, while a nursing professional earns a median of $70,800 — more than double in comparison.
Still, each is paying the same in student loans, provided they find a full-time job. For the 40% of recent college grads who are unemployed or working in an unskilled industry by default, even that is no guarantee.
In addition, burgeoning interest rates on unpaid principal continue to accumulate, causing full repayment to recede even further into the future.
The Consequences of College Loans
As a result of their overwhelming student debt, many graduates find it difficult to make progress in areas of adulthood that once were more attainable.
“Student debt has basically ruined my life,” said a University of Toledo graduate in 2012, even when tuition was much lower than today. “I never see myself owning a home, vehicle, or maybe not even getting married.”
While a mountain of debt makes some hesitant to even consider steps like homeownership or parenthood, for others, it only adds to the burden.
One father, husband and graduate with $75,000 in student loans worries what would happen if his income-driven repayment (IDR) plan is denied when he resubmits this year. “I honestly don’t know what we’d be able to do with our mortgage and car payments and daily living with the baby,” he says. “At my current rate, I will be 105 years old when I make my final payment.”
Not even filing for bankruptcy can free borrowers from their burden — under the current law, only 0.04% of graduates seeking loan forgiveness receive full or partial discharge when declaring bankruptcy.
With regular expenses already posing a problem under college debt, retirement is barely even a consideration.
What to Do About Your Student Debt
If you understood the consequences before borrowing for college, would you still have taken on so much debt?
While you may not be able to reverse your current loans, you can minimize your overall debt by researching alternative options with the lowest interest rates, filing your FAFSA for federal eligibility and searching for the best positions in your field.
At Barefoot Student, we’re dedicated to connecting college students and grads with the professional opportunities they need — so you can start paying off those student loans and putting more towards your future. Get ahead of college debt and get your career started today by finding the right position on Barefoot Student.