With nearly 70% of college seniors expected to graduate with a significant amount of student debt, Student Loan Hero wanted to see how these soon-to-be graduates feel about their loans.
We asked more than 600 student loan-carrying seniors how much they owe and how confident they are about paying it back. Unsurprisingly, many are worried about paying back their debt and making ends meet after graduation.
Here are the full findings, as well as some pro tips on preparing to pay back your student loans after graduation.
- Although 70% of college seniors are confident they’ll have enough money to start paying back their loans, 69% are worried about making ends meet after graduation.
- More than 6 in 10 (64%) graduating college student with loans say they would have studied something else if salary didn’t matter.
- 21% say they’ll owe more than $50,000 after graduation. First-generation students will owe more: 26% say they’ll owe more than $50,000, compared with 16% of non-first-generation students who say the same.
- More than a third (36%) don’t yet know what their monthly loan payment will be.
- Nearly 90% of students used at least some student loan money on something other than tuition, including both educational and noneducational expenses.
First-generation seniors worry most about making ends meet
According to our survey, 69% of seniors are worried about making ends meet after graduation. First-generation students are the most concerned, with 77% expressing this concern, compared with 59% of those who weren’t the first in their family to attend college.
The levels of worry also varied somewhat by region, too. Students in the West were most likely to worry about their financial situation after graduation (75%), compared to students in the Northeast (70%), Midwest (68%) and South (70%).
But at the same time, 7 out of 10 college seniors also say they feel confident they’ll have enough money to start paying back their loans. So even though they’re worried about supporting themselves financially, the majority of students are optimistic about their ability to somehow pay back their education debt.
High grades boost confidence about debt repayment
While 70% of seniors are confident about paying back their student loans, that number edges even higher among those with a strong grade point average. For respondents with a perfect, straight-A 4.0 GPA, 77% say they’re not worried about their ability to pay back their loans.
Students with a GPA in the 3.5-3.9 range are slightly less upbeat, with 69% expressing confidence about repayment. Generally, the lower the grades, the weaker the optimism, with 65% of students with a 3.0-3.4 GPA feeling confident, and just 44% of those with a GPA of 3.0 or lower.
This lack of confidence might partly stem from a lack of knowledge about student loans, as straight-A students appear more likely to have researched their monthly payments than those with lower grades.
When factoring in GPA, we found that 78% with a 4.0 know what the monthly payment on their student debt will be, compared with 60% of those with a 3.5-3.9 GPA, 57% with a 3.0-3.4 GPA, and 39% with less than a 3.0. Overall, more than one-third of students don’t know how much their monthly loan payment will run.
Men more confident than women about repaying student loans
When we compared results among men and women, we discovered that men are more confident about their ability to pay back their loans, but women are more optimistic about managing expenses overall.
Among male students, 78% feel confident they’ll have enough income to pay back their loans once the grace period on their debt ends, compared with 63% of women.
But 76% of men are worried about making ends meet after graduation, as opposed to just 63% of women.
So while men are less concerned about managing their student debt, they seem to be feeling more downbeat about their financial stability following graduation.
Most say student loans influenced their choice of major
More than 1 in 5 students in our survey expects to owe more than $50,000 in student loans following graduation. First-generation students in particular expect to owe more student loans than their classmates.
Given the nation’s high levels of student debt, it’s not surprising that more than 6 in 10 students say financial considerations influenced their choice of major. In total, 64% of this year’s college graduates with student loans say they would have studied something else if salary didn’t matter.
Here, too, the results varied by region. Students in the Northeast and West most likely to have studied something else if it weren’t for their loans, at 70% and 69% of respondents, respectively. By contrast, just half of Midwestern students say they would have studied something else.
Carefully choosing their field of study may have helped this year’s graduates secure work, since nearly 3 in 4 (72%) say they have a job lined up after graduation.
Unfortunately, however, only 30% think their salary will start at $50,000 or more, which could make debt repayment challenging for those with high monthly payments.
1 in 5 used student loans on lifestyle expenses
With the cost of college tuition higher than ever, it’s no wonder students are taking on significant amounts of student debt. But debt loads can get even higher if students are using loan money for noneducational expenses.
According to our survey, almost 1 in 5 (19%) used their loan money for “lifestyle expenses,” like shopping and vacationing. But many more used loans for non-tuition but education-related costs like books (59%), housing (49%), meals (41%) and studying abroad (18%).
Additionally, 8% used their student loan money for Greek life. When we examined the results by region, we found that 1 in 10 students in both the South and West paid for sorority or fraternity expenses with student loans, compared with just 4% of Midwestern students and 7% of Northeast students.
Prepare to pay back your student loans
Since all federal student loans (and many private ones) come with a grace period, you don’t usually have to make payments until six months after you graduate. Still, it’s important to prepare for repayment while you’re still in school, so you’re not stuck with a big bill you didn’t see coming.
When you borrow student loans, it’s worth crunching the numbers on a student loan calculator to estimate your monthly payments. Note, too, how much interest you’ll end up paying over the life of your loans.
If you can swing small payments as a student, you can stop the interest from piling up and won’t face such a big balance once your grace period ends. The only exception is subsidized loans, which don’t accrue interest while you’re in school.
Whether or not you choose to make payments in school, figure out what you’ll be dealing with once full repayment begins. That way, you can work those payments into your budget and prepare accordingly.
And if you find you can’t make ends meet, explore plans such as income-driven repayment, extended repayment or — if necessary — forbearance. By learning about your repayment options, you can find one that works for you after graduation, no matter what your situation looks like.