44.2 million Americans have student loan debt. That means 44.2 million Americans went to college and made an investment that would presumably improve their future after graduation.
What’s more, as of 2015, the average student loan borrower’s debt load is more than $30,000.
The question is, does an investment in your future have to set you back tens of thousands of dollars – or is there another way?
Here’s how to decide if you should pay for college while you’re in school to avoid student loan debt later on.
Should you pay for college while you’re in school?
When trying to decide whether or not to pay for college while you’re in school, it’s important to weight the pros and cons against each other to help you make the choice that’s right for you.
1. You start your adult life without the burden of student loan debt
Federal interest rates are on the rise this year and so are student loan interest rates.
In fact, a new student loan interest rate of 4.45% for Direct Loans for undergraduates will go into effect on July 1, 2017. Graduate students will also see an increase to 6.00% on their loans.
Rising interest rates are a big reason to graduate with as little debt as possible. Because when you combine a large amount of student loan debt with high interest rates, you could face a much bigger number than you anticipated in terms of paying for school.
2. You can beef up your resume while you earn college credits
Depending on what type of job you take on to pay for college tuition, you could get a head start on building your resume and work experience.
While you may find yourself graduating college a few years later as you balance work with school, you’ll also have a lot more workplace experience under your belt. That might mean more job opportunities for you – a big reason many people go to college in the first place.
3. Your experience at work could lead to a quick post-graduation job
Let’s say you find a full-time job to help pay for tuition and it’s for a company you want to grow into. That could mean walking down the aisle at graduation with a degree and a job already in hand.
And if you’re not working one full-time job but several part-time jobs, this could still be your fate. It’ll just come down to networking. Career coach Angela Copeland, explained how to get started on networking:
“When you have a short resume of experience, reach out to those in your community, your family, professors, and classmates for leads. If you work during college, try to find a job that will help you gain experience you can use after you graduate.”
4. You might find it easier to focus on your studies at a slower pace
Sales manager Sam Carter paid his way through college while also founding the company he still works with today.
Carter was motivated to avoid student loans. He estimated that going to school full-time would have cost him $35,000 in total at a 9.00% interest rate.
But in his motivation to not enter into that situation, he found another benefit to paying as you go: better grades.
Towards his last two years of school, limitations on time and money forced him to reduce his class load to one at a time. At first he worried about how it would slow down his progress towards graduation, but then he found it could also help him achieve better grades.
After years of schooling up until this point, you might want to sprint through college. But remember why you’re there – to learn – and consider the choices that’ll best enable you to do so.
1. You’ll miss out on a “college experience”
I didn’t pay for college while I was there but I did live at home with my parents to save money on room and board. And I often lamented on my lack of a “real college experience” as a result.
But now, years later, I don’t even think about that. I’m just glad my debt is lower than it could have been.
Everyone has different priorities, and living with your parents could be a deal-breaker for you. But if you’re flexible, you can examine ways to get that college experience even while you’re going part-time or living at home.
2. It will probably take you longer to graduate
If you’re paying as you go for college, chances are you’re working full-time to be able to afford it. And if you’re working full-time, chances are you’re going to take longer to graduate.
That said, maybe you’re juggling a variety of jobs to make ends meet. Or maybe you’re perfectly able to take a full-time class load while you work full-time.
No matter what your situation is, earning enough to pay for tuition while also taking full-time classes can be a huge challenge. And how do you pay for college when you’re facing severe burnout?
You might find that you need to slow down at some point and take fewer classes. Just make sure you know a delayed graduation could be in the cards should you choose to pay as you go for college.
3. You might struggle to remain motivated to graduate
Speaking of burnout, many part-time students work full-time and even have family obligations. And they face a tough motivation battle.
So tough, in fact, that statistics are sometimes stacked against them.
The National Student Clearinghouse Research Center released a report in 2016 that analyzed the length of time it takes students to finish college. Here’s what they found in relation to part-time students:
“Researchers generally agree that full-time continuously enrolled students are more likely to graduate than part-time discontinuously enrolled students.”
The Center for Community College Student Engagement released their own report in 2017 that backs up these claims:
“Survey data show that always-full-time students have consistently higher levels of engagement than always-part-time students. Transcript data shows that always-full-time students are more likely to complete gateway courses, persist, and earn credentials than their always-part-time peers.”
The report goes on to discuss why this happens and lists the following factors that give full-time students an edge:
- Mandated orientation for full-time students teaches them about the resources and support systems the school has to offer.
- More time on campus (especially during the day) makes it easier for full-time students to be involved with activities and utilize services while the offices are open.
- Full-time students have more opportunities to participate in study groups and other activities that help them get to know fellow students and receive help and support.
- More exposure to full-time faculty makes it easier for full-time students to build connections that can help them throughout their college careers.
How do you pay for college while you’re in school and get this same edge? Learn about the services and support your college offers. Find ways to utilize these services even if you’re working during the day.
4. You might feel left behind compared to your peers
Going against the grain is never easy, and paying as you go for college is definitely going against the grain.
Yet, one of the hardest parts of this choice might not be juggling your schedule or even staying motivated to graduate. It might just be that you feel like you’re getting left behind, especially as you friends graduate a lot sooner than you do.
Sure, you could go without much sleep or a life outside of school and work in order to graduate at the same time as everyone else. But will it really be worth it?
Also, those friends who seem so far ahead of you? They could graduate facing tens of thousands of dollars in debt. Plus, they may end up feeling left behind later on if they can’t buy a home or start a family as soon as they’d like thanks to their student loan debt.
When it comes to “adulting,” it’s all about the tradeoffs. Pick the one that makes the most sense for you and hold your head high when you start to feel behind. Don’t lose sight of your end goal: graduating with as little debt as possible.
There’s no right or wrong way to pay for college
So how do you pay for college in the best way possible? Is it by taking on student loans or by paying as you go?
There’s no one way to answer that – because the answer is different for everyone. But Joe DePaulo, CEO and Co-Founder of College Ave Student Loans, explained there are several things to consider before you make a choice:
“Make sure you’re considering how long it will take you to finish your degree, your ultimate career goals, and your expected salary after you graduate. The longer you take to graduate, the more likely it is that you’ll see increases in tuition.”
DePaulo added that you could be better off earning a salary in your chosen field sooner. In other words, finish school as quickly as you can.
But in the end, it’s up to you. Here are a few tips on from DePaulo to help you decide:
“If you’re not sure what’s best for you, try meeting with financial aid counselors at your school or a personal financial advisor who can go over your options with you.”
In summary, review the pros and cons and weigh them against each other. That’s how you can come up with your own priorities. Then talk to people in your desired career field. See what they say and how their college experience shaped their finances and their career.
Once you have the information sorted out, listen to your gut. And remember one last thing: you can always change your enrollment status. Choose what you think is right for you and be willing to change it if your situation or desires change. Building that kind of adaptability is a skill you’ll benefit from for the entirety of your career.
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