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College-bound students often face a big financial decision: Should they take out student loans? Many make this choice just out of high school, and years later, some wish they could go back in time and borrow less or even avoid student loans altogether. They might wonder if college is worth it, given the debt they ended up with.
According to a 2019 survey by TD Bank, 20% of borrowers wish they had taken out fewer loans, 15% would have chosen a less expensive college and 11% wouldn’t have borrowed student loans at all.
Student Loan Hero spoke with seven borrowers to find out whether they regretted taking out student loans. Here is a list of things they would have done differently, as well as why some have no regrets at all.
- Regret: borrowing too much in student loans
- Regret: taking out debt for a degree that wasn’t worth it
- Regret: choosing an expensive school due to ranking
- Regret: signing for loans without understanding repayment
- No regrets: getting value from student loans
- Plus: Some final thoughts on taking control of your student debt
While software engineer Joe Hendrix doesn’t lament taking out student loans for his education at Wright State University, he does feel he should have borrowed less.
“I regret taking out as many student loans as I did,” said Hendrix. “Instead of only taking what I needed, I opted to take out the maximum.”
When you receive your financial aid award, you’ll see how much you can borrow in federal student loans. Some colleges also offer institutional loans, and if your financial aid isn’t enough then you can turn to private student loans.
But you don’t have to borrow the maximum amount you’re eligible for on your award letter — let alone private loans — if you don’t need to. You could opt to take out a smaller amount of student loans, or even nothing at all.
“Even though some [of my federal student loans] were subsidized — that is, no interest accrued for me — they all had ‘origination fees’ based on a percentage of the total amount taken out,” said Hendrix. “What I would do differently is not take the max out, but only take what I need.”
Before accepting loans, make sure to estimate your expenses and the cost of attendance. That way, you can borrow the minimum you need and enjoy the advantages of student loans without wasting loan money on nonessentials.
Marketing supervisor Crystal Diaz says she “totally regrets” taking out student loans to pay for her associate’s degree.
“I really wish I had paid out of pocket,” said Diaz. “Then I wouldn’t have all this debt hovering over me.”
Although Diaz thought she’d graduate in two years, changes to her program meant she had to attend for four years. Once she graduated, she struggled to find a job in her field.
“I didn’t have any experience in the work field after graduating, so the easiest way to make money was retail,” she said.
Although Diaz says a bachelor’s degree might have been worth the debt, she didn’t feel her associate’s degree in Applied Science in Digital Media had a high enough return on investment.
“Having a degree, in my opinion, doesn’t automatically give you a job,” said Diaz. “I think it’s about personality, dedication and how much you are willing to work.”
Before borrowing student loans for college, consider your future career plans, as well as the return on investment for your degree. If it’s not related to a career path, you might want to clarify your goals before taking on too much debt.
Like many high school students, Calloway Cook, founder of herbal supplements company Illuminate Labs, felt pressured to attend the highest-ranking school he could get into.
“I think many of us regret the financial decisions we made at 18 that led to five or six figures of debt,” said Cook. “If I could go back to college, I would go to a community college rather than the expensive private institution I attended.”
Cook majored in advertising at Syracuse University. When he graduated, he owed $40,000 in student loans. While he was able to pay it back ahead of schedule, Cook sees that repayment as “$40,000 I’ll never get back.”
In the end, he didn’t feel that rankings mattered as much as he thought they did when it came to the value of college.
“I think that high school graduates tend to overestimate how much college ‘rankings’ matter,” said Cook. “In the real world, most of the time, they don’t. That’s the trap I fell into.”
Although ranking and reputation might be important to you when choosing a college, don’t forget to take tuition costs and other factors into account, too.
For Penn State graduate and content writer Erin Ford, student loans are a double-edged sword.
“When I look at my financial situation and how much I spend per year in interest alone, I can absolutely say I regret” borrowing student loans, Ford said. “But knowing that it was this debt that allowed me to attend the school of my dreams, meet my best friends and significant other and make lasting memories, how could I regret that?”
While Ford was satisfied with the benefits of her college experience, she wishes she’d known more about student loans before borrowing them.
“If I could go back before I decided to take out multiple loans, I would try to be more educated on how loans work and how they impact your future,” she said. “I had no idea what student loans entailed — all I knew is that I needed them in order to go to school. I went in completely blind, without any sort of financial literacy.”
As Ford noted, if she had known more about student loan repayment, she probably would have borrowed a smaller amount.
“If I was more aware of how loans worked and how hard I’d have to work to pay them off, I could have taken out loans of a lesser amount and work — even more than I did — throughout college to chip away at the amount,” she said.
Whether you’ve already borrowed or not, using a student loan calculator to crunch the numbers on your debt, as well as exploring options for repayment and loan forgiveness, could lead you toward better decisions about student loans.
While many borrowers wish they’d made different decisions about their student loans, some have no second thoughts about it.
“I don’t regret my student loans, not one bit,” insurance agent Earl Jones said. “I’ve opened a lot of doors with my degrees. The experience was worth every penny.”
For Jones, a student loan was the only way to complete his education, so he was happy to take on debt to earn his degree.
Real estate broker Lane Shuler also says his loans enabled him to earn a valuable degree and that he has no regrets about borrowing.
“I simply was not in a position in my life where education would have been a possibility without a large-scale unsecured loan,” Shuler said.
Similarly, student loan borrower Travis Price, who now works in state government, doesn’t regret taking on debt, since doing so jump-started his career in public service.
So does Price think his loans were worth it? “Sure,” he said. “I have a great state job. I wouldn’t be able to work in the job I have without a degree.”
What’s more, Price is on track to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness, a program that can forgive your loan balance after 10 years in a qualifying nonprofit or government organization.
Not only can some degrees lead to high-paying jobs, but they can also help you start a career that could lead to student loan forgiveness.
If you could go back in time, would you still borrow student loans to pay for college?
If you don’t think college was worth it for the amount of debt you took on, your answer is probably no. But if college was worth it, you might see student loans as a useful tool that enabled you to earn that degree.
Either way, dwelling in regret won’t help your situation now.
If you’re struggling with burdensome debt, take time to educate yourself on your options for repayment, forgiveness or payment assistance. Loan consolidation, for instance, can simplify repayment if you’re juggling multiple federal loans. And student loan refinancing can help you lower your interest, choose new terms and potentially save money on your debt.
While you can’t change the past, you can figure out how to take control of your student loans in the present.