As the costs of higher education have continued to climb, everyone from parents to policymakers are wringing their hands over student loans. Current students are right in the middle of the college cost crisis. So how are they coping in the face of immediate educational expenses — and the prospect of student loan repayment post-graduation?
We surveyed over 1,000 undergraduate students enrolled at least half-time to see what kind of costs they are facing this school year, and how they are planning to tackle them. Here’s what we discovered.
2016-17 college costs and student loan use
Many students say they are considering costs and potential earnings when choosing a college and major. A majority of students show signs of smart decision-making by considering costs and future earnings when choosing a school and major.
Four out of five students attending school this year agree that their choice of college was impacted by costs of attendance. For students concerned about costs, this focus led them to low-cost schools. Students facing costs under $20,000 are the most likely to say cost was a major deciding factor.
Nearly half of students have reasonable education costs for the 2016-17 school year, with total costs under $10,000. An additional 26 percent are facing costs between $10,000 and $20,000. This means three-quarters of students are keeping costs below the 2013-14 annual average of $24,706, the most recent estimate reported by the US Department of Education.
Current students are also reporting a low reliance on student loans. Half say that they wouldn’t be covering any college costs with student loans. Another 23 percent of respondents said they were relying on education loans for only up to half their total costs.
Choosing colleges and majors with careers in mind
Students’ choices of majors indicate an awareness of how these decisions will affect them once they graduate. Two-thirds of students say they were certain of their majors when choosing a college or university. Two-thirds also agree that their future earnings potentials impacted their chosen areas of study.
Of the fields of study from which survey respondents could choose, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) majors are by far the most popular, with over half of students studying in this field.
Students in this field are the most likely to say they won’t use student loans to cover this year’s costs, a sign that they are more likely to graduate with lower student loans. Even better, STEM majors are in high demand and commanding some of the highest starting salaries right out of college, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Business and Health & Medicine are the two areas of study most common after STEM majors, with a respective 11 percent and 10 percent of students in each field. Students who chose a major related to business or health are also the most likely to agree that their choice was impacted by future earning potential.
More than two-thirds of students agree that salary and career earning potential impacted their choices or college majors. On the other hand, 17 percent disagree that salary considerations impacted their choice. Social Science and Arts & Humanities majors are the students who disagree with this statement most often.
9 in 10 students follow their passions
It’s encouraging to see so many students looking ahead to their careers and weighing their potential earnings when making educational choices. But it’s still more common to follow passion than practicality when deciding on a major.
In all, 88 percent agree that they chose their major based on passion, compared to the 67 percent impacted by earning potential.
Arts & Humanities majors, while less likely to be impacted by earnings considerations, are the most likely of any major to choose their study field based on passion at a rate of 96 percent. Those majoring in the STEM field aren’t far behind, with 92 percent reporting a passion for their chosen field.
2 in 5 fund non-educational bills with student loans
A troubling behavior many students report is using their student loans for expenses that are not directly related to education. Two in five say that they would at least use student loans to cover monthly bills.
This indicates that current students are more willing to use loans to cover non-education costs than even the most recent cohort of graduates. The Class of 2016 reported a rate of non-educational use of student loans that was half of current students’, according to a Student Loan Hero survey of recent graduates.
In addition to those paying for monthly bills, one in five respondents are using those funds to cover car costs like a payment or insurance. It’s possible that for many students, these are necessary expenses in their college budgets — phones might be used to keep up on assignments and cars could be needed for a commute to class.
But plenty of students are using their funds for more frivolous costs, as well. Fifteen percent say they will use student loans to pay for clothing and accessories, and 13 percent will spend student loan money at restaurants. About 3 percent of students plan to use student loan money to fund vacations and another 3 percent will spend it on alcohol or drugs.
Some students don’t know their costs
Despite the majority that’s facing lower costs and foregoing student loans, a significant portion of respondents are still choosing high-cost programs. More than 8 percent of students have annual costs over $30,000.
Higher costs also correlate to a higher reliance on student loans to cover their schooling. Students with costs of $30,000 or more are 60 percent more likely to use student loans to cover the majority of their educational expenses than those with costs under $30,000.
Perhaps the more troubling students are the 7 percent who say they don’t know what their costs of the 2016-17 school year will be. This clueless cohort is also the most likely to not know how much they would rely on student loans in the coming year.
Without an awareness of expenses and a plan to cover them, these students will have less control over their costs. This could leave them scrambling at the last minute to cover their expenses, possibly relying more heavily on loans.
Overall, however, most students enrolled for the 2016-17 school year say they are aware of costs and their future earning potentials. These students should use this information to keep costs and student balances low, and maximize their earning potential after graduation.
Even as student loan costs continue to rise, today’s students can make smart choices and avoid the pitfalls of over-borrowing in college and under-earning after graduating.
Survey was conducted via Google Consumer Surveys on behalf of Student Loan Hero on Sept. 8, 2016, with a nationally representative sample of 1,019 undergraduate students currently enrolled at least half-time in the United States. “Are you currently an undergraduate college student enrolled at least half-time?” was used as a screening question (with a target answer of “Yes”).
Interested in refinancing student loans?Here are the top 7 lenders of 2019!
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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.
To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: https://www.earnest.com/eligibility. Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.
Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.45% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.49% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.14% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.79% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of September 6, 2019, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.
Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.
The information provided on this page is updated as of 09/06/2019. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit https://www.earnest.com/terms-of-service, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on our student loan refinance product.
© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.
2 Important Disclosures for SoFi.
3 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.
Laurel Road Disclosures
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the fixed rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular fixed interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.
All credit products are subject to credit approval.
Laurel Road began originating student loans in 2013 and has since helped thousands of professionals with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees consolidate and refinance more than $4 billion in federal and private school loans. Laurel Road also offers a suite of online graduate school loan products and personal loans that help simplify lending through customized technology and personalized service. In April 2019, Laurel Road was acquired by KeyBank, one of the nation’s largest bank-based financial services companies. Laurel Road is a brand of KeyBank National Association offering online lending products in all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. All loans are provided by KeyBank National Association, a nationally chartered bank. Member FDIC. For more information, visit www.laurelroad.com.
4 Important Disclosures for Splash Financial.
Splash Financial Disclosures
Terms and Conditions apply. Splash reserves the right to modify or discontinue products and benefits at any time without notice. Rates and terms are also subject to change at any time without notice. Offers are subject to credit approval. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet applicable underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. Lowest rates are reserved for the highest qualified borrowers.
5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.
Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown. All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.19% effective August 10, 2019.
6 Important Disclosures for LendKey.
Refinancing via LendKey.com is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via LendKey.com. If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on LendKey.com reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.
7 Important Disclosures for College Ave.
College Ave Disclosures
College Ave Student Loans products are made available through either Firstrust Bank, member FDIC or M.Y. Safra Bank, FSB, member FDIC. All loans are subject to individual approval and adherence to underwriting guidelines. Program restrictions, other terms, and conditions apply.
1College Ave Refi Education loans are not currently available to residents of Maine.
2All rates shown include autopay discount. The 0.25% auto-pay interest rate reduction applies as long as a valid bank account is designated for required monthly payments. Variable rates may increase after consummation.
3$5,000 is the minimum requirement to refinance. The maximum loan amount is $300,000 for those with medical, dental, pharmacy or veterinary doctorate degrees, and $150,000 for all other undergraduate or graduate degrees.
4This informational repayment example uses typical loan terms for a refi borrower with a Full Principal & Interest Repayment and a 10-year repayment term, has a $40,000 loan and a 5.5% Annual Percentage Rate (“APR”): 120 monthly payments of $434.11 while in the repayment period, for a total amount of payments of $52,092.61. Loans will never have a full principal and interest monthly payment of less than $50. Your actual rates and repayment terms may vary.
Information advertised valid as of 08/01/2019. Variable interest rates may increase after consummation.
|2.14% – 6.79%1||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.14% – 7.71%2||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 6.65%3||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.43% – 7.60%4||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.14% – 8.01%5||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.06% – 8.93%6||Undergrad & Graduate|
|2.74% – 7.24%7||Undergrad & Graduate|