College Graduate: Surviving Life After Student Debt

You’ve just spent four years at an accredited college campus whose professors and administration have been continually telling you that you are meant to be here and you are meant to be learning at this college. You spend thousands of dollars at this college because at the end, you will be a young, well-educated individual once you leave and what business would not want you as their employee?

The real answer to that question is, most businesses will not want you as their employee.

I spent four years at a well-known private school in my city, spending thousands of dollars for a tuition I thought would give me the chances of a lifetime once I left,  and am now currently $20,000 in debt making $32,000 at a job (that I like and am really appreciative of the experience with) that I am the sole individual in my area, taking care of every task because I do not have a right-hand man or co-worker to delegate tasks to.

In college, I was lucky enough to have financial aid, scholarships, and my parents on my side when I needed to pay off my semester’s tuition. However, even with those three things, I still came out of college with a significant amount of debt. It’s unavoidable. According to a Forbes news article, the average student in the Class of 2016 has $37,172 in student loan debt. This number doesn’t even show the large amount of debt most students are drowning in! The sad part, or at least one of the sad parts of this, is that this number just keeps increasing and salaries after college just keep decreasing.

One thing I noticed with my loan experience is that I didn’t know 100% what I was getting into and what every term meant. I would pay for classes late because I wouldn’t have the money to pay by the due date, and would inform my business office about my predicament, but at one point they said, “Why not take out a loan?” The business office at my school had wonderful individuals working there who are there for the students, but honestly, they don’t explain much. Much like most companies or organizations, the focus is on getting the money into the school as quickly as possible. The told me my best option would be to take out a subsidized student loan. For those like me, who don’t understand these terms, here is a break down.

  • Subsidized Loans: The US Department of Education pays the interest on your loan while you are in school, for the first six months after you finish school (grace period), and if you are in deferment (postponing paying off your loan).
  • Unsubsidized Loans: You are responsible for paying the interest on these loans during all periods.

So in general, I got a good deal since I didn’t have interest growing on the amount I took out until after my grace period ended and I started to pay off my loan. However, I only had a few Subsidized loans, and unfortunately had to take out Unsubsidized loans as well. These specific ones had interest rates growing throughout the rest of my college career, increasing the end total of what I would have to pay.

So, what if you don’t have a job by your grace period? What happens to those individuals who cannot seem to find a full-time stable job so that they are able to pay off these sizeable loans?

Well, you’re screwed.

Kidding! Sort of. I completed my four years in May 2017. I did not have a full-time job lined up, and was still working 18 hour weeks on a pay that was just above minimum wage. I had until November 2017 to find a job to allow me to start paying off my loan or else I would have to contact my loan company and tell them that I wouldn’t be able to pay just yet, allowing my interest rate to sit and grow as I tried to find a job as fast as I can so that I can pay this loan off. One thing I did do, that I am thankful for in college is I began applying to jobs right at the start of my senior year. I was still a full-time student, taking about 17-18 credit hours a semester to finish off my senior year with a bang! But I still applied to jobs, even if that meant I wouldn’t start until I graduated. Many companies said I met the requirements and they would hire me, but they needed employees to start immediately, something I couldn’t do. There were also many companies that I told me I didn’t have what it takes to be in this position, even if I had the grades, the experience, and the recommendations for it. There will always be hurdles to get over, but that’s part of the journey.

Now you might say, why apply early if you know you won’t be able to start if they want to hire you? Well, a couple of reasons. 1) I gained amazing advice from many different companies on how to improve my interviewing skills, 2) I learned how to move forward in the position that I am in and how to grow in this position by observing others, and 3) I learned about where and what I believe my education and experience could get me so that I did not settle for less. I did not get a job straight out of college, but from the many applications I submitted during my time in college, I was hired just 5 months after graduating and began my full-time job around the start of the new year, all while beginning my journey in paying off my student loan. I started with a salary of $27,000. Many of you will say this is extremely low, I said the same thing. However, with the degree I majored in, it’s typical to be paid around this salary, unless you move on for a higher degree. I soon made my way to $32,000 within my first six months because of hard work and dedication to my position. I am not saying this happens easily or often, but although I started with a smaller amount, I still put in the work and saw how great of an opportunity this could be for me. I know my salary is not the highest, but I know that with this small start, I can grow.

Things I’ve learned throughout all this? Starting early doesn’t hurt you, it quite often helps. Also, asking for help is never a bad thing to do. Almost every person in a higher up position wants to help you grow to the extent of your abilities so that you are achieving all that you can. Remember to trust in yourself, because if you don’t, no one will.

“By making college unaffordable and student loans unbearable, we risk deterring our best and brightest from pursuing higher education and securing a good- paying job.” – Mark Pocan

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