How to manage student loans for college like a boss

26 thoughts on “How to manage student loans for college like a boss”

  1. Your point about choosing a degree with a reasonable earnings potential is well taken. In retrospect, I am not sure that majoring in English (this is 15 years ago now) was the ideal choice for me. I was interested in a lot of things — math and science among them — and chose English partly by default, and partly because there was a lot of advice floating around in the early 2000s about the value of a solid humanities/liberal arts education. Unfortunately, I definitely never gave much thought to how exactly I would use this degree to develop a career, and I had no understanding whatsoever of how much money one might expect to make in Field X vs. Field Y. Today I sometimes joke that college majors should be listed in the college handbook with average salaries next to them — that would have helped me out a lot! 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment, Sarah – average salaries next to majors…that’s an awesome idea! I think you’re right, that would probably help steer kids in a better direction if they are unsure about the direction to take. Of course, we don’t want a bunch of kids majoring in the highest average salary major even if they have no interest in the topic. Flunking out of school isn’t great for your earnings potential, either. 🙂

  2. Oh man… Had my share of idiotic moments in college! 😉 Great advice on thinking of it as the start of your career. I get sad thinking about so many stidents today not getting the “full college experience” of attending full time and living on campus, because it can be such a formative experience that makes you more independent and self-reliant. But I’m not sure that it’s worth going into mega debt to get that experience! Re: field of study, I majored in English, and have never regretted that, or had my earnings held back by it, but I also hustled hard at extracurriculars and internships. So I totally agree with you that that stuff matters a lot!

    1. It’s interesting that “side hustles”, essentially, are just as important in college as they are later in life. Especially internships, which can provide valuable work experience that can be used after graduation to get your first job. Excellent point!

  3. Working in college was the best decision I ever made (second to working throughout high school). It gives you something more authentic to put on a resume, especially if you find a way to work in your field. More than that, though, it teaches you perspective and helps you develop grit.

    As for that photo post that went viral, I admire that girl’s gusto and determination – but I also think that literacy (financial and otherwise) and perhaps privilege play more of a factor than anyone likes to think. I’m a first generation college grad and sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know, especially if you don’t have anyone who kind of paved the way a bit. And but, I was also privileged enough to have a family who valued education (even if they hadn’t achieved it themselves). That makes a huge difference, IMHO.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Penny! Yup, working through school can make a huge difference, not only to your ability to pay for school but also in your prospects for work after you’re done. Networking, baby!

      Like you, I also had a family that valued education – at least my immediate family. Not going to college really wasn’t even a part of the discussion. We used the word “when”, not the word “if”. 🙂

  4. I went to a state school, had a little scholarship, and graduated in three years. I still came away with approximately $35k in student loans, and add another $10k for grad school. I would of definitely hit the scholarship path harder, and maybe would have helped pay my school bills when they came due instead of taking loans. That money would of been better put to use there, then trading stocks in my dorm room with my earnings from part-time work. 🙂

    1. Hey Fervent! Yeah, scholarships are powerful things, aren’t they? It’s nice that you only had to pay $10k for grad school, though. I remember that each semester that I went to school was a little over $7k. Outrageous! Of course I quit grad school, too…

  5. Ha ha! I got a BA and then an MA in anthropology. I was doing the whole “find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life” thing. I did have a lot of good times but in the end I went on to something that pays better.

    1. Hehe, small world! Good for you for finding something that you still enjoy but can make more money at. I know your future self will thank you for making that decision! 🙂

  6. This is a great post. Education inflation is a real thing. Now that so many people have college degrees, that’s the new high school diploma. As an arts graduate, I have to argue against not graduating in the arts. The key is to not WORK in the arts. 🙂 I graduated with a master’s degree in the arts and leveraged that degree into a job in behavioral economics. Lots of companies are interested in working with people with arts backgrounds because of their creative thinking, broad knowledge base, and ability to adapt. I’m not saying all arts graduates end up with that, but it’s possible to leverage an arts degree into a money-making job. (Though the chances of making real money in the arts is still slim.)

    1. Thanks Maggie! “Education inflation”, I like that term! Upgrading your education to have that prestigious name on your resume.

      I can definitely see where companies link an arts degree to more creative “out of the box” thinking. Good point. Major in the arts, but don’t actually work in the arts. Point well taken! 🙂

  7. Ah, this is beautiful. This is the main reason why I am ahead in life compared to counterparts that make more money than me. I graduated debt free and finished a four year degree in two years. I hate school personally and just wanted to be done, plus my first career paid horribly the first few years and I wanted to get those years over with and treated those two post years from college like my masters degree. I also lived at home which isn’t cool and rode my bike to school. I also worked full time during those two years. I worked at 6am to 2pm and then went to class 3pm to 9pm. I also went spring and summer so I went to school year round. It was a hard two years but finishing four in two and graduating debt free set me so far ahead it was worth more than picking up an MBA. College is supposed to make us rich and now it is a huge factor in keeping people from reaching millionaire status because of student loans. As a boss I have never looked at where someone went to school. I just care if they can do the job…and sometimes that comes down to street smarts over books smarts to make the sell. Nice article.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lance. Like you, I didn’t like school. I mean, I really, really didn’t like school. Most of what I have done throughout my entire professional life has been 100% self-taught. I viewed my education as much a means to get my foot in the door, but nothing else.

      Sounds like you definitely busted ass getting your degree out of the way. Good on you! Nothing wrong with putting in a little sweet equity into your education so you can kick start the accumulation phase of your life as early as possible. Looks like you did it right.

  8. Hey, Steve. Another great post. When I went to college in the early 80s, a credit was less than $40. Taking 5 or 6 years to graduate or getting a phoney-baloney degree back then wasn’t particularly damaging to your financial prospects. Today? It’s a totally different ballgame. If you consume higher education frivolously, you will find yourself with ruinous debt and crummy employment opportunities. To paraphrase Dean Wormer: “Indebted, unskilled, and living in your parents’ basement is no way to go through life.” Any high school senior who plans to go to college would be wise to heed your advice.

    1. Thanks Mr. Groovy, appreciate your thoughts.

      “If you consume higher education frivolously, you will find yourself with ruinous debt and crummy employment opportunities.” Love that quote. Well said indeed!

  9. Consider college as the beginning of your career is the best college advice I’ve ever heard (seriously, you killed it!) I do think that more and more high schoolers are starting to adopt that attitude, which is awesome. But it needs to be a widespread mantra to be honest.

    As someone with a BA in English, I’ve got to give a little push back to the “choose a well-paying major” advice 😉 haha. I think the key to excelling with in a Humanities career is knowing what you want to do with your degree and pursuing it relentlessly. From my experience, it’s all about how you leverage your experience, internships and career ambitions. But if any future college students are reading this, there is definitely hope for you if you choose a “poor paying” career 🙂 I’m not making as much as my best friend who works as an engineer for Tesla, but I’m making more than enough to live well and there is a lot of room for salary/job growth in my field (social media management and online content creation). Great post as always, Steve!

    1. Thanks Taylor, appreciate your support and feedback. You are absolutely right that there is a fine line between choosing a degree that truly interests you, and choosing one where the likelihood of paying back your student loans might be a little easier. I can definitely get behind pursuing your line of work relentlessly, especially during the accumulation phase of your life. That way, you get to work in a field that you truly enjoy, and you’re maximizing your earnings potential while doing so.

      It’s a win-win! 🙂

  10. From my experience, having two academic advisors highly involved in my education was the reason I didn’t graduate with 2x the debt I have–one academic advisor helped me with a plan to graduate early while the other helped me secure internships, scholarships and grants. Advisors are paid to advocate for students–take advantage of the opportunity. 🙂

    1. Ah, good point Claudia. Graduating early (like another commenter said as well) is definitely another avenue to take to minimize student loans and quicken the start of your money-making career. I’m sure academic advisors aren’t all created equal, but I definitely agree that taking advantage of their presence at school is a very, very worth while endeavor.

      Appreciate your thoughts. 🙂

  11. I’ve got to say that having parental guidance and input into how you view college is a huge boost. Remember that, all you parents out there. My parents told me “You have to go to college!” But there was no guidance on how to deal with school loans, (it’s good debt, don’t worry about it) what to focus my major on or anything. I spent the first 2 years undeclared and blew a lot of “free money” learning some great thinking skills and questioning everything, but nothing great for a career. After paying for a year out of pocket I realized I was wasting money. I went hiking for 4 months and figured out if I wanted to be in school or not. I did, but I realized when I did grad school that I wanted to get a school that I could say, I graduated from “blah” and people would recognize it. Undergrad, it doesn’t necessarily matter, in my opinion and my field. Grad school seems more critical.
    While I came out of school $64k in debt with student loans (poor, poor decision making) it worked out, and those debts have been paid off. I also went into a high paying field though…
    While my specific journey to a successful career isn’t one I’d recommend to anyone, parts of it I’d recommend to everyone. Specifically, finding out if you want to go to college, and if the answer is yes, WHY? What do you want out of it? If you can’t answer that, don’t go to college yet. If you don’t want to do college, then what do you want to do that you won’t need a degree for? There are plenty of great jobs that don’t need a degree and pay well, but they’re more “trades” oriented. Looking back, I’d be perfectly happy working construction, digging with a trackhoe, making less than half my pay that I am now.
    It just took me a while to figure out that more money isn’t the end game.

    1. Well said, Mr. SSC – parenting is a huge influence. Of course, that probably depends a little bit on those parents actually going to college, but even if they didn’t, guidance based on life experiences is definitely warranted in this case!

      Thanks for your comment, as always. 🙂

  12. I live in Omaha, Ne and a lot of job ads here are wanting a college degree (associates is OK but Bachelor’s is preferred but they at least want an associate’s degree) for basic jobs such as retail.

    I really wanted to go to Westmont which is a private, 4 year Christian liberal arts college in Santa Barbara, Ca but it was expensive and my parents couldn’t really afford it. I decided to go to a state university in Nebraska instead and I worked for a couple of years before I went.

    I’m not going to have any student loans when I graduate. I have savings from jobs I had before I went to college, free government grants and my parents pitched in the rest. I also live off-campus because it’s cheaper.

    I did choose a B major because I wanted to learn business skills. I think they will serve me well whether I work for a company or for myself. I really rambled, didn’t I? =)

    1. Hey Jaime! Looks like you did it exactly right! And having some cash in your pocket after you’re done with college will definitely give you a leg up. It’s tough to be graduating debt free. 🙂

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