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Colleges Should Offer a Class Called Student Debt 101

I owe how much money to whom? Starting when? Why didn’t anyone tell me about this? Where am I going to get $25,000, plus interest?

In about a month and a half from now, I will be graduating from the University of Central Florida in a financial hole about as big as a quarter of a hundred grand. Great. I go to a university for five years, not once changing my major, and I’m repaid with a courtesy email saying, “Congratulations on finishing school! Now you owe us about 1,000 times your life savings!”

At least I’m in the same boat as about two-thirds of the nation’s college graduates.

It’s not the $1 trillion of student loan debt that’s so bad; it’s the 50 percent of student loans in either deferment or delinquency. But whose fault is that?

Student Loan Responsibility: Students vs. Teachers

As students, we’re told over and over again, “School is your No. 1 priority. Focus on your grades and your time in class.”

If all of our concentration is on school and teachers aren’t educating us about student loan debt in class, when do we find the time to learn about debt management? How do we know where to look for information? Should administrators take a bigger role in advising us about our student loan responsibilities?

As students, we should face the fact that college isn’t free and certainly isn’t cheap. Regardless of where the money is coming from, whether it be grants, scholarships, student loans or out of your pocket, it’s our responsibility to know how much of that will need to be paid back.

The best thing about scholarships and grants is that it’s free money. They don’t need to be paid back. Student loans, however, need to be repaid, generally beginning after a six-month grace period. Log into your loan provider to see how much money you’ve racked up thus far and what your expected monthly payments will be.

On the other hand, administrators should find an effective and feasible way to guide students through the process of student loan and debt repayment. The average undergrad student takes 12-15 credit hours per semester. According to a U.S. Census report, about 72 percent of students work during the school year, with more than half clocking in over 20 hours a week. Professors suggest that students spend 3 hours per credit hour a week on their studies. So, when exactly are we supposed to research and learn about student debt?

Debt Management Education

I can’t deny that I disregard about 90 percent of the emails I get from my school newsletter or daily campus updates. Yes, there are free resources available on campuses, and yes, there are seminars and webinars offered to students. Let’s just be honest for a minute. Who really wants to attend an informational session about debt when The Walking Dead or How I Met Your Mother is on TV?

Administrators should implement a student debt management course, such as the mandatory drug and alcohol online course required by most higher education institutions. Students won’t know the importance of debt management unless they’re aware of the consequences of non-payment.

I knew my classes weren’t going to pay for themselves. Sure, I applied for FAFSA and qualified for some grants and scholarships, but I knew it wasn’t going to be enough to cover tuition for five years. In about 7 months, I’ll have monthly payments of a minimum $300 on top of rent, a car payment, insurance, gas, groceries, etc.

Lucky for me, I have a job. So, in that six-month grace period between graduation and the start of my student loan payments, I’ll be saving up every penny I can. I’m no expert when it comes to budgeting, but I’m pretty sure that means I’ll have to cut out those random road trips and impulsive purchases. As unfortunate as that may be, at least I’ll be prepared to pay back my student loans.

Cecillia Barr is a graduate of the University of Central Florida. She blogs about her extensive knowledge on student loans in order to help others reduce their debt and live financially independent lives.

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