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How Teens Can Face College Decisions and Student Loan Debt

How Teens Can Face College Decisions and Student Loan Debt

Now that it's January, many high school seniors are in the middle of making major college acceptance decisions. With multiple University options on the table it is important to consider and compare, as a part of the decision-making process, the overall cost incurred in obtaining a degree.

To help explain why this is important let’s look at a statistic released by the federal government recently. As December 2014 college graduates shift their tassels and accept their diplomas, they leave their campuses with one discouraging distinction: They are the most indebted class ever.

The average 2014 class graduate with student-loan debt will pay back $33,000. Keep in mind, this means half will actually pay more. This is nearly double the amount borrowers had to pay back just 20 years ago. The two charts below show the growing trend of debt over the past 20 years. And it is forecasted to continue growing over the next several years. In some cases these students will not be able to repay their debt over the course of their lifetime.

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As college graduate student-loan debt continues to rise faster than inflation, it raises several questions in the minds of both incoming students and their parents. Is a bachelor’s degree worth the expense? The answer is a resounding yes! Statistically, there is a lower unemployment rate among college graduates and the majority will make more money compared to their cohorts without degrees.

This brings us to the next question. Will the debt that comes with earning a college degree always be worth it? This answer is unclear. However, I recommend, as an undergraduate or graduate student, do not borrow more money to pay for your entire education than your expected salary will earn or increase upon graduation.

There are other options I strongly encourage you to consider before deciding that incurring student loans is your best option. First and foremost, fill out and submit a FAFSA (“Free” application for federal student aid). Go to to obtain more information and to apply. It is best to do this as soon after January 1 as is possible. Many Universities award need-based scholarships and grants on a first-come-first-served basis. The earlier you submit your application, the more aid for which you may qualify and receive.

I have heard parents say, based upon their income it is a waste of time to fill out a FAFSA application because they will not qualify for any aid. This is a poor decision. Your circumstances could change overnight leaving you in a much different financial position and in need of financial help.

The deadline for completing a FAFSA form is March 15. Past this date, even if your circumstances change, it is too late to apply for assistance and the university is then limited in what aid they can provide. So, this is definitely a step I highly recommend everyone complete.

Secondly, research online and through the University you are considering what scholarships and grants may be available. Keep in mind, many have application deadlines, so the sooner you begin researching your options the better. Below are five top scholarship websites to help you as you begin your research.






Lastly, I encourage you to give great consideration to the University you can best afford. Many states subsidize their Universities making resident tuition much more affordable. Before incurring high debt to attend a private University research the tuition at your state’s universities. Another option to consider is attending a community college first and then transferring to a four-year University to complete your degree. Community Colleges are much more affordable and the final degree you receive is the same as students who attended all four years. The difference is you paid less for the same degree!

Finally, it is always best to launch your post-graduate career with no or limited student debt. Remember, less is best.

Guy Hatcher: The Legacy Guy – is passionate about helping families plan their legacy. His book, Your Future Reflection: How to Leave a Legacy Beyond Money, is available at Follow him on twitter @guyhatcher or contact him at

Publication date: January 27, 2015