I’m a junior in college, and I’m considering different career paths for immediately after graduation. I’m concerned about paying off my student loans, and I’m wondering how big a factor that should be in my career decision. What should I do?


Vielka Cecilia Hoy, Founder/Director at Vielka Hoy Consulting, Teacher, and Parent

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Hi! I think unfortunately students are making decisions based more on these type of financial questions rather than passion. I agree with the above--you should definitely be financially literate and that should have some impact in how you make these decisions. But I would also advise you to put yourself in the position to make more money when you graduate while you have the time, meaning make yourself more marketable for higher paying jobs. You can intern, work closely with a faculty member on a project, connect with the alum network in your field from now, and/or even seek out the advice from an HR person at your dream job. The career center at your school will also have a ton of advice as well.

Just be aware that you don't want to be at a job you only kinda like because you are trying to pay student loans, especially when you can be strategic about getting your dream gig and still pay your student loans.

Matthew Clemens, Physics and Math Teacher, Parent, and Tutor

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Loans are a very real thing, so you are asking an important question. It will be hard to find a job that will support all of your needs and loans just out of the college gate, but you do need to be thinking about them. There are deferral options, but that isn't always the best choice. There should be someone on campus in career services that can help you put your best foot forward when looking for a job, so perhaps you could start there to increase your prospects? Good luck!

M. Erez Kats, Seattle Language Arts Teacher, Author, and Artist

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I would say that as much as you probably want to follow your passion in life and do what your heart tells you, if you find that the career you desire simply does not pay very much, or it is extremely hard to find jobs in that field, I would seriously consider at least thinking about a plan B career. I feel that money, especially in today's society, is something that runs the world in many respects, and you can end up feeling very limited in your lifestyle/personal life if you don't have the money to live how you want to live. Student loans will definitely be responsible for a big chunk of that, as will rent, and other bills. If you have other housing and transportation options, these are always things to consider if your top career doesn't pay well, but make no mistake about it, whatever your situation is, people are going to want their money no matter what. I'd have to say, if your career of choice pays you $25,000 entry level, and your plan B career pays you $50,000 entry-level, it may not seem like it, but that is a lot of money when you add it up paycheck to paycheck. And ultimately, unless you absolutely LOVE what you do for a living, chances are you'll be frustrated if you can't pay bills and live the life you want to. I'm 40 years old, and currently on my 3rd legitimate career, and I'm still frustrated with this. The fact of the matter is, some jobs and careers simply pay more than others, and if you are qualified to do these jobs, have the right skill set for it, and believe you can do the job without hating it, I'd say go for the most money possible while you're young. You can always go back and change things later, but in the increasingly competitive and EXPENSIVE world, take the money when you can and get your foot in the door both to start making connections and to build a strong reputation to branch out on your own or to do other things later.

Kendra Whitmire, Writer and Tutor

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Your financial future should have a role in your decision, but it should not be the most important factor. The more important consideration should be choosing a career for which you see a true future, especially if you do have a dream career. Your passion and your quality of life should be more important considerations than the money you make. You may have to struggle for a few years, but ultimately you will find yourself happier and more satisfied not just in your career but in your life. The Department of Education does offer income-sensitive repayments, which can be beneficial when you are starting out. You also typically have six months before you have to make your first payment.

If you choose a job just because it pays more, you may find yourself stuck in a job you hate and ultimately quit, leaving yourself in a less ideal financial situation. Even if you don't quit, you could find yourself with 10 or 15 years of experience in a certain career that you do not like once you have paid off your loans. This can make it more difficult, but not impossible, to switch careers once you feel more financially independent.

If you see all the various career paths as completely equal, then you could put more emphasis on paying off your student loans and other financial aspects of the job. Otherwise, go with the one that will make you happy.

Anonymous, Higher Education Consultant

Let’s say, upon graduating from college, you are offered a job with a starting salary of $40,000. Great! Yet when you calculate your monthly college loan payment and your take-home pay, you are uncomfortable with your remaining income. I read on one federal website that an acceptable debt-to-starting-salary ratio is no more than 15 percent. That means that you want to be certain you are paying no more than 15 percent of your starting salary to service your student loan bill.

I’m sure you have read or heard horror stories about college graduates living in their parents’ basements because, although they have a job, they are not earning enough to have their own apartment. That’s not for you. As a college junior, you still have one year to change this financial situation. You have had the same financial aid counselor for the past three years. She knows you and your finances. Make an appointment to discuss the situation. Can your grant aid be increased? Can you increase the number of hours you work? Can you re-adjust your budget? Many financial aid offices have on staff, or can make available, financial experts who can help you plan this next phase of your college financing plan. Find out if your school’s financial aid office participates in SALT, an online financial literacy program which includes money management strategies for budgeting, credit cards, and banking.

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