Updated: Mar 18, 2019
I always enjoy talking with young adults who are about ready to graduate from high school and enter the ‘real world’. This can be such a rich time of growth and exploration—both of personality and the world as a whole. However, I see too many of these young people bowing to peer pressure from parents, friends, and teachers and assuming their only choice is to immediately attend a four-year university after high school. What these kids don’t realize is that blindly attending a pricy college with no real plan for your future is the best way to get yourself trapped under mounds of student debt.
I always advocate starting out your adult life as flexible and free as possible. Unfortunately, if you have tons of debt to pay off right out of the gates, this can be pretty difficult advice to follow. As you start exploring how to best manage your finances, I want you to consider the truth about student loans and how you can avoid starting your adult life out on the wrong foot.
The Truth About Student Loans in the U.S.
As of 2018, the average American student debt was $39,400. That’s a lot of debt for a young person to start out life with! There are over 44 million people in the United States who have student loans and the average monthly payment on those loans is $351. When you take into consideration that most student loans have a term of 10 years, you’ll realize what a mess kids are getting themselves into these days. In fact, it’s such a mess that there’s a 11.2% default rate on paying these loans back. I can’t think of a worse way to start out your life than with a pile of debt that you can’t even make monthly payments on. The sad truth is, a lot of young men and women believe this is how it has to be and that they have little choice in the matter. I’m here to tell you that simply is not true.
How to Avoid Student Loan Debt
No matter what the media, your classmates, or even your parents seem to think, you don’t need to go to a four-year university. In fact, some kids do a whole lot better at community college or trade schools while others thrive simply by going out there and starting their own businesses or working a number of different jobs to see what fits. There is no right or wrong—only what’s right for you. As you debate the next step in your life, consider the following:
Go to College with a Purpose: I’m not saying that college isn’t the right answer for many young adults. However, I encourage you to go to college with a purpose. Too many kids think they need to go to the most expensive university out there even when they have no idea what they’re going to study. If you have your heart set on a very specific career and the best place to get an education for that career is a prestigious university, go for it! But if you’re undecided or realize you can still have the career of your dreams without a fancy education, you should re-think that sky-high tuition. It’s just not necessary.
Run Your Life Like a Working Adult: We all have the same number of hours in a day. Once you start your career, you’ll probably find yourself working at least 40 of those hours—and sometimes a whole lot more. Some college kids, however, think life is a party and they spend maybe 15-20 hours in class and waste the rest of them playing video games, sleeping, or hanging out with their friends. Once they graduate, they not only have no clue what type of job they want, but they also don’t know how to run their lives on an adult schedule. I recommend that students run their lives like working adults: spend eight hours attending class, studying, and holding down a part-time job. When you get into this groove, it’s much easier to transition to the full-time working world.
Don’t Buy Into the 4-Year Myth: Okay, so you’ve decided to go to a four-year university because it’s the best choice for your future career. But who says you have to get done in four years? There’s nothing wrong with taking fewer classes so you can work while you attend school and pay as you go. Who cares if it takes you five, six, or even seven years to finish? You’ll be ready to start your career and life debt-free while your friends will likely be stuck with a degree they can’t use and another six to seven years of student loan payments.
Student loans should not be a given in the lives of young adults. Getting the right education is a very unique process and your journey may look nothing like your friend’s, your brother’s, or the majority of kids you want to high school with. When you make purposeful decisions about your future and make choices that don’t involve mounds of debt, you’ll be able to start your adult life in a much happier place.
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