Monday, November 9, 2015

How to Get a Degree without Drowning in Debt

The student loan system in this country is terrible. It's a bad system that doesn't give most people a good return for their investment and often traps them in crippling debt. It’s not designed to help students, but to help the colleges have a steady stream of new students paying tuition, whether or not they can afford it, and whether or not they receive a good return on their investment. Don’t get sucked in to the student loan vortex.

If you want to go to college and get a good value for your money, you have to do these things. None of them are optional.

1) Study a subject that will get you a job. A majority of majors in the university will leave you unemployed and deep in debt too. Study STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), not humanities, English, or social science. The latter fields are simply not worth the money to study at a university because they don’t yield good job prospects. Unless you are independently wealthy and have nothing better to do with your money, you’re better off to just study these things in your spare time by checking out books at your local library. Paying a college to teach them to you is not a good use of money.

2) Only go to college if you have reason to believe you are good enough at academics to finish your degree with a decent GPA. Unfortunately, many colleges are all too willing to accept unqualified applicants who can't do the work and will fail. If you don't finish the degree, you've wasted your time and money.

3) Make studying a priority during your college years. College is far too expensive to waste your time partying and acting like an adolescent. If you're going to pay for a college education, use it wisely and actually educate yourself. Make getting good grades, gaining knowledge, and making connections who will give you a good recommendation a priority.

4) Avoid student loans as much as possible. Instead, work as much as you can and apply for scholarships and grants. Go to a cheaper school, if necessary, or sit out a semester and work full time to earn the money. And if you do take out student loans, at least work part time so that you aren’t putting all your current living expenses into loans in addition to tuition.

5) Remember that the proper amount of student loans is zero and any non-zero amount must be justified by careful study and number-crunching to make sure it is worth it. Your future is at stake. In my experience, the only time student loans are an acceptable investment is when you’re going into a high paying field (think doctor, lawyer, or engineer), have very high graduation and employment potential (good grades and some work experience), and your realistic (not idealistic) future income will be sufficient to pay for your total student loans in less than 10 years while also allowing you to cover all your living expenses. You have to crunch the numbers and make sure the investment, including the interest you will pay, is worth it in better job prospects and pay than you could achieve without the degree. You can’t rely on the system to check this for you. They are all too happy to mortgage your future for a degree you can’t afford and that won’t get you a job.

For more on this topic, check out this excellent video from Prager University on the subject of student loans and how they are bad for students.


It is possible to go to college and get a degree that will prepare you for a job and to do it without drowning yourself in debt. I did it. I graduated with a Master's degree in Biology, with a 4.0 GPA throughout, with no debt, and got a job right out of college. But I’m the exception. You can’t just do what everyone else is doing and expect things to work out well for you. You have to be smart and informed or you’re likely to end up an unhappy statistic, paying down enormous debt on a degree you never use.

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