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The Student Loan Syndrome

Youth Pastors and Church Leaders: This may be your last chance to tell rising college freshmen what you wish you’d known—the truth about student loans. Use the article, question and activity below to help students understand how and why to avoid this form of debt.

Be sure to include younger students in the discussion; the truth about student loans takes a while to sink in.

Picture this: You’re 22 and just graduated college. Your bags are packed, and you’re hitting the road to look for a new career in a new city. It’s going to be an incredible adventure!

Fast-forward a few years. You’ve made close friendships and even met the love of your life—yes, he’s sweet and gorgeous. Your heart dreams of sparkly things when he drops a bombshell: He owes nearly $50,000 in student loans.

That news, combined with your $25,000 college debt, leaves you feeling choked-up, dizzy and sick.

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Unfortunately, this story is all too common as student loans are an epidemic for this generation. Instead of buying a home, getting married, and having children, many college grads are just trying to find any job that will enable them to pay their minimum student loan payments. When you look at the numbers, it’s no surprise they’re stuck; they aren’t taking time to do the math.

A 2012 study by the College Savings Foundation discovered that although 94% of prospective student-loan borrowers are worried about taking on debt, only 25% of them have actually figured out the total loan amount needed to graduate. Even less know how much their monthly payment will be.

It’s Time to Get Real

Sit down with your parents and calculate the total cost of attending college through graduation. You should include tuition, books, housing, food and transportation for four years. Write down a final estimate and spend a few days thinking about the total.

In the meantime, research salary amounts for jobs that interest you. The average student-loan borrower will send $250 a month to their lender. At an entry-level pay of $30,000 per year, 10% or more of your take-home pay would be tied up in student-loan debt.

If $250 seems minor to you, consider this: A small monthly payment adds up to ridiculous amounts of money when paid out every month for 10 years. All of that is before you add in a sneaky monster called interest.

Be honest with yourself—and your parents. Can you handle a large burden of debt for an extended period of time? Hopefully you’ll realize that student loans are not worth the heartache. 

You Can Pay Your Own Way

Instead, get a job and pay your way through school. Finding a part-time job in college is relatively easy. You can apply at retail stores and restaurants or look on campus for work opportunities at the gym, library and tour center. The average college student, working 20 hours per week during the school year and full time in the summer, can cover the cost of tuition out of their own pocket.

Worried about your grades slipping as a result? A study by McDaniel College found that students who work 10–19 hours per week actually do better in class than students who don’t work at all. It’s a win-win situation.

Cut College Costs

You may look at the numbers and realize that a part-time job won’t cover all of your expenses. If so, you need to cut costs. Reworking your college budget is like taking a vitamin—it helps ward off the disease of student loans. Below are a few ideas to consider:

  • Attend community college: No matter your school or major, you’ll spend the first two years of college taking basic courses. Why not do this at a highly discounted rate?
  • Buy used textbooks: You can buy used books online or at your campus bookstore. Oftentimes, the old edition is nearly the same as the new edition for less than half the price.
  • Compare on- and off-campus housing options: Each school and city will vary, so you’ll need to do some research. Compare the cost of living at home, living in an apartment with roommates, and living on campus. Don’t forget that staying off campus will raise transportation costs while staying on campus may require you to purchase a meal plan.  
  • Keep looking for scholarships: Your greatest tool is your income, and scholarships definitely count as money coming in. Most colleges offer current-student scholarships; check with your department or major, the financial aid office and extracurricular activities advisors.

Living on less and working part time may not sound like the college life you wanted. However, just as a physical sickness limits your ability to run and play, student loans stop you from pursuing lifelong dreams.

The next four years are going to be awesome, but try to think beyond college. Imagine what you’ll be free to do as a result of your sacrifice: buy a house, travel, go into ministry, get married, have kids, start a business—the sky’s the limit!

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Discussion Question and Activity

Ask: What do you dream about doing after college? (Professionally and/or personally)

Read: Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.”

How could student loans prevent you from fulfilling the law to love another? How would they prevent you from reaching your dreams?

Activity: Write out the following on a white board:

House - $1,000
Apartment - $700
Travel out of country - $600
Start a business - $500
Go on a mission trip - $500
Get married - $400
Have a kid - $300
Travel in country - $300
Tithe to church - $300
Save for retirement - $200
Give to charity - $100
Cell phone - $100

Explain that each student has $2,100 to spend, based on monthly take-home pay for a $30,000 salary. The numbers listed above represent the monthly amount required to pay, or save, for each item.

Randomly select half of the group and ask them to stand up. Tell those standing that before spending their salary, they will have to subtract a student loan payment of $300.

Allow each student to share their purchases with the group. Talk about how owing on a student loan affected their decision.

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