My GRE scores are in and I have no idea what they mean. Seriously, not a bloody clue; I am hoping that they mean I will be able to start school in just a couple weeks. Or they could mean that school will be delayed until the fall while I retake the GRE and again enter the cycle of prayer with fingers crossed that I made it into school. Then like all students how to pay for my education becomes the next quest.
It seems a bit twisted that the only way I can advance in a career which society tells that I am underpaid for is to incur more debt; all this at a time when student loan debt is making the news and default rates are rising. I am, however, more than willing to go into further debt to fund this next step in my academic career. Actually, it is the only way I can go and in the long run it may help me get out of debt.
Thinking back on current loan debt, I am not upset about the money that I have pledged to pay, only that I didn’t understand how the process worked and how to manage them from the beginning. Through my mistakes I have learned some hard lessons which I am using to guide myself through this next leg of my academic journey.
#1: First understand that student loans are like buy now pay later plans. They are not free money. You will pay them off; it is only a matter of time. So, as soon as you can, start paying them, even if you are still in school. Pay more than your minimum due, just like you would with a credit card to pay down the balance. Paying forward does not mean that you will be able to skip a month unless you contact them and let them know that is what you are doing.
#2: When your first bill arrives, and it will find you, pay it or call them and make other arrangements. Don’t be afraid. Call before you are late and there will be more options available to you.
#3: Keep track of what you owe, what you have paid, and if you call when and who you spoke with. Write it down if you need to, that way if there is a problem you have the information you need on hand. Mistakes happen and more than likely it will be on your end, but just in case it isn’t, have your evidence on hand.
#4: Don’t fear student loans, but remain cautious. Your education is something that, short of a traumatic brain injury, can never been taken away. Check out the terms of your loans, both federal and private, and make sure that whatever program you are attending is accredited.
Accreditation means that people will view your degree or certificate as valid. Going to a school that is not accredited is a risk because until they become accredited what you earn from them may not be able to get you the employment you want or the ability transfer to another school.
If you need to take a private loan make sure you understand the difference between the two types of loans and only take what you need from the private loan. Don’t cut yourself short but don’t go overboard and end up in a position where you are eaten alive by interest.
#5: Money spent on education is never wasted. If you are investing in higher education then believe in the value of what you are receiving even before you get your degree. If you decide to change majors or career paths you may find yourself in the position of having taken classes that you no longer need. The time spent in those classes was a learning experience, albeit an expensive one. That may sound trite but I encourage you to think this way so that you don’t discourage yourself on the way to your dreams. Plenty of people who think they are being helpful will do that for you so there is no need to add your own negative thoughts to the stew.
# 6: Learn to create budgets and stick to them. Take a class in personal finance, read books on budgets or ask a friend who has experience, but you will need one to manage your obligations. If you don’t plan to succeed, then you plan to fail. I have learned that one way too many times and it has meant lost opportunities. I’ve created new ones from those lost ones and don’t regret it but try to seek a way that doesn’t make the road harder for yourself. Last week I sat down and went over things with a friend and now I have a plan in place. One that can be adjusted when things change.
And they will.