Questions to ask before making student loan decisions

By Sean Allen, Amherst College

Many college freshmen rack up debt in college. Keep these three things in mind when pursuing student loans so you’re not biting off more than you can chew.

Throughout my college search, paying for school has always been at the back of my mind. While it is something to consider, it hasn’t been a guiding factor in which schools I apply to. If I must take out student loans, I’m being very careful in what I commit to. For the new university student also considering student loans for college, here are three things to think about.

Your School’s Financial Aid Options

Some schools such as Amherst College offer generous, no-loan packages, while other schools may not be able to meet students’ needs as well. In my list of top-choice schools I have two groups in regard to the cost: schools with high tuitions and good financial aid packages, and schools with low tuitions and average financial aid packages.

In the first group, one example is the University of Chicago, which has an estimated total annual cost of $61,418 for a student living on campus and an average need-based scholarship or grant award of $39,904. In the second group is McGill, which has an estimated total annual cost for aninternational student pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree of $17,457.When choosing a school, the annual cost of tuition does not have to be the deciding factor, as scholarships and financial aid could even the playing field or potentially make the pricier college less expensive than the more afforable. Thoroughly research and know all your options before making your decision.

Your Family’s Finances

If I were accepted to both of my top schools, I would certainly have to keep cost in mind but it may not be the determining factor of where I chose to go. However, this is just for me and my family’s current situation. My parents and I had an honest talk about what type of assistance they could provide for my college education and the bracket of cost they would be best able to accomodate. Keeping this budget in mind, I am better able to weigh my college options based on cost, amount of debt, educational fit, and post-grad opportunities. Students should understand their family’s financial situation and their ability to pay for school before determining how important cost is and whether or not student loans are for them.

Your Future Self

Before even thinking about taking out student loans, pursue whatever scholarships and financial aid is offered by the school you would like to attend. If, after receiving a financial aid package, your family is still unable to support your education, only then commit to a student loan for the amount your education requires. Considering the average student debt at graduation is $26,500 and the average starting salary of a recent college graduate is $44,928, you’ll be happy down the line you limited the amount of debt you could incur during college.