Dear Liz: I am a junior in college, and I might have to take out a loan my senior year because of financial cuts in the state. Is it really a bad idea to take a loan for college?
Answer: No, it’s not. You don’t want to overdose on education debt, but a student loan that helps you get the right degree could be the best investment you’ll ever make.
Someone with a college degree will earn on average $2.3 million over the course of a working lifetime, which is $1 million more than the lifetime earnings of someone with just a high school diploma, according to a study by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University in Washington. College graduates also are more likely to stay employed. The unemployment rate for people with college degrees is about half of that for people with only high school diplomas.
Of course, you’ll want to make sure there is sufficient demand for your degree to justify the costs of your education, since all college degrees are not created equal. PayScale, a site that tracks salary information, has a report on its site called “Majors That Pay You Back” that monitors median starting and mid-career incomes for various degrees.
You’ve probably heard horror stories about people winding up with massive amounts of expensive student debt. In many cases, these scholars used private student loans, which have variable rates and lack the protections of federal student loans.
Limit how much you borrow. In general, don’t borrow more than you expect to make your first year out of school. Also, exhaust all available federal student loans before you consider a private loan. If you can work a part-time job or increase your hours to avoid a private loan, do it — but don’t work so many hours that you can’t complete your schoolwork.
A loan that helps you complete school would be far better than dropping out now, since the economic payoff from a college education requires that you actually get your degree.