College is getting so expensive that there are now studies dedicating to finding out unhappy Americans are with their student loans.
The latest one comes from the Americans Institute of CPAs, which found that 68 percent of Americans with student loans, or with children who have loans, regret the way they paid for school. If they could do it all over, more than half of them wish they had attended a cheaper college. About 43 percent would’ve gone to trade school for a more specific profession, and almost a third wouldn’t go at all — at least, not right out of high school.
But on the flip side, the AICPA said 68 percent of those without a degree said they would go back to college to get a better-paying job. In the end, it’s worth it — but there are definitely more cost-effective ways to get a degree than maxing out on student loans.
“There is no question that higher education affords people greater earning potential. However, as the cost of college continues to increase, the debt often required to get a degree can be stifling to new graduates,” said Ernie Almonte, chair of the AICPA’s National CPA Financial Literacy Commission.
Here’s our advice on how to not regret financing your college degree…
Know how you’ll pay for college before you go
But young people can save for their own college, too. According to AICPA, millennials were the most likely — 35 percent — to say they’d delay starting college so they could save more and take out fewer loans. Living at home for a few extra years, and working before or during college is one option to keep costs down.
Nobody’s saying that’s easy. Another report by Young Invincibles, a millennial think tank and advocacy group, found that millennials face an unemployment rate over 40 percent higher than the national average, so they need to make smart choices before they even start school. Millennials are also facing declining wages, and are the “first generation in modern history to have higher poverty rates and lower incomes than their two preceding generations,” according to the report.
But what’s even more frightening is how many college students have no idea what it takes to repay their student loans. Before you sign your life over to the student loan companies, be sure to educate yourself on the difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized federal loan, and research student loan forgiveness to see if you’ll qualify. You don’t get a grade on your student loan counseling session, but it’s one of the most important lectures you’ll get in school.
Pick the college that best fits your finances
We applaud the 43 percent of survey participants who said they’d choose a trade school for a specific profession. Knowing what you want to do saves time and money. The U.S. Department of Education has a great comparison website where you can compare the costs of different private schools, public schools, and trade schools.
But if you do choose a trade or technical school, we advise against choosing a for-profit college. The Department of Education has threatened to shut down some of these schools for having some of the highest loan-default rates in the country. Overwhelmingly, they tend to be beauty schools, design schools, or hair styling schools.
Another cost-effective alternative is community college. President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union speech earlier in the year that community college tuition could eventually be free for students who meet certain requirements. They include that you attend at least half-time, maintain a 2.5 GPA, and are working toward a degree or transferring to a four-year college.
The National Center for Education Statistics also has helpful planning resources that let you choose your school based on religious affiliation, campus setting, varsity athletics, maximum tuition, and SAT or ACT scores.
Have multiple plans for after graduation
If you major in something like psychology or gender studies, be aware of your job prospects after graduation. You’ll probably need an advanced degree, and finding a job might require moving across the country.
Alternatively, maybe you majored in business and will have an easier time finding a job in your area, even if it’s not what you went to school for. You can save money by living with your parents in the short-term, or if that’s a totally terrible option for you, find a few roommates and rent a house. If you can delay moving to a city with outrageous rent prices (New York City, San Francisco, Miami), you’ll be able to save that much more to pay down your student loan debt.
If you can’t find work in the field you paid to work in, you may have to work as a waitress or a barista for a while until you land your dream job — or at least the first stepping stone toward it. That’s not a bad thing: Think about how your dad always told you that hard work builds character. And sometimes employers will offer tuition assistance to help pay back your loans. But do your research before joining one of these programs, because the devil is in the details.