I want to start by sharing that, like many, I never felt like college was optional. My mother struggled to get me through middle school, and by High School I had caught the college bug and really did want to get accepted into a decent school. This gave my mother no end of relief, and had it not been for the fact that I also had a fifteen-year old sister, she probably would have become significantly less stressed out. As it was, I like to think I was able to prevent her from getting high blood pressure. You’re welcome, Mom!
The point behind that little anecdote is that within a month of my college graduation, my mother was talking on the phone with me about my student loans, and how she had heard on NPR that someone who never went to college would often end up better off than someone who went to college for your average liberal arts BA – the very degree I got. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciated my college degree and have no end of gratitude for the effort my mother expended to make sure I got it. I know that it was one of the things she had pictured and strived towards for both of us since we were born. Still, there’s something to be said about timing.
To be fair, I graduated in 2009; a year and a half after most job prospects had dried up. Had we had a crystal ball, I might have done things differently. And, for me, it worked out, as I got a great job at UMassFive and was able to begin paying off my mountain of debt. Had I had a crystal ball, I might have done a couple of things differently.First, I might have taken a gap year. After showing my mother the crystal ball I am sure she would have sent me away with her blessing. After getting accepted into college, I might have deferred in order to save up some money for my first year’s tuition. After all, any loans you take out are going to cost quite a bit over the long run, and a tax benefit doesn’t cancel it out, but just softens the blow.
Second, I might have taken more advantage of scholarships. If I had known what I know now that I choose semi-finalists for our League Scholarship, I would have applied for more scholarships, comforted to know that my odds were probably not nearly as bad as I thought they were at getting a scholarship. After all, if I spend 10 hours applying for a $500 scholarship, I just made $50 an hour. Not bad!
Finally, I would have informed my mother that PLUS loans are an option made appealing due to their fixed rate, but that some private loans are more attractive in the long run. I would have shared with her the knowledge that it would have been a joint loan rather than one she was saddled with herself, and that, in a persistently low interest rate environment, it’s practically a steal!Of course, that would have involved understanding the difference between Prime and LIBOR rates (the latter is lower), and what floors and ceilings are (can’t go under or over a certain rate, respectively). But that’s yet another thing I would have done, had I had my crystal ball – I would have asked someone at UMassFive to demystify the process for me, and I would have checked UMassFive's Resource Center as a launchpad to find additional resources.
If you’re on your way into college and have questions about your best choices, and want someone to tell it to you straight, don’t be afraid to ask away. UMassFive and CU Student Choice are here to help.