As student debt continues to be a prominent issue on college campuses, many students will try to obtain as much financial aid as possible.
However, how a student uses certain financial aid may lead to a bigger accumulation of student debt.
Using financial aid for non-educational expenses may be a decision people fall back on when expenses, such as rent and food, take precedence over tuition and college fees.
Russell James, professor and CH Foundation chair in the Texas Tech Personal Financial Planning department, said student debt is the worst kind of debt one can have.
“Once you have it, it’s nearly impossible to get out of it,” he said. “It’s quite concerning because from a financial planning perspective, it’s the worst possible kind of debt that a student can have.”
Student borrowing funds for lifestyle expenses is the biggest issue James said occurs among college students. He said some students prioritize expenses consisting of food, rent, travel and other lifestyle necessities over tuition and other college fees.
“That decision to go into debt for lifestyle choices can be very detrimental because once you have gotten into this kind of debt that you can’t get away from, you’ve essentially give up much of your freedom to choose what you want to do with your life,” he said. “It is concerning because the issue isn’t ‘Does it make sense to borrow money to get a degree,’ the issue is ‘Does it make sense to borrow money to have a more enjoyable lifestyle while I’m a student?’”
Even though student debt is a prominent issue among most college students, one may not realize the actual amount the average student has accumulated.
Nathan Wall, assistant director of loan processing at Tech Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, said people tend to hear the horror stories of students owing large amounts of money after they graduate even though these situations are rare.
“They account for a very small percentage of that population,” he said regarding students who have more than $120,000 in student debt.
People tend not to hear the stories of students who have little to no debt after college, Wall said.
Because some people want to avoid student debt, loans may be a financial aid option one tries to utilize.
When determining the amount one can borrow in student loans, Wall said the max amount is equal to the cost of attendance at Tech minus other financial aid.
For the 2019-20 academic year, according to the Tech Financial Aid website, Tech’s cost of attendance, which consists of tuition and fees, housing, meals, books and supplies, transportation and a miscellaneous section, is $26,712 for undergraduate students and $24,346 for graduate students.
When obtaining loans, Wall said some parents of students worry more about paying for tuition and fees.
“If you’re having trouble covering just the basics of tuition and fees, cover those first,” he said. “If it turns out you’re able to make some money, we can always reduce those loans. It’s never too late to reduce.”
To reduce a loan, Wall said a student can contact the Tech Financial Aid office through firstname.lastname@example.org or come to the front counter during lobby hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday at West Hall Room 301.
Loans are a form of financial aid some students may fall back on when in need of support. But other types of financial aid may have less issues in the long run.
Laura Scott, associate director of Tech Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, said loans should be the last resort in order to lessen student debt as much as possible.
Students who are U.S. citizens should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and students who are not U.S. citizens residing in Texas should complete the Texas Application for State Financial Aid when the applications open on Oct. 1, Scott said. In addition to these applications, expected enrollment and the Tech scholarship application, which also needs to be completed to ensure one gets as much financial aid as possible, open on the same day.
“Students should do all of those keys first to unlock as much of the free money as they can,” she said.
Applying for external scholarships and getting an on-campus job are other avenues Scott said students should consider before getting a loan.
“We want it to be the last tool they reach for, not the first tool,” she said. “Now, I don’t want students to feel bad about having to take out a student loan because for many of our students, it’s the dream maker.”
When taking out a loan, Scott said one has to make an educated decision.
Mark Langford, senior financial aid adviser at Tech Student Financial Aid and Scholarships, said simply not knowing what one owes is a common mistake he sees.
“A lot of the mentality is ‘Just give me the money right now, and I’ll worry about paying it back later,’” he said. “We want to change that.”
If one is confused about what they owe and how to properly pay off loan, Langford said he or she should seek help from the financial aid office.
“There is a way out, and there’s always help,” he said. “When you graduate, we still want to stay connected with you and help anyway we can.”