Student Loans and Occupy Wall Street Protests

Over and over and over, I keep reading about the centrality of student loans to many of the Occupy Wall Street protests occurring all over the country. I understand the anger and the frustration for the graduates who were told by everyone – their families, their teachers, their friends – that college was necessary to get where they wanted to go. I agree with them that something needs to change. Our systems could definitely use a comprehensive overhaul.

But in so many respects, it’s too late for them. The loans have been taken out. In some cases, students borrowed the maximum loan amount available with no regard to what was needed. In other cases, students were attending colleges where they had to borrow private student loans in addition to federal student loans and now face even more difficulties with repayment because of that decision. Some students have been mislead by parents and financial aid officials into unwise choices. (Incidentally, there are some repayment options for federal student loans like economic hardship & unemployment deferments, and income-based repayment, that could help. If you are curious, ask your student loan servicer about what options are there to help.)

What are today’s high school students learning from these protests? Are they paying attention? Are they doing things like contributing their own money to college savings accounts? Are they looking for scholarships? Or are they planning on borrowing heavily to go to college?

There are ways to avoid this for future students.

  1. Capitalize on your high school years. Utah (among other states) has concurrent education programs that allow students to fulfill high school requirements while receiving college credits. I was lucky enough to do this while I was in school, so my Associate’s degree (earned three weeks before my high school graduation) cost me $50 plus textbooks. Not too shabby. Granted, this wasn’t a walk in the park and it meant extra work from me. Teenagers who are really concerned with a social life, or who don’t really want to do the work, won’t be able to pull this off.
  2. SAVE YOUR MONEY. I know, I know. Easier said than done. But my sister, who saved a lot of money for college, got through without taking out any student loans at all. On the other hand, I saved very little money for college, and ended up borrowing federal student loans to pay for my education.
  3. Choose your college wisely. There’s no shame in going to a community college for two years and transferring to a four-year college or university. Or in choosing to go to a public college in-state for the lower tuition cost. Think about your out of pocket costs and pick a school that has the programs you’re interested in, but that you can also reasonably afford.
  4. Look for scholarships. Part of my job is talking to students, and SO many just refuse to put in the work to apply to scholarships. Less than 6% of college students receive a private scholarship (the kind you find on or something similar). It’s not necessarily that the money isn’t out there, but students often don’t know where to look, or when they find them, they decide not to apply because it’s not easy.
  5. Budget, for crying out loud. Get used to it, and stick to a budget while you’re in college so you aren’t already way in the hole when you graduate. Way to many people don’t have a basic monthly budget that they go over regularly, and I’m including all Americans in this statement. There are organizations like the AAA Fair Credit Foundation that have experts who can help you (for free!) develop a sound financial plan.

I know it’s not a comprehensive overhaul proposal, but maybe it will help a few students out there. Do you have other suggestions? Are you out there protesting? I’d love to hear about it, either way.

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