Jon Eddie has $9,000 worth of student loans and readily admits it’s partially due to his lack of preparation.
“I’m kind of unorganized. I just kind of chuck everything into a drawer and hope it goes away,” said Eddie, a first-year student at St. Thomas University. Eddie also owes $2,200 to the university, which he said was a result of excessive drinking and spending in first semester.
He blamed his debt on a “lack of organizational skills and a general apathy for things I should care about.”
Every year, students collect more debt from student loans. A pile of money is deposited into their bank accounts in exchange for an IOU. And sometimes they forget that those IOUs have to be collected at some point.
Circumstances and bad choices will leave many in a place where they spend years paying for it. But how did it get to this point? Should students blame themselves?
The average debt of a university graduate is around $27,000, according to the Canadian Federation of Students. But this doesn’t mean that all students are in debt.
Some students manage to escape university unburdened by student loans through year-round employment, scholarships or a combination of both.
Andrea Peters can often be found in front of a computer, proofreading her professors’ papers or doing research for them. Sometimes she does translation work.
Peters works 25-30 hours a week for three employers, all while attending classes, maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average and fitting in time to exercise.
“Most of my fun time happens at the library,” said Peters. She wakes up at 4:30 a.m. most days.
“I didn’t want to take student loans. I’d rather work a lot and have a mediocre social life for four years rather than have a lot of debt when I get out.”
While Peters doesn’t drink, she said bars can be a huge contributor to debt. Freshmen like Eddie, who are away from home for the first time, are particularly prone to this.
Although she works, Peters doesn’t think unemployment should be blamed for some students’ debt.
“It’s doable, but it’s really hard. I don’t think a lot of students are ready or willing to go to that extent to not have debt. For some people it’s just too much.”
Eddie considered getting a part-time job, but ultimately decided against it.
“With how I’m dealing with the current workload, I don’t think I’d be able to deal with a part-time job on top of that,” said Eddie.
Still, working doesn’t automatically guarantee you’ll be debt free.
Ciera Taufiq is an international student from Boston. This means her tuition is a lot more than the standard $4,770. Plane trips home, health insurance and other expenditures add up too.
Still, she said it would be even more expensive for her to attend university in the United States.
Taufiq said her debt is somewhere between $26,000 and $40,000. She doesn’t have a work visa so she can only work for the university, which have a limit of 10 hours per week.
She’s thought about getting more than one job like Peters, but like Eddie, Taufiq thinks her grades would suffer. With her rapidly rising debt, she said next year she may not “have as much of an option.”
“The idea of coming out of school with over $100,000 that I owe to the government is a little frightening. I’d love to win the lottery and just pay off all my student debt. It worries me a lot.”
Taufiq is majoring in psychology and plans to go to grad school after she graduates. Her goal is to be a psychologist at an elementary school, but she worries she won’t be able to afford such a low-paying job because of her debt.
Taufiq does go to bars on the weekends, but believes it’s okay because she budgets her money.
“I feel like if my entire life was about school and if I never took that opportunity to go out and have some fun, I would go crazy.”
It seems as if it’s hard for students to accept their debt as something real. Many also have no experience with credit and its effects.
After a hard week full of papers and readings, there’s always that urge to go The Cellar, or to the iRock. And there’s always that movie coming out that you just “need” to see.
Andrea Peters hasn’t been to the mall in two months. She dumpster-dives for food and budgets everything. Her only social time is often between 8:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. every night.
But she is an exception to the rule. Most students think they couldn’t function or be happy living this way.
If there were resources to help students understand their financial situations better, it may lesson spending.
St. Thomas doesn’t have services to help students budget. STU’s employment coordinator has some resources to help people learn how to manage their debt, but that’s it.
Not only would this service allow students to know how much they could spend, but it would also help make the debt more tangible.