Student Loan Debt: How to Deal


Student loan debt may be the greatest bane of our generation. I can count on one hand the number of people in my circle of 20 and 30 somethings who don’t have student loan debt, and my husband and I are two of those people. 

“Millennials are the largest generation at over 85-90 million people in the US, and are the most educated generation in history. But with the supply of educated workers much higher than the demand for them in the workforce, it has created a perfect storm for unemployment, underemployment, and a flat-out frustrating beginning to our career. The job hunt has become the Millennial version of the Hunger Gameswithout the cameras or any interaction with Jennifer Lawrence.” – Paul Angone, author of All Groan Up.

So how do you deal?

If you are a doctor or a lawyer or something else equally lucrative, maybe you’re not too stressed about it. While your debt may seem crushing, you know you’ll have a salary (someday) that will make it surmountable. But what about the liberal artists among us? What if you have a Masters Degree in studio art, and your salary hasn’t climbed above $30,000 for the first five years after graduation?

I was an English major, so I fully support people going to school for what they’re passionate about. The world needs more creative people putting beautiful things out there. But all the beauty in the world can’t make $100,000 of student debt disappear. So what’s the next step?

1. If you’re still in school, evaluate how much more debt you were willing to take on.

I have friends who decided to get PhDs because it was easier to rack up more debt and acquire more degrees than it was to have to start making payments on their student loans. If you’ve always wanted a Doctorate—great, but if you’re getting pushed into academia for financial reasons, something is wrong with the picture. Take the time to weigh out the pros and cons of gaining more degrees with your projected future ability to pay back your debt.

I would’ve stayed in school forever if it were free, but student loans scared me so much, I happily threw in the academic towel after earning a Bachelor’s degree with high honors. Get real with yourself about how much debt you already have, and how much you realistically can continue to take on to achieve your dreams.

2. Consider a job that requires skills rather than more education.

College degrees seem to have lost the oomph they once had when it comes to guaranteeing a decent job after graduation. However, skilled trade jobs are in high demand and there are not enough workers to fill them. NPR recently covered this phenomenon: “Morgan, who is 20, is already working on a job site when he isn’t at the Pacific Northwest Ironworkers shop. He gets benefits, including a pension, from employers at the job sites where he is training. And he is earning $28.36 an hour, or more than $50,000 a year, which is almost certain to steadily increase. As for his friends from high school, ‘they’re still in college,’ he said with a wry grin. ‘Someday maybe they’ll make as much as me.”’  

The best jobs are not always the fanciest ones. Sometimes you gotta roll up your sleeves and get dirty to make that cheddar.

It’s a running joke in my family that my little brother, a fellow Millennial, has consistently made more money than me even though he didn’t get a college degree. My liberal arts degree combined with work in the nonprofit and creative sectors has always lead to much fulfillment but less-than-overwhelming paychecks. He, on the other hand, has always made great money because he’s a skilled laborer with a killer work ethic.

3. Don’t panic.

I mean, let’s be real. The zombie apocalypse is almost certainly going to happen before you have to pay all that debt back. So get on with your bad self and get that Doctorate in ancient Greek basket weaving! YOLO!