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I'm a student at Drexel University. Drexel is a notoriously expensive school, and I pay roughly $35,000/yr in tuition, after awards. What's more, it is a five-year school. Currently, I'm in my fourth year. Throughout the year, I work full time six months, then go to classes for six months. Currently, I am making $28/hr, and I work until March, after which I will be attending classes full time until the following summer (2020). By this March, when I go back to classes, I'm projecting to have saved approximately $11.2k that will go towards housing, food, and tuition for the 5 upcoming terms (quarter terms).

As of today, I have 9 students loans:

  • American Education Services, $29,652.52 (9.3%)
  • Sallie Mae, $29,063.18 (9.3%)
  • Sallie Mae, $24,062.80 (9.875%)
  • Gov't Subsidized Loans (3) totaling $11,750
  • Gov't Unsubsidized Loans (3) totaling $5,348

The total is a terrifying $94,286.35. What's more, is I have five terms left, as previously stated, each of which will be $7,979 in tuition. As well, I have rent to pay, which will be $517/mo until September when my lease ends. After that is still open-ended housing-wise.

Given the above, in order to pay for the rest of my schooling, I will need to take another $40,000 in loans, and I'm expecting to find work during classes to pay for living expenses etc. This brings my total debt to a staggering $134,181.35.

Needless to say, I'm nervous. However I have two things going for me:

  1. I have not yet graduated, have realized the issue, and have over a year to prepare for a payment plan
  2. I'm an electrical engineering major, specializing in analog, RF, and microwave design, which is a field in need of talent, and one which I already have several years of experience with. It's not unreasonable to expect a yearly income >$70,000 starting salary (my co-op job now pays about $60,000/yr before taxes).

I live fairly frugally. I'm 22 years old. I recently started using a credit card to build better credit, and always pay my balance in full. I spend approximately $750/mo in variable expenses (that is, in addition to my fixed spending like car insurance, rent, and car payments). Of the $750/mo, $370/mo is food, about $100/mo is utilities. I pay for my own health insurance ($2200/yr), and receive little to no assistance from family except for when a family member helped me buy a used car for my commute after my previous car was totaled (crushed by a tree, would you believe it). I go to the dentist every 6mo and typically pay the bill in full, about $700. I wear contacts, about $150/3mo. In all, even my current lifestyle requires ~$1,800/mo, in addition to those less frequent payments.

Depending on my work location and commuting options, I don't expect to pay more than $900/mo for rent. If I can, I typically go with the absolute cheapest apartment, or share e.g. a single bedroom and split the rent (my current situation). I've considered living out of my car, with a gym membership, or living at home.

With such an immense amount of debt, I do not know how to prepare for after my education ends. This is all not to mention my desire for graduate education, specifically I am interested in research and getting my PhD, which of course doesn't fit with the financial narrative above. I hope this is not too open ended, I know that questions should be answerable. But what should I be expecting? How much trouble am I in? And perhaps central to my post:

What advice or resources would you recommend for handling finances like these going forwards?

I also hope that the question finds enough generality to be useful to others besides me, as I can't be the only one who is in such a situation.

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    What do you need done every year at the dentist for $1,400? – Azor Ahai Feb 5 at 19:56
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    3 questions: 1. Why are you paying so much for insurance if it does not at least partially cover your dental and optometry bills? 2. Why aren't you seeking a better deal on contact lenses or changing over to glasses? I spend about $150 every year on contacts, but my insurance brings that down to about $20. 3. What are you spending $280 on every month in your variable expenses? Either you are going to a movie every day, or you are shopping far too much. You claim to be living frugally, but I see some low hanging fruit to reduce your monthly expenses. – BlackThorn Feb 5 at 23:47
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    @CretaZigman Yes, $700 for a routine cleaning is very high; I doubt that should be more than $200. – chepner Feb 6 at 4:31
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    Can't you find loans with lower interest rates? 9% is insane. EU citizen here - we currently pay 1% on our loans (Denmark). – Thorst Feb 6 at 8:47
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    @Thorst That's true for EU, but in the US interest rates on even student loans are much higher, especially for larger amounts. There's 1.3T of unpaid debt, and the student loan companies sometimes never get paid, hence higher interest rates... – Anoplexian Feb 6 at 15:27

11 Answers 11

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But what should I be expecting? How much trouble am I in?

If you graduated with $134,181 in loans at a rate of 9.3% you'd expect a repayment amount of $1,722/month for 10 years. If you make $70,000/year you'd have ~$2,617 after your loan payments each month, and if the $1,800 you mention is sustainable during loan repayment then you'd have an excess $817 each month.

As for trouble, one common mistake that many people make after landing a job after school is increasing their cost of living, they want a nicer car/apartment/furniture and spend more going out for food/drinks. The best thing you can do is keep in mind that every $1 you spend on something other than debt costs you an extra 9.3% compounding month after month.

What advice or resources would you recommend for handling finances like these going forwards?

I suggest focusing on living frugally, save up a small emergency fund (maybe just 1-2 months expenses) with your excess each month and after that start applying all extra towards the loans. Don't forego company 401k match, but I would skip other investments during aggressive repayment.

A proper written/electronic budget helps a lot of people, I recommend some form of a zero-based budget which is characterized by every dollar being given a purpose. Not just tracking spending like with Mint, but proactively deciding how each dollar will be spent as best as possible.

Extra income from a side job would be great and could really speed up the repayment, again, use the 9.3% interest as motivation to do whatever is necessary. An extra $800/month shaves ~50 months off your repayment period. Also, as your pay increases over time you can put even more towards these loans each month. This is also a great mindset to have with retirement saving, if you increase your retirement contributions with each pay-raise rather than increasing your cost of living you can speed up your retirement saving very quickly.

Also a note about repayment, while I mentioned the standard repayment amount as if you had one loan at 9.3% in actuality you have multiple loans at different rates. If you can consolidate to a lower rate, that could be fantastic, if not I suggest you make minimum payments on all loans, then any extra you can afford will go to the loan with the highest interest rate. Some people advocate starting with the smallest balance, but that isn't the most efficient (at least mathematically, the psychological benefit for some can make it preferable).

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    A budget is one of your most powerful weapons at this point. It's the best way to make sure that you keep your living expenses in check. Make your budget before you accept a job, though. Many EE jobs are located in high cost-of-living areas, so you'll want to do the math and verify whether you're better off (for example) taking a higher-paying job in San Francisco or a slightly lower-paying job in Houston. – bta Feb 5 at 22:43
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    @bta maybe submit this comment as (the makings of) an answer – jez Feb 6 at 16:28
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    +1 for concentrating on helping the OP now, instead of focusing on past mistakes. – MlleMei Feb 7 at 15:31
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    @MartinSchröder It would certainly be easier financially to start a family after repaying this debt, but that doesn't mean OP couldn't make things work sooner. – Hart CO Feb 11 at 15:15
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    It's also worth mentioning that as soon as one of these loans is paid off, that frees up monthly cash flow, which can be re-allocated to the next loan, paying it off twice as fast, which frees up more cash for the next loan, which you can pay off 3x as fast. See the debt snowball method. – Brandon Feb 11 at 15:16
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IMHO, you made a very poor choice with school selection. When we make poor choices as adults we have to write checks to solve those problems. Yours is one that will cost you well over 140K, and quite possibly more.

For the price of your last year, you could have attended a state university for 4 years and made a very similar salary. When one does not have money that is the best course of action. Keep schooling costs to a minimum. This would be quite a different story if you were graduating with 25K in debt.

What you did correctly is that you picked a good major. Some attend a similar school, also with no resources or support, and obtain a degree that qualifies them to work at a restaurant like Chipotle. Good work on picking a major with a good income level.

So what do you do now? IMHO you should treat your life like it is on fire. Work like crazy (like deliver pizzas in your off time), and spend nothing. Every extra cent goes to student loans. Without an extra job, you can probably make them disappear in less than 4 years. This means keeping very basic living expenses until your loans are gone.

The car is also likely a poor choice. Despite what "Madison avenue" tells us cars should be purchased with cash. It may be best to get rid of the car in lieu of transportation that does not require a car payment.

Its tough, but your future self will thank you. Also please don't think about buying a home until this mess is cleaned up.

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    +1 for pointing out that expensive private schools aren't necessarily any better than state universities. The common misconception is that private schools are a good investment because they lead to better-paying opportunities later, when in reality it is a gamble that, even when it pays off, can take years or even decades before you can truly reap the rewards. – Abion47 Feb 5 at 22:41
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    @SamGallagher fwiw, "the best school you can get into" is not automatically the best choice. Almost always, the cheapest school that you can get into, and still get the same degree, is the best choice. The big secret about university is that what school you go to actually doesn't matter much. You'll learn most skills on the job. It's a shame US high schools do not educate students about this. They always want to push students to get into the "best" school they can—always a terrible idea if the student can't afford it. – only_pro Feb 5 at 23:10
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    Sorry Pete, I can't upvote this like usual. It's not a high interest rate debt, and contributes to a good credit score. This is not hair on fire debt, even if it is a large amount, and pushing a seemingly fear-mongering message that the debt should be paid off, and NOW! Although I will agree that living frugally is a good idea while trying to pay it off quickly, I wouldn't advise spending some of what are likely the best years of a person's life just trying to pay off debt, possibly causing misery. – Anoplexian Feb 5 at 23:54
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    I think you ought to at least suggest transferring to a cheaper school, even though it is only for a year. The tuition to finish OP's degree at Drexel is not worth it, even for a year. To drive that point home, I got the same degree as OP from a small university where tuition is $2500 per semester - about 1/7 what OP is spending. I graduated debt free, paying for things with a part-time job, and had the same starting salary that OP is expecting. – BlackThorn Feb 5 at 23:55
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    @Anoplexian 9.3% isn't supposed to be high??? Left unattended, it doubles in less than 8 years. There are even worse debts but it doesn't make OP's debts good. – Eric Duminil Feb 6 at 8:06
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You've been tricked into an inappropriate lifestyle

And the student loan companies did it. Their motivation is the positively insane interest rates for loans which cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. You are their cash cow. You are doing exactly what they want.

Money is distributive. Money spent on something else is not spent on tuition, which requires more student loan. When you buy an $80 cell phone plan ($960/year) that is $960 not put toward tuition, which must necessarily be an additional $960 on the student loan at 9.3%. Would you intentionally borrow for 7 years at 9.3% to get that phone? Of course not. And yet, you are because money is distributive.

And you don't realize that. And it isn't anyone else's job to know that. It's yours. But there isn't good financial education in this country, because the finance business makes more money when people are in the dark. Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey just can't out-shout the system. More's the pity; a well-educated populace is more successful generally, and a rising economic tide floats most boats. (Not the corrupted ones).

Worse, this is "setting in" financial habits you will retain for your entire life. You feel like a victim now!? Fasten your seat belt. Many Americans live their lives in what's been called a "debt spiral". That becomes their "normal". This all flows from habits and mindset. Others with different habits/mindset are successful in the same preconditions.

Or maybe this is really worth it

In comments you made a rather compelling argument that you need these things. The "compelling" is not itself meaningful. However I do see where there's a case to be made for retaining a car when you have a hard-to-find specialty job in "car land", the suburbs of old cities that are specifically designed to be transit-hostile to keep out the riffraff. However I am not confident that you've fully mapped all the alternatives, such as carpooling with coworkers, uberpool, lyft, etc. for this part-of-year commute: as contrasted with with the oppressive, constant expenses of car ownership, which I gather you intend to bear for the 15 months you will not be working there.

I do not want you, seven years hence, still laboring under the weight of those loans and having buyer's remorse: "Did I really need all those expenses back then?* Remember, any unnecessary spending adds to the end of the student loan, and any savings subtracts from the end. It's like tax brackets: your overall tax may be 16% of your income, but your next dollar taxes at 28% and your next deduction comes off at 28%.

Anyway, you say that you do need it, and cannot spare the money to reduce student loans; so my response is "Fine. Then live your conviction. Cheerfully accept them and pay them. You have established that they are necessary, and that is that."

But for contemplation...

What college is supposed to be

College is supposed to be a desperate hardscrabble... Working a summer job, ha, try working an evening job! A pizza slice is a weekly indulgence. Movie? Ha! Netflix? And you're very busy so you don't have much time to commisserate about your lousy life. But all this is for a better life later.

Students are supposed to do scrappy things like

  • know who sells rice and beans for $10 for 3 bags instead of $4 each
  • forget cell phone, get an iPad Mini with cellular data, a $25 per 3 months data plan, Google Voice and a Bluetooth.
  • Not even getting Internet/phone/cable at home, confine surfing to the school WiFi.
  • Housemate sharing to extremes. Own apartment!? Yeah, after the student loans are paid down.
  • Work a night job. Work two.
  • Car? Laughable. Even delivery jobs or Uber can't make car ownership better than a loser's game. There's a reason pizza delivery guys drive '93 Geo Metros. Otherwise you rely on your school's provided transit pass. And you don't really have time to go places, with all the jobs.

Now along come the student loan hawkers, and they say (in essence) "You don't need to do all that jazz. You can just have us pay all your chargeable student expenses, and keep all your earned money for lifestyle." And boy, that's seductive, isn't it!!

Play to your advantages

Don't even think of quitting Drexel. It is a great school and your choice of career will let you print money later. Gosh, you're making me want to go there myself.

You go to school at the perfect-storm intersection of extreme transitability and sanely priced housing. Your school is blocks from 30th St. Station, not in freeway hell like UTexas/San Antonio. Your city is sanely priced to live in, not nosebleed expensive like Berkeley. Roommate shares right at campus are $500, and having done many roommate shares, location near your primary destination >>>> a few dollars saved rent.

So there is no conceivable reason to be needing a car once your job is done.

You can try #VanLife if you really, really are addicted to automobiles, but that sounds hard in the winter, and I think if you do an honest, searching study of all your automobile costs, I think you will find your TCO for the automobile is larger than the cost of modest housemate-share + transit. Which means the automobile is stupid. You definitely need to cut car or housing, though.

Cut it

You just need to be merciless about expenses like that. That apartment, I don't know where it is, maybe you chose a location that requires a car, but if so you gotta break that lease (do the effort of listing and showing, the landlord will probably let you out at negligible cost, mine did).

You need to murder that living expense down to about $800/month, notably by killing the car, unless you want to drive Uber at night, but that's a net lose unless you have another compelling reason to have a car. You should be getting over $4000/mo. from the engineering job and basically every dollar of that should be saved up for your 15 month haul. Also, you will need a night job.

From there, it's school, job, and rice/beans. Sucks, but that's what school is.

Well, that's what personal responsibility is. The loan hawkers would much prefer you do the other thing, in which case you will be their slave. That is literally the plot of Pinnochio, by the way, "Pleasure Mountain" being the lifestyle to which you have become accustomed.

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    This is a little bit cynical. I think you're getting excited at tearing down the naivete of our youth, or something. However, some points of note: 1. I do pay $500/mo in rent, by sharing a 1 bedroom apt with a roommate. 2. I have done three rounds of extensive job searches in my area, and have had dozens of interviews, and none of them were in the Philadelphia area. In the city, there aren't many (if any) companies doing electronics design work, RF, microwave, etc. If there are, they pay well below competitive rates. It's suburbs, either drive or train, and in my case I have to drive. – CretaZigman Feb 6 at 0:41
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    The cost of a car was worth it, because I needed it. The alternative was taking a train at 5:50am for 1.5 hrs, then walking more than a mile, every day in the winter. The train isn't even competitively priced, there's no reason to think that it's a better choice. This is my life, the best years, yadda yadda, and eating healthy and living right will have far larger impacts on my life than eating ramen and saving $100/mo on food, and not sleeping to work two jobs between my hour commutes to/from work. If I'm on Pleasure Mountain, nobody told me. I still get barely get by. – CretaZigman Feb 6 at 0:50
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    Sorry if I'm getting defensive about all this, it is my life choices after all! I am considering more lifestyle changes, taking all of everyone's advice into account. – CretaZigman Feb 6 at 1:00
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    Not at all, actually I was writing the word "defense" because you have argued a very good defense there. By that reasoning, then, the student loans are earnestly worth it because the other options are not as good, and you should carry on and give them not another thought. – Harper Feb 6 at 1:01
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    Once you finish your last co-op assignment in March, you are on campus for 5 straight terms of classes (been there, done that). Reconsider whether you need to keep the car over that time. – chepner Feb 6 at 4:43
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It's a shame you didn't consider the overall cost of your education before borrowing $100k. But, what's done is done, and at least you are becoming aware of the problem and looking for ways to solve it.

Unfortunately, there's not a magic bullet to solve the debt you already have, but there might be options to stop the bleeding or even reduce it going forward:

  • Find scholarships/grants. Apply for every scholarship you can, even if you don't think you qualify on the surface.
  • Get part-time jobs while you're in school. If you can get enough work to stop borrowing money, you'll at least stop compounding the problem. Do ride sharing. Deliver pizzas. Tutor undergrads. Work for the university. You're going to have to work like mad to get it paid down, so you might as well get used to it now.
  • Slow down your schooling. Every dollar you borrow now will take years to pay off (because you'll pay off the current debt first), potentially doubling or tripling the amount that you pay back once interest is accounted for. So even if slowing down your education results in delaying your career search, you might be better off in the long run.
  • Get roommates. Share an apartment with a friend to reduce the amount of rent you pay.
  • Look for cheaper health insurance. Is there a high-deductible plan that you can use? With that you can also contribute to an HSA that will reduce your tax burden and save for future medical bills.
  • Switch schools. This one might be drastic, but school choice does not make as big a difference once you get a few years of experience under your belt.

Once you graduate, continue to live like you're broke (because you are). Don't buy a new car, a fancy house, etc. just because you make $70k a yer. Continue to live like a broke college student and you can have that debt paid off in a matter of 3-4 years.

Don't even consider graduate schooling unless you can pay for it in cash. You already realize that borrowing for school was a mistake - why make the same mistake twice?

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    I think your first three points here are wrong and the last one likely isn't probable either. 1) The time you spend applying for scholarships is gambling. You should consider the payout of those scholarships vs the odds--many of those scholarships, if applied to inefficiently, will have a lower expected return than simply working part time at a restaurant. – Mars Feb 6 at 2:25
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    2) If you have time for a low-pay parttime job, you should probably spend that time studying instead. Graduate faster, then spend that time you would have spent at a $10 an hour job making $40 an hour. – Mars Feb 6 at 2:26
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    3) The longer he spends in schooling, the longer he is working at a less efficient payrate. The only reason to go slower would be if the expected cost of interest on those loans exceeds the difference in salary he would get after graduating, and if thats the case, why bother graduating at all? – Mars Feb 6 at 2:28
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    Drexel operates on a quarter system. The OP really does have 5 terms left, and if the curriculum is anything like when I attended in the 90s, the last 3 involve sequences of classes that simply can't be taken in parallel. Graduating faster likely isn't an option. – chepner Feb 6 at 4:36
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    If graduating faster isn't an option, then the low-pay part-time job may be better than studying. However, I think spending that time reaching out to companies and possibly finding a better job before graduating. It may even be possible to work at that company part-time before graduating, in which case the pay may be substantially better! – Mars Feb 6 at 4:42
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Very helpful answers above, but want to add one more option:

After graduating, go to where the money is. (as long as the increased cost of living doesn't negate the pay increase)

You said 70k salary, which isn't bad in most parts of the country. However, seeing as you also have experience, you can most likely get a significantly higher salary by moving to a tech center like silicon valley. Look around on Glassdoor to see if you can't find better opportunities.

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    I highly agree with that. The salary difference > the cost of living difference, and even the south bay employers have transit access. – Harper Feb 6 at 7:31
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    I disagree with this. Given a place like San Jose, CA, and a place like Philadelphia, the cost of living ratio is about 1.5 - 1.7, but the salary ratio is less than 1.2 (sources: calculators at bankrate.com, salary.com, money.cnn.com). Heck, the housing cost ratio alone is at least 2.5. – shoover Feb 6 at 17:13
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    Silicon Valley is a horrible place to live if you want to pay down debt, as the cost of living is notorious for being insanely high there. Seattle isn't much better. If you want a decent tech job in an affordable area, right now your best bet is probably the Provo, Utah area. (The Google Fiber folks picked it as one of their very first places to set up shop for a reason!) – Mason Wheeler Feb 6 at 17:17
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    @MasonWheeler yes, for comparables. You don't get comparable. You get year round good weather and culture, and get to be in the crucible. Tradeoff is more modest home and no car if you're smart. Right out of college you do a housemate share with like minded techies right next to a Caltrain station, and bank your shekels like the Gringotts goblins. – Harper Feb 6 at 20:42
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    Thanks for the comments. I added a little bit to the answer. Still, I think working in a place like San Jose will at most increase your rent by what, 500 a month if you're living somewhere dirt-cheap/with roommates. Maybe less. So thats +6k a year in expenses, but if the salary increase is 10-20k, you're still making a huge profit. – Mars Feb 7 at 0:56
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I wouldn't necessarily describe your student lifestyle as "frugal" relative to student standards. When I was in school I payed my living expenses with summer jobs that payed around $10/hr and semester jobs working 15 - 20 hours a week at around $8/hr.

I spent less than $100/month on food (eating PBJ sandwiches and Lentils and rice, sometimes I got by on $50) and $100/month on rent (5 guys splitting an apartment), plus somewhere around $40/month on utilities. I rode a $200 moped that didn't require insurance and got 100 miles/gal (although I did have a car that my parents covered the insurance for). I never went to the doctor or dentist. My only unnecessary expense was going on hiking and camping trips that I was way underprepared for.

Be more frugal, have more fun.

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You have not thrown away $135,000. You’ve financed the improvement of a valuable income producing asset - yourself. You may have bought that opportunity at a dearer price than some, but I don’t think that changes the essential calculus:

First, do everything possible to take advantage of the improvement opportunity you’ve purchased. Second, do everything possible to realize the gains on that improvement. Third, constrain expenses, and treat paying down your loans as an investment.

Maximize your upside potential, rather than minimize your downside risk. You’ve placed an enormous and irrevocable bet on yourself, so do everything you can to make it pay off, rather than just try to pay off the debt.

In School

Simply, you’ve got to kill it. Excel in your courses, talk to your professors. Do work not to the standards of your class, but to the standards of your target industry, so you can use (or refer) to it in interviews.

Take advantage of all the resources available to you while you’re a student. Leverage job fairs, internal postings, professors’ industry connections, friends’ industry relationships, etc. This doesn’t have to be explicit job hunting, it’s totally fair to talk to people just in order to get the lay of the industry, insight into roles/companies, etc.

This should go without saying, but use your time in your co-op placement to connect with people at the company, and maintain those connections after you leave.

Do anything you can only do while associated with the university. I’m not intimately familiar with the field you’re pursing, but there may be opportunities to do research with a professor, assist in a lab, do work in your field outside of class e.g. clubs that participate in engineering competitions.

Do what you can, through your school and independently to learn the tools and tricks of your field as they’re done in practice, not just in academia. It sounds like you’re already doing this via co-op placements, but doing more can’t hurt, especially on your own initiative.

See if there is a personal or general finance class you can audit. A better understanding of loans, interest, amortization, ... will empower you to make informed choices about managing your debt in the future.

Post-School

Seek out opportunities at work to learn, and take on projects. Look for opportunities to grow. Understand the growth path of your initial role, and where you stand to be in 3 or 5 years. Keep a file of your work, and be prepared to advocate for yourself at reviews, or when the opportunity arrises. And should an opportunity arise, seize it!

Upside aside, you do have a relatively large bill to face. You should take all reasonable steps to minimize extraneous expenses. Your dentist and healthcare bills sound high, but will likely be covered by your employer.

Critically, do not allow your lifestyle to change dramatically when you get your first job. It’s easy to let new expenses creep in when your cash flow flips to positive, so resist the temptation. If you’re offered or able to negotiate a signing bonus, or receive a performance bonus, plow it into the debt. Every dollar you payoff is like investing in an asset that pays a guaranteed 10% return.

That said, I’d limit ‘reasonable steps’ to those that don’t impact your ability to to keep and excel at your job. Don’t work nights somewhere and show up sleep-deprived. Don’t live so far you’re constantly late. Don’t live in your car, unless you can maintain a perfect facade of not living in your car.

Make and stick to a budget for monthly / annual expenses. Additionally, make a 3 and 5 year projection of your budget, under conservative and optimistic scenarios for income growth. Incorporate interest on the loan, tax scenarios, expense scenarios, everything you can fit on a spreadsheet. This will help you see when you should expect to have the debt paid off, and prepare you for contributing more of your income as it increases.

Rely on your projections to assess where you are in paying the loans. If you (not the internet) are uncomfortable with how long it will take to pay, or the amount of interest you’ll pay, consider expanding your definition of ‘reasonable steps’ above. The most extreme steps (e.g. living from a car) are easiest when you’re young, so consider early if you

Graduate Education

If you’re interested in pursuing a graduate degree to advance a career in industry, I’d recommend looking at employers that offer partial or full support for graduate school, and asking about it as part your interview process.

If you’re looking to pursue academic research and career, other venues might be able to provide more targeted advice. Your loans might remain in forbearance while pursing a doctorate, but the interest will continue to accrue, and the sums at the end may be truly eye-watering.

Note also that you should probably only pursue a PhD if you’re interested in committing to academia (and the concomitant financial struggles), as the incremental gain in earnings in industry doesn’t outweigh the direct and opportunity costs in nearly all cases.

Regardless, never stop learning, even if your not enrolled in formal education. Especially in a technical field, undergrad is just the start!

  • You forgot to mention networking - create/attend study groups, etc. - The connections you can make in University may be the most advantageous throughout your career. – Wayne Werner Feb 10 at 14:16
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I wouldn't think about graduate school yet...

You have a few options to reduce your future debt....

1) Go to a different university that accepts your credits that costs less! This might be a viable way to go if it doesn't extend your degree out 2 years. Otherwise you will be missing out on the potential 70k+ salary for the extra time you spend going to another school.

2) Finish your current degree as fast as you can and keep living very frugally, figure out ways to live more frugally. Slowing down with school will just decrease your future earnings. One year extra spent in school is an extra 70k+ that you aren't getting to pay off loans and extra debt you are accumulating.

After you get a job, continue to live frugally, develop a safety net, then evaluate your financial situation and set budgets. Do NOT forget retirement, there are tax advantages and matching that you do not want to miss out on, compounding interest for yourself is something you want to get a head start on. Too many people follow the advice of get rid of all student loans ASAP, however if you neglect your retirement it could cost you more. Run the numbers and do whatever you feel comfortable with.

Then consider consolidating all your private loans (leave the federal ones alone those are low interest) into a lower interest loan, term doesn't matter look at the interest rate. (this might take some time if you don't have the credit to do it) This will allow you to much more easily evaluate your debt, without it affecting your lifestyle and pay less money in the long run.

If consolidating/refinancing isn't an option put all the extra money towards the HIGHEST interest loan to save the most money. This is assuming that none of the debts have early payoff/weird penalties to them. (again leave the federal ones alone they aren't high interest). Again this goes against some advice that is regularly given to pay off the lowest first, run the numbers yourself... you pay less money by paying off highest interest first.

After you feel stable somewhere in this mess then start evaluating PhD

  • No, do it the other way around. Go to a school whose credits Drexel accepts. Then graduate with the Drexel degree. – nomen Feb 8 at 23:18
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    @nomen: It's about 3 years too late for that approach to help. Universities often accept external transcripts for lower class work, but the upperclass training is what distinguishes them; they'll never accept transfer credit for the capstone year. – Ben Voigt Feb 9 at 20:20
  • @BenVoigt I was in a similar situation to the OP and I was able to graduate from the better school by transferring some of the "boring" lower level requirements in to instead focus on what the school uniquely offered. The transfer occurred after my fourth year, thesis, etc. – nomen Feb 9 at 22:15
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I would advise continuing to live frugally and also say that it's good thinking to come up with a plan/budget early.

Regarding graduate school, most quality engineering programs will pay YOU a livable amount of money for the circa 5 years it takes for a PhD. You can also sometimes defer payment on your student loans while you're in grad school, though interest will still accrue.

Upon graduation, I'd find the best job I could in the cheapest place to live. Cree/Raleigh might be a good combo if you've had your fill of polar vortices.

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Most of the answers here are some form of "Pay it off ASAP!" which is exactly right. Let me add one more bit of advice.

Find people to hold you accountable

There are church/community groups that go through programs like Financial Peace University and others where you'll find several other people like you working to pay off debt and/or gain better control over their money. Paying off debt isn't fun and it isn't easy, but it's more fun and more easy when you're doing it together with others.

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Don't even think about getting in a relationship.

Relationships take a lot of time, and depending on the other person/people, also take a lot of money.

You don't have any time, or money for that. And even worse, there's a likelihood that you or your SO will desire offspring, and you don't have money for that. I got married and had kids while I was in school, and financially it was a bad idea. But then again, I should have found a part-time job that I could have worked at throughout school and just taken 2-3 extra years in college and I could have graduated without student debt. As it was, it took me 7 years to pay off at about $200/mo. (and 5.5-7.5% interest, too!)

You need to be much more aggressive with your payback, so having a relationship is probably a bad idea. If you're in one right now, I'd strongly consider how serious that relationship is. And, at the very least if children are a biological possibility I would be appropriately using condoms, as the most effective form of birth control, until you've completely paid off your student loans.

You're now an indentured servant, and if you want to have a great rest of your life, you need to live as frugally as possible, and every month reconsider if you can't cut back on even more expenses.

protected by Community Feb 7 at 11:44

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