With student loan debt in the trillions, paying for college can be its own challenge

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Visual Capitalist

The five states with the highest level of student debt are, in order: Washington D.C., Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio.

College debt is a serious problem for graduates of all ages. In 2021, student loan debt in the United States was $1.747 trillion, and around 43% of college students around the nation owe educational costs in one way or another. With all that in mind, financial aid often comes into the conversation about higher education—even with people who can afford full private school tuition.

“Many families do end up applying for financial aid,” Karna Ivory, Assistant Director of College Counseling, said. “Maybe more than one would think at a place like SPA. And a lot of people are in a position where maybe they aren’t going to qualify for financial aid, but that also doesn’t mean they can afford paying the full price for college.”

According to Experian, overall consumer debt rose $800 billion from 2019 to 2020 alone.”

The recession that began in 2020 has not helped the debt landscape—student loans included. According to Experian, overall consumer debt rose $800 billion from 2019 to 2020 alone. Additionally, from 2020 to 2021, the nationwide student debt balance rose 8.28%.

The five states with the highest level of student debt are, in order: Washington D.C., Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio. With Minnesota at a debt level of $6280 per capita, it sits third in the nation and 16.5% above the average for debt.

In simple terms, it’s not the best time for high school graduates to become financially independent or take on large loans. And yet, there will never be a so-called “perfect time” to make the leap. So what can students (and families) do to make the transition as smooth as possible?

“There are lots of tools out there that families can use [to assess financial aid opportunities],” Ivory said.

One of the tools she highlighted is called a net price calculator.

“A family can go to any college’s website and look at their net price calculator,” Ivory said. “They put in some numbers, and they can kind of see what their financial aid package might look like from the college.”

While it is a ballpark, the calculator allows families to compare different schools’ approximate aid packages and make decisions accordingly.

“One other thing that we have for families that we really encourage is our Paying for College page on [the College Counseling website],” Ivory said.

The page includes links to outside organizations that the department has partnered with, such as Thrivent and SMARTTRACK, as well as information about college-related events at SPA and even how-to guides for financial aid application.

Although the financial world of higher education, from undergraduate to PhD, can seem frightening, Ivory assures students that they can still search for schools based on their passions.

“The most selective schools can be super generous… because they have the most resources to give,” Ivory said.

Even highly competitive (and highly expensive) schools aren’t out of reach.