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College students can seek options before taking on loan debt
Avoiding burden is possible with right financial aid planning, experts says
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Student loan help

3 questions to ask yourself before taking out a student loan

• Have I tried every alternative before going into debt?
• Would I rather be a starving college student for four years or possibly a starving adult for the next 30 years?
• Have I exhausted all of my federal loan options before considering private loans?

Source: Jill Rayner, University of North Georgia director of financial aid

Where to get help

University officials recommend their financial aid offices at the top source.

www.gacollege411.org: Includes extensive scholarship lists, financial aid calculators and more.
www.gsfc.org: The Georgia State Finance Commission is the state financial aid providing agency, and its website has a tool to search for “events near me.”
fafsa.ed.gov: If you need financial aid, chances are you’re going to fill out a FAFSA. Get acquainted with the deadlines and requirements here.

When students graduate with their bachelor’s degrees, they’re likely feeling a sense of accomplishment. Yet more than two-thirds also are thousands of dollars in debt from student loans.

Last week, the White House reported that statistic after President Barack Obama visited Georgia Tech, where he announced a Student Aid Bill of Rights to help students borrow money more simply and affordably.

The president announced several proposed changes, including stricter requirements for lenders and plans for a new website where students can file complaints and provide feedback regarding their financial aid service.

College and university officials in Northeast Georgia say there are certain things students should keep in mind when seeking financial aid.

Jill Rayner, the University of North Georgia’s director of financial aid, advised families to try every alternative before taking on debt.

“Check into federal work study opportunities on campus, or find out if your current employer has a tuition reimbursement or scholarship program for its employees,” Rayner said.

Taking advantage of dual enrollment programs during high school can also help lower overall costs in college as students have fewer credits to complete once they get on campus.

Rayner said the financial aid office is an important resource for students.

An official at Brenau University agreed.

“The biggest thing I try to stress is communication, or paying attention to all the information being sent by the colleges students are applying to,” said Pam Barrett, associate vice president and director of financial aid at Brenau. “The college’s financial aid office is their best source of information on the financial aid process.”

Barrett advised students and parents to not be afraid to follow up with financial aid officials.

“If they don’t ask questions when they have questions, things kind of sometimes get lost in the shuffle,” she said.

Following up can ensure paperwork was filed and received properly, she said. Once the recruitment period begins, families should stay keenly aware of all the information they receive.

Rayner encouraged students to pursue federal loans before considering private loans. Federal loans, she said, typically have more flexible repayment options.

Parents can also look into options including the Parent PLUS Loan, an unsubsidized loan for the parents of dependent students.

Parents should also take the time to do research and attend any financial aid events, Barrett said.

“We do a lot of recruiting events where I speak to parents and students,” she said. “We try to do as much as possible in the way of informing students about what is expected by colleges in general in the way of applying for financial aid — how they can best, and in more of a timely manner, approach that process and what they can expect.”

Undergraduate students who began as freshmen at Brenau and graduated in the 2012-2013 academic year left with an average student debt of $31,673, according to data reported by the university.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 97 percent of these undergraduate Brenau students in the same year received some kind of student financial aid, and 75 percent of students received federal aid.

The debt is in line with what students incur at other private, four-year institutions in Georgia .

Debt load isn’t as much of a problem for most UNG students, as the average student debt at graduation is less than $12,000, according to Rayner. Still, 84 percent of undergraduate students who began at the university as freshmen received some kind of student financial aid in the 2012-2013 year. Only 39 percent of these students received federal aid.

The national average student debt is about $28,400, and the Georgia average is $24,517.

Rayner said an important question for students to ask themselves is: “Would I rather be a starving college student for four years or possibly a starving adult for the next 30 years after graduation?”

She advised people to know the total amount they will owe, including interest.

“It’s easy to say, ‘I’ll borrow this money now and just pay it back later,’” she said. “But when you graduate and want a house, car or family, it is hard to afford those expenses and a hefty student loan payment every month.”

 

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