This post was written by Callie Marshall, a communication specialist at American Student Assistance®.
I started the student loan process without any real understanding of things like, “how student loans work,” “which ones are best,” and “what am I getting myself into?” My parents were supportive of my college dreams, but they didn’t have any experience with student loans. A lot of parents don’t.
Looking back, I wish I asked for more help—from my guidance counselor and my college’s financial aid office (at any of the schools I was applying to). An admissions counselor might have been able to point me in the direction of whom to ask. Instead, I ended up with a good chunk of my student loan debt in the form of private loans.
Figuring Out My Options
Since many private loans come with fewer options than federal student loans, repaying them often requires a different strategy.
My private loans came with a single alternate payment option: a 6-month forbearance. I used up this postponement almost immediately, when I was fresh out of college and still looking for a full-time job in my field.
Every situation is different. Some of my friends had only federal loans (with way more options), some had received more in grants, scholarships, and funding—and some had received less. I learned very quickly that I needed to think about what would work for me.
Here’s What I Did
- I called my loan servicer. That’s how I found out I only had that one forbearance. I didn’t love what they told me, but I was informed—that gave me a lot more confidence in my decisions going forward.
- I moved back in with my parents. Working and saving on rent, I was able to keep up with payments, save for a car, and start an emergency fund. I also gained skills outside of my field.
- I expanded my career search to other fields. This was really hard, but it paid off! At the time, I felt like not devoting everything to finding my “dream job” as a teacher meant giving up. In reality, it allowed me to advance, pay my bills, and ultimately land in a career that has made me even happier.
- I talked to professionals (for free) and did more research. I spoke to acquaintances, call center specialists, and professionals (all of which were 100% free). I also did a lot of Web research. I learned different strategies for paying down my loans. So far, they’ve helped a lot.
Things Turned Out OK
Doing my research and focusing on my situation (my own mix of options, needs, goals, and resources) helped a lot—especially when making really tough decisions, like moving back in with my parents or considering alternate careers.
The transition from college to “the real world” is often hectic, emotional, and full of surprises. For example, I was surprised to find out I wasn’t alone. Others faced similar struggles and some even made similar decisions to mine (based also on their own situations). We were all surprised at just how much we could take on and still succeed.
How did you figure out your loan situation? Share your story in the comments.