Debt Free is NOT a Novelty

Of all the candid statements I heard about college, not one time did someone say, “You know, you can graduate from college debt free.”


It has become an accepted issue to enter college with loans and leave with debt. Once you are handed your diploma the countdown begins to your first payment. It wasn’t until my senior year that I became aware of the magnitude of my debt.


Our Financial Director called all seniors to a meeting. When we checked in we were handed a folder that contained all of our debt information and guidelines for payment. It was an educational and terrifying meeting. On top of what I owed my parents, I was looking at a $47,000 repayment process. The Financial Director went on to explain how you could pay your debt off in ten years.


“Ten years!” I thought, “I’ll be thirty-two by then, hopefully married with a family and who knows what else!” The idea of carrying this financial monkey on my back for ten years made my stomach churn. They say hindsight is 20/20 – meaning you have a better perspective of a situation when you can look back. This statement is 100 percent true for college debt.


I want you to know this right now. You. Can. Graduate. Debt. Free.


It is possible!


With a little planning and a heap of discipline, you can graduate debt free. One mistake I made was forgoing scholarships. I put minimal effort into finding and applying for scholarships. The general idea around scholarships is that they are for minorities or underprivileged students, but there are plenty out there for the middle-class college kid. I put minimal effort into finding scholarships and reaped the consequences. Once, I asked a friend who comes from a middle class, average American family how he paid for the pricey private college. His answer was short – scholarships. He had written essays for an array of scholarships and won $500 here, $1,500 there, and after a while, the winnings added up. Between his scholarships and saving his summer job money, he graduated debt free.


Does it take work? Yes.


Will it take self-control and money sense? Yes.


Is it worth it in the end? Far more priceless than you know.


That being said, not all plans work perfectly. You very well may need to take out a loan, but still be a wise borrower and do your research. You haven’t been defeated if you borrow, but be aware of the consequences and the interest rates. I took out a $10,000 loan my junior year, and by the time I graduated the interest bumped it up to $12,500. I “borrowed” that money for 2 years, and it took me 3.5 years to pay it off. Not the best return rate.


While in college, not only should your 4-year degree be a goal, but also your financial stability. Take advantage of all the resources out there, especially CUED-IN. Don’t be fooled by the lenders, banks, and counselors that tell you to borrow money in order to graduate. Do the research and fight for your financial future.


Lydia Mindling is a 2012 graduate of Sweet Briar College with a bachelor’s degree in English/Creative Writing. After graduation, she owed $47,000 to her parents and the bank. Though her daily diet was slightly better than beans and rice, she paid her debt in full by December 2015. She now can add meat to her meals and the occasional pint of Ben and Jerry’s.