Dr. Jeffrey Gardere: My experience and that of many of my colleagues who are all college graduates is that college loans are just a fact of life. Though it is quite annoying and can at times be onerous, it must be accepted as the cost for higher education. For some, it becomes a significant issue that weighs them down and tends to lessen their focus on success because they are so obsessed or even anxious/depressed with paying off the debt. I think the only way that one can become seriously depressed because of debt is if:
• they allow themselves to either become overwhelmed by it, or
• they have not attended to the debt and it has grown and impacted their credit ratings and financial status
Question: What do you recommend for helping them get through it? What kind of mindset do they need?
Dr. Jeffrey Gardere: There are certain things that they can do in order to cope with the reality of college loans/debt:
• Fully understand and discuss with their parents, counselors, and loan officers the reality of school loans/debt. If you want to go to college, chances are that you will pick up and carry school debt. It's a fact, it's a reality, accept it. If you want a house, you have to finance it. If you want a new car, you have to finance it. If you want a college education, you have to finance it!
• Get into the mindset that school loans do not have to be repaid until higher education is finished. Therefore the student should concentrate on school work only and not future debt.
• Students and parents should be aware that there are ways they can minimize some of that debt, primarily through work-study programs. They should also explore every option of scholarships and grants. There are many untapped resources that are available.
• A very positive way to look at college loan/debt is that it is a training ground for carrying debt in the future. But like all debt, it must be managed and it must be paid off. That's part of learning to be a responsible adult. Paying off the school loan is a great way to avoid the anxiety of carrying it. You become empowered and active; not a passive victim.
• Finally, parents should not make such big deal about college loans. The more anxious they are about it, the more anxious the kids will be.
Question: Is there a plus side to having the responsibility of paying for your own college education?
Dr. Jeffrey Gardere: Absolutely! I know of wealthy parents who will not pay for their children's college education because they want them to learn the responsibility of paying on their own for the important things they want in life. As part of this responsibility, and related to the previous question, they will learn that college loans must be factored in to the budget of living. If that means less personal or vanity items, or a few less trips to the Hamptons, so be it. We often must sacrifice for the more important things in life.
Question: What is most important for students and parents to keep in mind about a college education?
Dr. Jeffrey Gardere: I agree that the cost of college has become astronomical, however, a college education is invaluable for the following reasons:
• College is definitely a stepping-stone towards improved social class, especially for individuals who come from families where high school was the highest form of education.
• You need that college degree in order to get even the most basic jobs today.
• College for many will become the introduction to graduate education, which is also invaluable.
• College is not just about higher learning, but it also provides a real-life arena to learn and develop social skills and find one's true calling and true self.
• College is a place where one can begin forging lifelong friendships and contacts which can become invaluable in life.
• For many, college is the first and significant place where they can meet people from all over the world and learn about new cultures, new ways of thinking, new ways of living.
• Attending college and doing schoolwork is a great opportunity to begin learning self-discipline and responsibility in order to earn a living later on in life.
• College opens up a world where one can be introduced to local, regional, national, and global events.
• Simply, college is a mind-opening experience.