Post Academic

The Wild World of Student Loans: Before You Take the Loan

Posted in The Wild World of Student Loans by Caroline Roberts on January 31, 2011
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Image Source,Photobucket Uploader Firefox ExtensionAround this time, some of you might be receiving letters of acceptance from grad programs. If you made it in, congratulations! Pop out some cheap bubbly. Then, when you’re done imbibing, start thinking about borrowing some money so you can stay clothed and fed while pursuing your dream.

Unfortunately, the same student loans that seem like a godsend one moment can turn into concrete boots the next. You do not want to be the grad student trying to pay off ridiculous loans when some academic jobs have a starting salary of … wait for it … $28,000. These tips might keep you from feeling trapped in a Dickensian debtor’s prison:

The Big Rule: Don’t go if you aren’t paid for it … at least partially. There’s no reason to get in the way of anyone’s dream, but the school you attend should give you an incentive for working for them. They need to provide a fellowship or a TA-ship. Take moving expenses and cost of living into account as well.

More after the jump! Barney’s Loans sign in Seattle taken by Joe Mabel from Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license.

Research how student loans work. What’s a Stafford loan? What’s the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized? Visit this quick and dirty information from, and you’ll have a good idea.

Don’t take out a student loan larger than a realistic starting salary for your first year. In the case of the obnoxiously low salary above, don’t take out more than $28,000. Look up salaries in various areas on sites like and, and go with the worst-case scenario.

Do not ask anyone else to co-sign for your loan. By having a co-signer, you might get more money. If you go to Mom and Dad and ask for them to co-sign, keep in mind that you are putting them on the hook for your student loans as well. If you default, they will be as responsible as you are. Read this letter from a parent co-signer to to get a sense of the risks involved.

Take out a smaller loan if students from your grad program haven’t been getting jobs. Your future advisors will sweet-talk you and tell you everything is hunky-dory. After all, universities love that cheap grad-student labor. It behooves you to ask what the placement rate is. The lower it is, the lower the loan you need to get.

But what if you want more? Sorry to break it to you, but while you might be offered more in loans, you shouldn’t take it. You can’t get out of student loan debt through bankruptcy. It’s wrong, but it’s not changing anytime soon.

Don’t forget the interest! Yeah, that seems like a no-brainer, but the interest on your loans will go up over time, and you need to keep in mind that the final amount you pay will be more than the amount you took out in the first place. Government loans do indeed have lower interest, and as of 2010 private lenders were taken out of the equation, which made getting a student loan easier and a lot less skeevy. But you still have a loan, and you still have to pay interest on it.

3 Responses to 'The Wild World of Student Loans: Before You Take the Loan'

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  1. Victoria Wheeler said,

    I could not possibly agree with this advice more. Many friends from my undergraduate institution always ask me for advice about grad school. My top piece is always: If you’re not getting paid, don’t go. It’s simply not worth it in this economy, particularly given the unlikelihood of you getting a very good job after graduation.

    Also, student loans are a pain in the ass. I’m a newlywed grad student, and my husband are trying to pay off my undergrad loans (while the interest is still deferred) so we can start saving for a down payment on a house. If I had known as an undergrad what I know now, I wouldn’t have the amount in loans that I do.

    Point: Student loans suck; avoid them like the plague and certainly do not rely on them.

  2. recent Ph.D. said,

    I was “fully funded” and did not take out loans, but I was only spared this burden because I had financial support from my family (because “fully funded,” you know, doesn’t always mean you can live on it). In retrospect, I wonder what the consequences of not going — and instead finding work that paid me enough to support myself — would have been. Where would I be now? Now, I am working at a nonacademic position that did not even require a bachelor’s degree. I make more than I would as a full-time adjunct (barely), but I am also the most highly educated yet lowest paid employee at my organization.

    Hmmmm. If not grad school altogether, at least skip the loans.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Top Masters, Amogh M S. Amogh M S said: RT @TopMasters: How many of you are considering taking out a Student Loan for your studies? […]

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