Students Budget Under Loan Pressure

Rising Student Loans Cause Students to Reevaluate Their Finances


Published: September 22, 2010

For Nick Sulicki, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’11, budgeting money means hesitating before making that unnecessary Starbucks purchase, passing up on promising unpaid internships and finding textbooks at the cheapest rates. Next spring, after graduation, Sulicki will face over $80,000 in both federal and private loans.

Nick Sulicki, FCLC ’11, will face more loans as he plans to continue his education to obtain a master’s degree in psychology. (Angie Chen/The Observer)

Sulicki recently had much of the governmental aid cut from his financial aid package. “It shocked me because my parents do not make amazing money. In fact my father’s income went up only a little while my mother has been out of work for over two years.” As of this year, Sulicki is paying almost four times the expected family contribution.

Rising student loan debts are affecting more and more undergraduate students, placing added stress to academic life. In particular, looming debts are causing Sulicki to reconsider his post-graduation options. “Unfortunately, I do not have the luxury of going straight to work after graduating,” he said.

“I want to practice psychology, but in order to do so I need to obtain a master’s in psychology,” Sulicki said. “The advantage of going to graduate school is that I can hold off paying my loans. The downside is that I will be faced with more loans. I simply see it as a struggle to achieve a dream.”

Managing a rising loan debt as an undergraduate student has taken its toll on Sulicki, who has had to pass up on federal work study. “I have a constant struggle of deciding whether or not to opt into working a job completely unrelated to my major or to take an unpaid internship and not worry about the loan,” he said. In his freshman year, Sulicki was forced to decline federal work study in order to accept a job that did not pertain to his field of studies yet paid more.

While Sulicki must be selective about his employment, other students are juggling multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. Alexa Frank, FCLC ’12, will owe at least $100,000 in loan debt after completing both undergraduate and law school. In order to save up money, she has taken up a second job in addition to her work study program.

“I’m working anywhere from 20-40 hours a week all together, while still taking classes and doing extracurricular stuff,” Frank said. Frank also finds focusing on professional aspirations frustrating. “I did an unpaid internship this summer and it was really difficult not having a source of money to live on or to save up. It’s annoying to have to turn down amazing opportunities or spend more time working than actually figuring out what I really want to do.”

Some students are also finding budgeting to be difficult and wearisome. For Frank, keeping within budget is always something that is in the back of her mind. “If I buy anything, I’m always figuring out how many hours of work it would cost me. If I do splurge and buy something, it takes me forever to get over feeling guilty.”

Although faced with intimidating loan debts, Sulicki is taking his experiences as a life lesson on budgeting money and time. “It’s hard when you want to hang out with friends, but it’s a pick-and-choose situation. I tend to go to more school-sponsored events since they are usually free,” Sulicki said. In addition to forgoing frequent trips to the movie theater, Sulicki can no longer indulge in dining out regularly, a favorite hobby of his.

Angela Van Dekker, assistant  vice president of Enrollment Services, said that high student debt is a result of many factors, including tighter credit and lower credit limits. She also attributes high debt to students borrowing more than they need to. “We see students who borrow loans and receive $4,000 to $10,000 in refunds per semester and repeat that pattern each semester. This appears to be more than they might need.”

“Students need to be realistic and look at whether they can realistically afford the school of their choice over the four years,” Van Dekker said. She advises students to keep their budgets in mind and to plan accordingly for the future.

“Students need to determine whether the field they might enter will allow them to earn sufficient funds to repay their debt.”

Enrollment Services plans to offer students financial workshops. According to Van Dekker, in the past, the department has offered students workshops on the ABCs of credit card finance, budgeting and loan repayment.

In addition, Van Dekker also offers tips to students managing a budget while repaying loans. “Recognize the impact of your decisions and look for less expensive alternatives. Think about what you need rather than what you want.”