My student loan situation is outrageous. Is this scenario fairly common?
July 13, 2012 4:18 PM   Subscribe

My student loan situation is outrageous. Is this scenario fairly common?

So I'm at about 60k in student loans at Arizona State. I went through three years of college, averaging 12 credits hours to 9 credits hours at any given semester.

I have decided that this degree is not for me and switched degrees for the first time. I only have my core classes left. I would say its roughly 60 credits more in this current degree I switched to.

And the way the classes are spread out its still gonna take 4 years to finish them all because they are sequential and only offered in certain semesters.

I feel like I've screwed myself.

Can anyone else relate to this story?

How did it turn out for you?

Also, anyone familiar with loan limits? How much money are they going to let me borrow until I graduate? I think my advisor said something about a 180 credit limit. Does that sound right?

Any advice?

Thanks all!
posted by stlboi to Education (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You simply can't afford 60k more in debt unless you are already rich (and if you were, why would you have loans?) The payment on a 120k student loan balance is at least $1000 per month, and maybe closer to $1500.

You have only two realistic options:

1. Transfer to another college where you can complete your degree faster.
2. Just finish the degree you were already working on.

Don't saddle yourself with a lifetime of debt.

If it makes you feel any better, most successful people I know aren't doing anything related to their college degree.
posted by twblalock at 4:30 PM on July 13, 2012 [12 favorites]

Yes, this is quite common. It's why I ultimately decided to graduate with the program I was in, even though I was unsure it was "really" right for me. I think it's very very very unwise to just run this way. You need to carefully assess just how important this new degree is to you, look at other universities to see if a masters' or certification in that subject wouldn't be a better fit, etc.

The loan limits are dependent on who you get them from. For undergrad the current total limit from the feds, for the Stafford program, is only $57,500. I'm quite certain you have more than just Stafford loans, though.
posted by SMPA at 4:34 PM on July 13, 2012

Are we talking about undergrad and federal loans? Are you a dependent student or independent?

For undergrad Stafford loans, there's an aggregate limit of $31,000 for dependent students, and an aggregate limit of $57,500 for independent students. No matter which status you hold, no more than $23,000 may be in subsidized loans. (Data is from the official site.) I really don't know if there are regulations on private loans that limit the amount you are able to borrow.

With all that being said, you've borrowed something like $20,000 per year for 3 years, and now you need to go for another 4 years? That's another $80,000 in loans. I can't believe any undergrad degree is worth $140,000, even if it were an undergrad degree from an Ivy, which isn't the case here.

I think you need to reconsider. Is there somewhere else you can finish this degree in maybe 1-2 more years? Or can you just slug it out in your old program and finish? Keep in mind your undergrad degree does not determine your entire career path.
posted by asciident at 4:34 PM on July 13, 2012

If you're switching to petroleum engineering, you're set--that'll pay off. Otherwise, you might consider whether you could just get some prereqs done while completing the program you're in and then do a master's degree in the other discipline. In numerous disciplines, basic courses for a master's overlap with the advanced courses for a bachelor's, and admitting someone to the master's program with just prereqs plus a bachelor's in another discipline can happen. And if that's an option for you, that would have the merit of giving you what is ostensibly a more advanced degree, plus (more importantly) an opportunity to reconsider whether you really want to be in this other field too. The worst outcome I can see here is abandoning your current program and then not liking the new field when you're a year or two into it--seriously avoid that.

Incidentally, I came close to the 180 hour limit at my undergrad institution. I didn't think it was a loan issue, though, just a bureaucratic rule that could probably be evaded by petitioning someone.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 4:36 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

At Arizona State, the minimum full-time course load is 12 hours. So you have been taking either the minimum or taking classes part-time for three years. The standard course load a student would need to graduate on-time in four years is 15 hours a semester. So you have been taking pretty light loads.

If you want to minimize your loan debt, you will need to work more each semester. This means either taking larger course loads, or working for pay part-time, if your remaining requirements mandate being a part-time student more. Usually "core classes" mean the basic classes required by every major and I don't understand why these would need to be taken sequentially.

You haven't given the specific reasons why, but switching your degree at this point sounds like it might not be a great idea.
posted by grouse at 4:43 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do not, do not, do not go more into debt than you already are for your undergraduate degree. I have close to $90,000 in student loan debt, most of it from private loans, and it has seriously hindered me post-college, and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Memail me if you want the gory, soul-destroying details.
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 4:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

If I remember correctly, after 180 credit hours, you are no longer eligible for in-state tuition, and have to pay a higher cost for each class.
posted by politikitty at 4:48 PM on July 13, 2012

As someone else struggling with student loan debt, 8 years out of college, I'm nthing finishing your degree as cheaply as possible. Don't switch now.
posted by Fig at 4:49 PM on July 13, 2012

60k seems high for three years at a state school, but no, your situation is unfortunately common.

What degree are you looking at switching into, and the kinds of loans that you have will make a big difference to your options. Some fields do have programs that offer loan forgiveness (ex. PSFL for certain public service jobs.) Do any employers in your target occupation offer co-op programs? In some cases they might also provide financial assistance, which would at least reduce the amount you need in loans to complete your education. Are there any nearby schools where you could take classes when they're not being offered at yours?
posted by kagredon at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2012

This is a really bad idea. Finish your BA/BS as soon as you can. If you're not in a STEM field, realistically your bachelor's will be highly interchangeable with any other. If you're looking to change into a STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math), take a couple of semesters with just 6 credit hours while working part-time and pay as you go. Then if you really like it, consider the MA path as suggested above.

There is basically no undergraduate degree outside of maybe Harvard, Yale, etc. worth the kind of debt you're getting into.
posted by skewed at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

I see from your earlier questions that you were using the GI Bill to pay for some of your education. If you're still using the GI Bill, perhaps you should speak to someone that has experience with that program - a veteran's office on campus or someone in financial aid?

Regarding bad-and-worsening situations in general: when you find yourself in a hole, STOP DIGGING. Even just for a year. Stop for a year and reevaluate.
posted by Elly Vortex at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2012

Finish the degree program you were in. My cousin took 10 years and several degree changes to finally become a pharmacist - with 300k in debt. Yes. Three HUNDRED thousand in debt. It hangs heavy on him and he regrets it. Wishes he really had become a high school science teacher.

No more debt.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:11 PM on July 13, 2012

Absolutely do not sign on for another 60k in debt, unless you're planning on going into a highly paid STEM career. 120k for a college degree from a non-Ivy school is ridiculous, and is not going to be worth it. Grit your teeth and finish the degree you're on, because frankly speaking, I don't think any amount of misery you will feel in the remaining semesters of your current degree are worth shackling yourself with twice the debt. This debt will have a serious impact on the rest of your life. Also, as someone above noted, any humanities/social science degree is more or less interchangeable on the job market.

For comparison, I graduated in 2010 with a humanities degree from one of the top public universities in the nation, and am about 65k in debt. I can comfortably make my monthly payments, thanks to IBR and because I have a decent-paying office job for my age and experience level. Even still, my student debt is basically an anchor I will be dragging behind me until it is paid off: no long vacations, not much of a savings cushion, and precious little wiggle room in my budget for the foreseeable future. Doubling that amount of debt and my monthly payments would be frankly impossible.

Take 15 credits a semester if you have to and work part time, but bust your ass and get out with as little debt as possible. You cannot afford another $60k and four years in school.
posted by yasaman at 5:57 PM on July 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

From your previous questions, it sounds like you've switched from a BS in Applied Computing to graphic design - is that the change you are talking about here? What happened to the GI bill, the new one didn't turn out to be that great?

$60,000 in debt and graduating as a graphic designer sounds pretty terrible. Even more in debt sounds even more terrible. How long would it take you to graduate in your original program? If you must take your new program, 60 credits in 4 years sounds like barely being enrolled - you should be able to work almost full-time hours alongside that, and at the very least avoid taking out more loans. And if you are enrolling at less than half-time levels, your existing loans may come due.
posted by jacalata at 6:37 PM on July 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have to start thinking hard and in detail about your ability to repay whatever amount they eventually let you borrow in (nondischargeable) loans. This seems like a terrible idea, absent information you aren't sharing here.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:31 PM on July 13, 2012

I'd highly recommend graduating in your current program -- you've only got a year left -- and using those semester to maybe take some classes in your new desired major, and then figure out how you can jump to your career of choice after graduation.
posted by shivohum at 8:05 PM on July 13, 2012

I'm switching from Applied Computing to their Industrial Design program.

I've always been passionate about design but thought a more technical degree would earn more $$$ in the real world, but after taking it for 3 years, it's just not for me.

Design is where my heart is and I wish I made a different decision back then. I think I'm going to go ahead and pursue it. It is going to take another 4 years from today, roughly 60 credit hours.

My GI BIll has run out. I do work for a large retail company that offers assistance for full time employees so maybe I'll try to grab a full time spot soon.
posted by stlboi at 8:23 PM on July 13, 2012

I'm switching from Applied Computing to their Industrial Design program

Go read any Metafilter thread on degrees. Pay particular attention to threads where people explain that undergraduates *unknowingly* went into extreme debt to get degrees in fields where they cannot justify the debt.

Then note that you are *knowingly* doing so. The rest should follow.
posted by rr at 8:28 PM on July 13, 2012 [9 favorites]

Design is where my heart is and I wish I made a different decision back then. I think I'm going to go ahead and pursue it. It is going to take another 4 years from today, roughly 60 credit hours.

This is a bad idea my friend. Please just graduate with the degree your in (it sounds pretty practical), and focus on the design in your personal time. I'm sure there is a way to pursue your passion without crippling yourself with additional debt.
posted by Think_Long at 9:45 PM on July 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Please seriously consider how you are going to pay ~$120k in loans back. How much will your monthly payments be? How much will you need to make to meet your monthly payments and still have enough to live on? What kind of career can you expect, best case scenario? What kind of career can you expect, worst case scenario? If you are going to be a part-time student, which at 60 credits over 4 years you may be, your current loans may come due while you are still enrolled. These are things you absolutely need to think about before you bury yourself in debt you have no chance of repaying. Remember, these are nondischargeable loans.

If your company offers enough assistance to bring your debt burden down to, say, 80k total, then maybe go ahead. But consider that your company's tuition assistance is likely predicated on certain conditions: maintaining full time employment (not guaranteed), maintaining a certain number of credit hours (potentially difficult while working full time), staying with that company for a certain period of time after you get your degree (do you want to stay at this company 4+ years?), or a dollar and/or time limit on that assistance.

Listen, I wasn't given enough education on the kind of debt I was putting myself into. While I wouldn't change my educational choices even given the chance, because my degree has opened a lot of doors for me based on its prestige alone, I definitely did not understand the magnitude of the financial decisions I was making at 18. I'm guessing you're older. Please, please take a good hard look at the numbers and the facts regarding your loans and the median salary for your new degree versus your old one. Again, student loans are nondischargeable. Short of serious disability, or a change in the current laws, you cannot discharge these loans.
posted by yasaman at 10:10 PM on July 13, 2012

When I was in grad school, I worked with a guy who got his BA in History and switched to a PhD in Biophysics. I mention this only because if he can go from non-technical, non-CS based studies to highly technical hard sciences, you can do the reverse.

Follow grouse's advice and take a heavier load if you can. Make friends with professors (go to office hours). ASU surely has undergraduate research courses, so for your final year ask the prof.'s you're friends with to work with you on a research course combining CS and your interest in design. Out of this, you (a) finish your technical degree, (b) get to relate your work to design in some way, and (c) get a kick-ass letter from your prof.

As an aside, I've met a few people at various universities who are important science people partially because they know how to generate gorgeous graphics, and can tell a full story using only one figure. That can be you one day.
posted by bessel functions seem unnecessarily complicated at 10:32 PM on July 13, 2012

You know how architecture students are viewed by a lot of people in other majors as hard-core, crazy-hours dedicated students? I was one of those (at ASU!), and we knew one other major that was even more competitive. You just signed up for it.

Without knowing anything about your talents or work ethic, there's a statistically solid chance that you will wash out of the ID program before graduating, and end up having to do something else anyway. Would it still be worth another 60k in loans?

You would have a hard time getting into a design job with an unrelated degree, no portfolio and no experience, but on the other hand, you'll have a hard time paying for rent and ramen if you end up with 120K in debt and only a design bachelor's to show for it. You need to find a different way to achieve your dream.
posted by Chris4d at 11:47 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Design is where my heart is and I wish I made a different decision back then.

In you switch majors and then rack up $120,000 in debt, in a few years you're going to be wishing you had made a different decision today.
posted by grouse at 11:55 PM on July 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Finish the current degree, live at home, no partying, no hot babes, start working, pre-pay and pay off the debt as much and as soon as possible.

The time for making decisions about what does young teen Joe want to do when he grows up was way over when you signed up for those huge loans and the initial major. Loans are essentially a pre-payment on the success of your chosen direction with interest. Success comes in many different ways for all sorts of degrees for now a average young man Joe.

Let's make sure you succeed before you do anything in dreamland.
posted by Bodrik at 1:01 AM on July 14, 2012

Since you're a programmer, I suggest writing a little script to calculate the costs of your options. Figure in things such as the following:

- Interest already accumulating on any unsubsidized loans
- The cost of not earning a programmer's salary for 2-3 years, relative to your current wages
- The cost of not getting raises on the programmer's salary for 2-3 years
- The difference in salary for an industrial designer vs. a programmer (I haven't checked it, but the issue of raises for 2-3 years impacts a comparison of starting salaries)
- Interest accumulating on a larger principle when you graduate in 4 years
- And of course what it takes to pay off the principle, whether small or large

You should be able to arrive at a fairly concrete number for each option showing what you'll owe each year and how much your monthly payments would be assuming a 30 year repayment plan. It probably won't take more than an hour to write, and you'll know very well what you're getting into. It'll be interesting however it comes out. Maybe folks here are wrong, and it isn't a huge deal. I doubt it, but I haven't run the numbers.

One serious issue that a lot of people have with student loan debt is not being able to save up money for down payment on a house to lower the net costs of their housing. But you may be able to avoid that problem with a VA home loan. That is to say, the straight financial costs of incurring more loans are still there, but the risks of pushing your budget may not be as bad as they would be for others.

Anyway, when you have a number showing that industrial design costs X% more than programming, ask yourself if you'll really enjoy it X% more. I have a suspicion industrial design is still basically just work where you go to meetings and get requirements and have conflicts and problems and muddle through solving them while being vexed with the people around you. But maybe X% isn't large, and maybe you love it that much.

Besides, you almost certainly have flexibility in other spheres of life to make up for any educational decisions. You'll think I'm teasing, but IMO, it's perfectly reasonable to set your sights not only on having a good life partner but on having a good life partner with good financial prospects. And you might choose to skip having kids. If strategies like that work out, then whatever you choose with respect to your major will be fine.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:15 AM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think you hear the people here telling you to minimize the risk, to double check on everything and only make informed decisions.

Concerning this bit:
"And the way the classes are spread out its still gonna take 4 years to finish them all because they are sequential and only offered in certain semesters."

Do you have to be enrolled and paying for 4 years straight or can you take a lot of classes in 1 semester, then take off one semester or two (because you say certain necessary classes are not offered in those semesters) and then go back to school for the semesters where your classes are offered?

Not sure how that works with the loan or your school - so read the fine print!
But it sure would cut down on your overall cost/debt.
You say you are working, so you could work full-time in those semesters you take off and go back to part time while you take classes. Seriously, do not kid yourself - working full-time for money while working full-time on education is hardly feasible.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:39 AM on July 14, 2012

I just want to point out that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in this thread has said that changing majors is a bad idea at this point for lots of different reasons, but you have updated the thread to say, Yeah, I think I'm going to go ahead and do it anyway.
posted by CathyG at 8:24 AM on July 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Junior designer level jobs (which is what the majority of designers start out at, unless you are very talented, in which case you might be able to land a mid-level job) pay around $30k, sometimes less, sometimes more. That's something you should think about against the fact that you'll be racking up nearly $150K in student loans.
posted by violetk at 10:42 AM on July 14, 2012

Junior designer level jobs (which is what the majority of designers start out at, unless you are very talented, in which case you might be able to land a mid-level job) pay around $30k, sometimes less, sometimes more. That's something you should think about against the fact that you'll be racking up nearly $150K in student loans.

That's $2,500/month. If you have a $1,500/month loan payment, after paying taxes, you will be taking home $870/month. All your expenses will have to come out of that—rent, insurance, food, transportation, entertainment. Does this make sense?
posted by grouse at 12:18 PM on July 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your current level of debt would be significant even if you had already completed your degree. I would strongly suggest you max out your course load and finish the Applied Computing degree ASAP. If you have any holes at all in your schedule after getting in all the necessary classes, fill them up with design courses. Get a job, pay down your debt, take more design classes on the side and build your portfolio. Having a computing background + design will make you an interesting design job applicant.

Sinking another $60k in debt and four years of life into an extremely competitive career field sounds really, really crazy to me. I get that spending more time studying something less-than-thrilling isn't a pleasant thought, but consider how less pleasant it would be to be living on the budget grouse mentions...for 10+ years. Do you have impressive industry connections? What's the program's graduation rate? Does ASU's design school have lots of high-level professional connections? What's their employed-in-industry percentage for recent graduates? What's the median salary of those recent graduates? Those are all questions you need to have answers to in order to make a logical decision. (It sounds like you already have your emotional decision made.)
posted by smirkette at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2012

You don't need to have a degree to become a designer. Finish your degree in applied computing, convince someone to mentor you in design (unpaid internship/volunteer to work somewhere for free/etc), building your contacts/resume/etc and go from there. You will get far far further by pursuing relationships and experience in the real world while not saddling yourself with more debt than you ever will from a college classroom. Not to mention that if you do want to be a designer, it would look better if you were able to complete things (i.e., finish your current major since you are so close, don't take 7 years for college).

Trust me.

Really, trust me.
posted by corn_bread at 3:35 PM on July 14, 2012 [4 favorites]

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