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Student Debt, feasibility & plan to repay

  1. Aug 12, 2015 #1
    I'll be starting my undergrad this fall. As of now I will probably start majoring in physics. Nonetheless I expect to stay within the area of science.

    If I've done the math right I'll probably have 43K in debt. Of that 43k, 8k is federal unsubsidized loans with 4.29% interest rate, (will accumulate interests starting when I take it out), 16k is a private loan from my school, and it will not accumulate interest while I am at my undergrad school (4 years) but will begin to do so when I leave. 19k is federal subsidized loan with 4.29% interest rate, which will not accumulate interest until I'm done with school altogether (undergrad + possible phd).

    If a PhD is a possible path I am considering, is this amount of debt feasible for a possible PhD student? I suppose for the sake of simplification, I could only worry about 24k of the debt while I am in graduate school, since that will be the portion that accumulates interest at the time.

    A few more questions:
    1. If you live frugally, do PhD students usually have enough to pay part of their undergrad loans off?
    2. Is it feasible for PhD students to take a part-time job (maybe 10 hours a week) or is the time better dedicated towards the degree?

    I know its quite far down the line but I like to outline any possible paths I am possibly taking so I can assess their viability, or if its just a pipe dream.

  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 12, 2015 #2
    Borrowing money for school is a bad plan, especially for four years at a bigger, expensive school.

    I recommend attending a less expensive school, at least for the first two years. Attending a cheap school and live at home can save many thousands in eventual debt. You can transfer for your last two years to complete the degree from the desired school.

    Repaying debt by frugal living during grad school might be a viable option, but some places are much cheaper to live than others. It depends on the drad student stipend and where you are living. It is much harder in big cities where costs of living are high and much harder if one has family obligations beyond a working spouse.

    Being a grad student is a full time + job, especially if you have an RA or TA paying your tuition and stipend.
  4. Aug 12, 2015 #3


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    I don't think it's really that feasible to work part-time during a PhD. Your PhD program is essentially your job. While sure you could probably be an uber driver and help out, it really wouldn't be significant.

    There's a few options here.
    1. Work part time during your undergraduate and save the major of your money to pay off loans. Even working 20 hours at about 8 dollars an hour will help make a significant dent in your debt.
    2. Take less classes (and wait longer to graduate) to work more and help cover the cost even more so.
    3. National guard tuition assistance. Which is essentially 100 dollar drill paycheck + 5000 per year for school. Not much but eh.
  5. Aug 12, 2015 #4


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    I would start by assuming that you're already doing everything you can to minimize the debt you take on as an undergraduate. This includes:
    • taking on a part-time job, even as a high-school student and putting at least some of that money towards your undergraduate degree
    • working full-time during the summers
    • continuing to work part-time as an undergraduate student
    • doing what you can to minimize costs including factoring in the cost of your education into your choice of where to attend as well as the general cost of living
    • applying for every scholarship that you qualify for
    Once you get into graduate school the stipend and TA/RA is usually enough that you don't have to take on additional debt as a student. It's probably not enough that you can make a significant dent in your existing loans, other than perhaps paying off the interest.

    Having a part-time job as a graduate student is possible, but it comes with consequences. I had a part-time job as a PhD student and that brought in enough money that I could live on my own, buy a car, and save up for a down payment on a house. The down side was that I was working until about 3 or 4 am on the weekends, which made it very difficult to make it into the office bright and early on Monday mornings (I was one of those grad students who sauntered in at around 10:00 am). This delayed my graduation by about six months compared to my jobless peers.
  6. Aug 12, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    $24K at 4.29% for ten years works out to $246.31 per month, or just under $3K per year. Can you afford that? Depends on the difference between your stipend and the cost of living, neither of which is known. (By the way, you should be able to calculate loan amortization yourself - if you can't, you have no business taking out any loan whatsoever).

    I agree that you can't easily work part time in grad school. I did about 10 hours per week for 10 weeks - for which I was very well compensated - and it almost killed me. A better strategy is to work as an undergrad.
  7. Aug 12, 2015 #6
    You can defer your student loans for up to 6 years while you are in grad school, correct?
  8. Aug 12, 2015 #7
    Thanks for all the responses. A few facts to clarify and answer questions:

    • I have been working a part-time job since May 2014. I asked them for full-time when summer began earlier this year but they wouldn't do it. So I've done 16-20 hours a week. I will try hard to find a full-time job to do during the summers I'm in college.
    • It's a bit too late in the process to change what I'm doing at this point, I accepted the offer months ago and I'm leaving for college next week. We can talk about all the different routes I could have taken then but there's no point talking about it.
    • I am not paying the full cost of my college in loans. Of the colleges I was accepted to, this one was the most affordable. Raw cost without any aid is $30,710/semester. I am receiving $12,393 in grants, $8,000 in academic scholarship, and $4,722 in loans per semester from the three loans I mentioned in the OP. So I pay $5,595 out of pocket each semester. All of this aid is valid for all 4 years.
    • I am doing federal work-study at my school this fall. I will get $1,100 per semester, its like 8 hours a week. They do not allow freshmen to work more than 8 hours per week. The entirety of the work-study earnings will have to go to paying the school tuition.
    • All the money I earn will have to go towards covering the remaining cost of undergrad. My parents are contributing little to nothing to help with the costs. However, my mom has said she will be able to take out a loan on her 401K soon if need be, which I don't want her to have to do. She says she likes it because she is basically "paying herself back the interest".
    • I currently have enough savings to pay the first two semesters on this budget (ex. no even more loan which it seems I should avoid like the plague)
    • I can see myself living very frugally. Being a natural recluse and abomination of nature, I rarely go out to eat/see movies/parties and I will probably never find a significant other, let alone someone who will extort money from me. Will I still be able to pay an internet bill? That's all I need!
    Although my question remains: is this path even available to me? Is it impossible to go to grad school on this much debt or are there too many unknown factors to make that assertion (stipend, cost of living)?? Will I Die

    Federal Subsidized Loans can be deferred.

    Over the course of 4 years, the maximum an undergraduate student can take out is 19,000 in federal subsidized loans, which I am doing. They are the best deal on any student loans hence why I maxed those out first.
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