"It's always better for students and parents to be informed, and think about what the end will look like—not just what the first year looks like," notes Brian Lindeman, financial aid director at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn.
5. Weigh loan options: Ultimately, your monthly payments may be affected by the type of loan you take.
Student loans fall into two main categories: federal and private. Federal loans, which are offered through the government, come with fixed rates and borrower protections, including the ability to lower or postpone payments if you experience financial hardship. Private loans may have fixed or variable rates and don't typically offer flexible student loan repayment options.
Even if you were to borrow the same amount, you could end up paying more for one loan than another, in interest or in missed opportunities to have some debt forgiven. Make sure to thoroughly research your options to see which best fits your situation.
6. Keep a healthy mindset about debt: The horror stories of students drowning in hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt are, in reality, quite rare, financial aid expert Kantrowitz wrote in a recent paper, "Who Graduates College with Six-Figure Student Loan Debt?" Before you start to fret about student loans ruining your life, keep in mind that well-researched, manageable amounts of student debt can add a variety of positive aspects to your educational experience, including motivation and real-life training, financial aid experts have noted.
"I think we've given the impression to some parents and students that borrowing at all is dangerous when it comes to college," says Lindeman of Macalester College. "So, it's a nuanced message that's difficult to deliver quickly and easily, but I think a reasonable amount of student debt can be one of the best investments a student will ever make."
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