"We try to work with them from the beginning—and it's not just the student, but it's also the family. Through our orientation program, we work with parents and students so that they understand what the ramifications are of decisions ... including borrowing."
[Find out how much you should borrow for college.]
Students and parents can also ask their own educated questions, notes Brian Lindeman, the director of financial aid at Macalester College who says he more often hears general anxiety about debt than firm questions. Among the school-specific queries he recommends: "What was the average debt of the most recent graduating class (for those who borrowed) and what percentage of the class borrowed a student loan?" and "What is the school's most recent cohort default rate on student loans?"
Additionally, students can combat anxiety by doing their own research into total college costs, majors of interest, and post-graduate salary estimates to better understand their school choices, loan options, and borrowing ramifications. At Eckerd College, that's the type of proactive step some students are already taking.
"I don't know if this year was just an anomaly because there was so much chatter about student loan indebtedness, [but] students are being much more diligent about their borrowing," Eckerd's Watkins says. "They are actively seeking outside scholarships that they can use to replace student loans, and some students will say, 'No, I can't afford to come.' I think they're being more realistic."
Trying to fund your degree? Explore the U.S. News Paying for College center.