Sixty percent of 2012 college graduates went into debt to finance their bachelor's degrees, borrowing an average of $26,500, according to an annual report released last week by the College Board. Students who pursue a master's or professional degree often add tens of thousands of dollars to that tab.
Graduates may be able to legally bypass some student loan payments, thanks to loan forgiveness programs. "I was able to use AmeriCorps to repay some of my loans and had all of my Perkins loans forgiven," Tori Whaley told U.S. News via Facebook, referring to the national volunteer program.
Doctors, nurses, teachers and even librarians can benefit from state and federal initiatives, which typically help graduates pay a portion of their loans if they agree to work in high-need areas for a set number of years. These areas often include rural communities, as well as schools and medical clinics serving low-income families and underserved minority groups such as Native Americans.
"60+ Ways To Get Rid of Your Student Loans (Without Paying Them)," an e-book from American Student Assistance, a nonprofit that helps students manage college loan debt, catalogs many of the programs available.
Certain loan forgiveness programs may only be available to graduates who borrowed loans after a certain date, says Whaley, who earned a master's in special education from the Peabody College of Education and Human Development at Vanderbilt University in 2009.
"I started school and took out my first loan in 1996. So, despite working for 7 years as a special education teacher in low income communities, I was not able to receive that benefit," she wrote.
[Find out more about law school loan forgiveness.]
Health care professionals may be well versed in forgiveness programs such as the National Health Service Corps and the NURSE Corps, for example, but other niche programs exist to help medical professionals ease their loan burden.
Licensed dentists, psychiatrists and doctors specializing in general medicine, geriatrics or family medicine can qualify for up to $40,000 in loan forgiveness through the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program.
Graduates must commit to work for a minimum of two years at a practice serving American Indian and Native Alaskan communities in order to receive the funds, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
States such as Alaska, California, Georgia and Kansas also offer loan forgiveness options for medical professionals. Most of these programs require graduates work in underserved areas, such as rural communities.
Doctors committed to healing four-legged patients can get help with their student loans, too.
Nathan Glaza, a veterinarian in northern Kentucky, receives $3,000 every six months to put toward his nearly $135,000 in student debt, thanks to the Kentucky Large/Food Animal Veterinary Incentive Program.
Slim job prospects for large animal vets at existing clinics prompted the Kentucky native to move home and start his own practice after graduating from the Auburn College of Veterinary Medicine. With student loan payments of $1,300 a month, every little bit helps, he says.
"It helps that I know there's a little bit of leeway there that I can pay off the loan debt, or knock them down a little bit, then focus on something else," he says. "Either getting a house over my head, or buying some equipment that will help out in whatever cases I'm seeing and help provide better medicine around here."
Kentucky's program pays up to $18,000 toward outstanding student loans for veterinarians who work with large animals or those bred for food, such as cattle, pigs and sheep. Veterinary technicians who graduate from a two-year program may also apply for the incentive. Preference is given to state residents, according to the program's website, but new graduates who want to work in the state can also apply.
Minnesota has a similar program for graduates of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Graduates must work for five years in rural areas designated by the state. As with many programs, limited funds are available, so graduates must apply for the loan forgiveness.