Little Sister Walking the Student Loan Debt Plank


Wish I had a happier topic to discuss today but, I would really appreciate any words of advice or opinions on my little sisters current college conundrum. I don’t want to make this post unbearably long so I’m going to try to make this short and sweet.

My little sister will be a sophomore next year majoring in communications. She went to this state school in upstate NY mainly to play basketball. She is financing her entire education on federal and private loans. Sadly, the private loans are what makes of a large portion of her debt. We also found out today that she is not eligible for the new Excelsior Scholarship that Cuomo just passed this year because she only took 21 credits her freshman year and switch majors, which means she is not on tract to graduate on time.

The total projected cost according to the schools website is about $38K (including room and board) a year. Over the course of 4+ years, the total amount of debt she could possibly graduate with is more than $150,000 for a bachelors degree!!! It gets even worse when you factor in that my parents where unable to co-sign for the private loans and instead had my grandfather do it who has been retired for more than 15 years.

Overall the only reason she is going to school is basketball and the friends she has made during her freshman year. This past school year was happiest months of her life and convincing her to drop out has proven to be futile. I’m very scared for her and have really tried to do everything I can to help her. Is there anything else I could possibly do?


$38,000 is a lot of money for NY state schools. Does that include the full cost of room and board + tuition and books? I remember it was closer to $20k per year when I applied in 2009.

Anyway, $38k per year will make it extremely hard for her to get ahead financially. This is obviously not impossible, just very tough. She needs to get a summer job, potentially two. She needs to get a work study (which she may already have) and find a way to make more money while at school.

You said she doesn’t qualify for the Cuomo scholarship thing - is this just because of her graduation date? If she needs to graduate in 4 years time total, why not take summer and winter classes to get ahead? It will cost more money now, and make college harder, but having those loans forgiven would be the best outcome.


Here are my two (five) cents:

  1. That $38k/yr is likely assuming 4yrs living in the university dorms. Often living off-campus is much less expensive. Tell her to get a roommate and find a cheap apartment within walking distance to campus.

  2. Try and different approach in showing her how much she will be paying after she graduates. Rather than quoting the total $150k, calculate what her monthly SL payment may be if she indeed had $150k in loans and compare that to the average take home pay for her major. That may be pretty eye opening. It was for me when I graduated college!

  3. SUMMER SCHOOL. I cannot stress this enough. When I went through college, I would take online summer classes through the local community college that would fulfill credits for my major (often times general education credits). This is a HUGE money saver that not enough people take advantage of. You need to be careful that the credits will transfer, but I was able to knock out 3 classes in a summer this way while working full time while paying probably 60% less than they would cost at my university.

  4. Tell her to get a Job. Preferably an on-campus student job (they will be flexible with schedules since they know she’s a student). I worked a part-time job as well as a part-time internship throughout college (25-30hrs a week) while going to school full time. It sounds like a lot, but it’s very doable.

  5. Scholarships. There are tons of scholarships out there aside from the one you mentioned above. Sure, you may have to write an essay on why you deserve it, but it’s worth it. Even $1k can go a long way (think about how much interest she can avoid paying on $1k!)


Hi David,

The $38K is for everything. She does participate in work study fortunately, but is still trying to find a summer job at this time. She is working on enrolling in some summer courses as we speak.

Our family income is within the eligibility range but, because since she switched majors and had to drop a few classes her number of credits she has puts her off track to graduate on time. I just read on the scholarship home page about a “catch up year” provision that allows an extra year to get back on track in order to apply for the scholarship the following academic year.

It is hard to convince her that the friends, experiences and the memories she has and will make over the course of here college years, may not be worth $100k in loans. I’m going to keep at it though!

Thank you!!!


I appreciate your two (five) cents!

1.) Getting an apartment may not be the best for her particular situation. She can’t use loans to rent an apartment our correct? I live at home while going to school, so I’m a bit ignorant to this type of situation.

2.) I will definitely try that! Maybe that will make things sink in a bit more.

3.) She is actually working on enrolling in summer course as we speak at a local community college.

4.) Believe me, she has been hearing that phrase for three years now! She works for the athletic department while at school which is something she enjoys. Getting employment in addition to that may not be that tough with the huge shopping plaza a mile or so away from campus. I’ll ask her about that.

5.) I never thought about the interest she could save from a $1k scholarship. I’ll also bring this up to her!

Thank you very very much!!!


You can use student loans to pay for off-campus housing. I’m unsure of the mechanics behind this as often times student loans are disbursed directly to the school, but I did have some friends in college that I know relied on their student loan disbursements to pay their rent (perhaps only private loans?). I would encourage you (or your sister) to figure out if this would in fact be cheaper than living on campus when factoring in all of the associated costs (i.e. rent, utilities, groceries vs. meal plan), she may be better off staying in university housing after all but it’s worth exploring.


From what I recall, federal or private are disbursed to the school to cover tuition expenses and housing only if you live on campus. Then, any leftover is sent to a bank account of your choosing. From there, the leftover can be used for anything.

My only suggestion would be for her to make interest payments throughout if possible. If not, that $150k may be more like $200k+ by the time she graduates. When I graduated, I believe I owed around $70k which resulted in $450-$600 payments per month. Maybe putting that monthly payment into perspective may help? Either way, just thinking about over $100k in student loans makes me dizzy and a little nauseous.


Great idea, I will have here check it out!

Thanks again!!!


I feel you about the dizziness and nausea when it comes to the idea of $100k in loans!!!

Here income however is basically 0 so paying as she goes is not an option.

To combat that I’m trying to get here to read some posts from Rockstar Finance and other blogs about frugality, debt and the psychology of money. I just don’t want to see here paying for these 4+ years her entire life!!!


Hi SteveC - I can relate to the feeling of nausea you described relative to student loan debt.

Your sister should really go into this with eyes wide open. The average salary of a communications major is about $50k/Year according to PayScale. Assuming she will continue to live in NY, that leaves little room for student loan payments, which could mean many years being shackled to her debt if she ends up with $150K in loans.

I agree with many of the suggestions offered earlier. She should try to reduce that debt load drastically by working part time and living very frugally during her remaining college years.

Good looking out for your little sis! Here’s a recent post on the subject if it helps any…


$38k is not a lot for NYS. I went to college on Long Island and ended up with $30k going to community and state colleges.


Very much agree. I sped up my graduation with summer classes and worked full time.


Thank you very much!!!

I’m going to send her the post right this minute!


Was that $30k per year or 4 years?

I haven’t looked at college prices since 2009, but I recall NCC being about $4k per semester and Stonybrook was about $20k per year including tuition, room, and board.


30k for a four year degree. Not per year. 120k is what you would pay for a NY private school. I thankfully had the right mindset back then to go to state schools. Dodged a bullet there


Believe me, I begged and pleaded for my sister to go to community college for the first two years but, basketball trumps everything to her so she didn’t take my advice.


Look into current student scholarships, there is a great discussion of this in a recent episode of the ChooseFI podcast, check it out here

Mr. MoneyEnergyLife


Thank you MEL!!!

I just found ChooseFI recently and have been binge listening to their podcast the last few days.

There interview with the Wealth Accountant was great and scary at the same time when he mentioned the closing of the tax loopholes that allow the ROTH conversion ladder to be executed.