1. What are student loans?
This disclaimer from the U.S. Department of Education says it all: “Federal student loans are real loans, just like car loans. You must repay them even if your financial circumstances become difficult … they can’t be canceled because you didn’t get the education or job you expected, and they can’t be canceled because you didn’t complete your education.”
2. How long will it take me to pay it off?
That depends on a lot—the amount you owe after graduation, your interest rate, the amount you choose to pay each month and how regularly you make payments. If you pay only the minimum payment each month, or skip payments, the amount you owe will continue to grow and it will take a very long time to pay it off.
3. Is it really worth it?
That’s up to you. What do you want to major in? What job do you want to get with that degree? How much does that job pay? What is the earning potential for a career in that field? Many professions, however emotionally fulfilling, don’t come with high wages. Explore the average starting salaries of the jobs you’re considering, calculate what your paycheck will be each month, and compare that to the monthly loan payment you’ll have. After rent, insurance, food, car payment—will there be enough leftover to also make loan payments?
Confused by some of the financial terminology? StudentLoans.gov has a glossary that defines all the words you’ll hear during the process—like these!
Interest: Essentially, the cost to borrow money, calculated as a percentage of the unpaid principal
Principal: The original amount of money borrowed, before interest started to accrue
Accrue: To accumulate interest on a loan; the amount you owe grows
APR (Annual Percentage Rate): The actual yearly cost of borrowing money reflected as a percentage rate