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Should I Drop Out of College to Keep My Student Loan Debt Under Control?

Leaving school to avoid student loans may prevent more debt accumulation, but sometimes it makes things worse.

Written By: Michael P. Lux, Esq.

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As more Americans are beginning to understand the severity of the student loan crisis, new trends have started to emerge.

Some students are choosing to forgo attending college in order to avoid debt. Others opt to stay home and attend a more affordable school to minimize debt.

Recently, I’ve heard from several readers considering dropping out of school to keep their student debt at a more manageable number. Like many other student loan questions, there isn’t an easy answer. Instead, there are several factors to consider when making this monumental decision.

Student loans should be a major concern

Some might argue that panicking about student debt during school is an overreaction, especially if a student considers dropping out.

I disagree.

Student loans can be a lifetime burden for borrowers. Decisions made during college can profoundly impact your finances.

Quitting school is a drastic solution, but given the potential consequences of student loans, it is wise to keep all options on the table.

Dropping out of school may not be the answer

It’s reasonable to keep all options on the table, but for many students dropping out is an overreaction.

The crux of the problem comes from one basic fact: life with student loans is hard, but it is much harder if you don’t have a degree.

Though expensive, college is still a massive boost for Americans looking for higher earning potential. Many consider a degree to be a silly piece of paper that doesn’t show work ethic, capability, or aptitude. However, that piece of paper has a major impact on student loan outcomes. Americans who don’t have a degree are three times more likely to default on their student loans.

If you have $60,000 of student debt and you are considering dropping out because you don’t want to see that number rise to $80,000, consider this: Repaying $80,000 of student debt as a college graduate could be much easier than repaying $60,000 without a degree.

Alternatives to quitting college

If dropping out is the extreme solution to student debt, there are many less severe options that students and their families may find more palatable.

  • Transferring schools – College may be a worthwhile investment, but not all schools justify the high cost. Transferring to a less expensive or more reputable school might make sense.
  • Changing programs – Many people start college with aspirations of finding their dream job. Unfortuantely, the competition for many dream jobs is quite intense. Switching from a theatre major to accounting could improve your financial outlook.
  • Cutting costs – Sometimes, the answer is finding a way to make your current program more affordable. Living expenses, especially housing, can make college more expensive. Option for less luxurious student housing could shift the numbers enough to keep your debt at a manageable number.
  • Asking for additional aid – The viability of this option varies greatly from one school to the next. At some schools, if you approach your financial aid office and explain that you can no longer afford school, you might get the help you need. The right combination of grants and scholarships can make college far more affordable.
  • Going part-time or finding a job – If student debt is stressing you out, adding the right job might solve your problem. A new job means fewer student loans are necessary. Work experience may also help you in the job market once you finish your degree.

Unfortuantely, these fixes may not work for every student. Sometimes extreme measures are required.

When dropping out makes sense

Even though the consequences of dropping out are severe, sticking it out isn’t always the right choice.

Some students realize they are not going to finish their degree. If you know that your college experience isn’t going to end with a degree, dropping out sooner rather than later is a smart move.

In other cases, students realize that the degree they are chasing won’t improve their earning potential. This problem is especially severe at many for-profit colleges. If your school isn’t going to help you find a job and the degree isn’t marketable, it might be time to move on.

Sometimes people need a break. There isn’t a requirement that your college degree must be finished by age 22. If you are lost, it is ok to take a year off of school to figure out what you want. Spending some time volunteering or in the workforce may help you identify what you want out of college.

Dropping out of college is a life-altering decision that should not be taken lightly. The numbers say that student debt is far more difficult for people without a degree. However, there are times when choosing not to continue is the correct answer.

About the Author

Student loan expert Michael Lux is a licensed attorney and the founder of The Student Loan Sherpa. He has helped borrowers navigate life with student debt since 2013.

Insight from Michael has been featured in US News & World Report, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, and numerous other online and print publications.

Michael is available for speaking engagements and to respond to press inquiries.

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