As classes commence, college students are understandably queasy. Seasoned professors will challenge their thinking; peer pressure will tempt them; and debt will begin haunting them.
"It worries me," said University of South Florida Senior Leah Carroll.
Seventy-percent of college students are taking out student loans, according to U.S. Education Department statistics. And the average balance has reach a staggering sum: $33,000 upon graduation – a record high.
For many, the debt is an absolute must.
"Without student loans, I probably wouldn't even be able to go to college," said student Wellington Reyes. Reyes has designs on a Ph.D., which will require years of borrowing.
In between cram sessions, exams, concerts, and (occasional) keg parties, the looming repayment schedule crowds students' young minds.
With an exasperated tone, USF student Courtney Spruill sums up the burden: "It's going to take a lot to pay it back."
By and large, student loan debt is different from car loans, credit card debt, and the like. Student loan debt, similar to tax bills, generally cannot be erased by bankruptcy or default. It lives on. And right now, 51 percent of student loans are said to be in arrears.
However, there are programs that can help – if you're willing to work for it. Some will allow graduates to wipe the slate clean.
The U.S. Education Department offers debt relief for college graduates who choose to teach. One program offers as much as $17,500 after five years of service. Educators with select loans who teach select subjects can have their loans canceled.
Eligibility varies. Check with the Department of Education for details here.
Hillsborough County teacher Shauna Lubecki applied and, in short order, removed a large portion of her student debt.
"The paperwork was super easy," she said. "It was $5,000. And anything is a huge deal."
Service in the U.S. military can lead to significant educational benefits -- before, during, and after your commission or enlistment. Follow the links below for guidance. Then speak with a recruiter or benefits advisor for application details.
Similar to members of the military, civilians who serve the United States are eligible for debt relief. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program rewards public service in a variety of roles – including local government workers, non-profit employees, and others.
This unpublicized program can save applicants tens of thousands of dollars, wiping away student loan debt after ten years of service and 120 on-time monthly loan payments.
Service in the Peace Corps gives volunteers unforgettable experiences, and possibly lifts the financial burden of student debt. Volunteers might be eligible for The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (see above).
Peace Corps volunteers might also gain other perks.
Teacher Stephanie Sheffield, from Plant City, is currently serving in Colombia.
“We're teaching other teachers,” she said.
Sheffield said it's unlikely she'll remain in the Peace Corps long enough to gain eligibility for loan forgiveness. But, she is likely to pursue a master's degree and many universities offer Peace Corps scholarships and/or fellowships.
"That's a huge benefit that I'm looking forward to, so I won't get into any more debt. That's the goal," Sheffield said.