For some students, their first semester of college is a learning experience in more than just academic fields.

AJ Graydon, a freshman studying psychology, said he will be relying on student loans.

“I actually didn’t know how it worked until a few weeks ago,” he said.

According to the American Student Assistance, undergraduate students, on average, have credit card balances of about $3,000 and cumulative student loan debt of about $20,000. The most expensive higher education degree is a medicine or osteopathic medicine degree, which can total  to more than $100,000 by the time a graduate or doctoral degree is completed.

Graydon said his first semester in college hasn’t been what he’d expected financially and that he has no idea how he plans to pay off his accruing debt.

“I’m honestly not worrying about it right now,” Graydon said.

High school students are also planning for college expenses, according to Keeton Alder, a concurrent enrollment student from Bonneville High School. At 17, Alder said he takes tuition costs and living expenses into consideration while deciding where he will attend college.

“I haven’t quite figured it all out yet,” he said. “I always knew it was going to be expensive, but the other day I was looking at tuition costs in state and out of state, and it’s more expensive than I realized.”

Alder said he thinks high school seniors are definitely thinking about how to pay for school, juniors think about it some, and sophomores don’t at all.

“I think people are more concerned with the title of the school rather than the reality,” he said.

Monika Rodie, assistant director of the Shepherd Union Building, said her daughter was able to graduate with her undergraduate and graduate degree without debt.

“She was very lucky,” she said. “It’s really hard.”

One factor for students graduating with debt is their abilities to qualify for it, Rodie said.

“I think students these days have so much more access to debt,” she said. “If you get a student loan, use it for school.”

Wildcard coordinator Donnie Ruth agreed, saying students also might not know what classes they need or think about the extra costs of supplies and transportation, particularly books.

“Books are horrendous,” she said. “I think, a lot of times, kids don’t know what they’re doing and they end up taking classes they don’t need.”

But part of going to college, she said, is going without extra things.

“It’s a lot of sacrifice to go to school and get a higher-education degree,” she said. “You have to be willing to sacrifice.”

Despite the prevalence of student debt, some are finding ways to avoid it. Michelle Paul, a second- year nursing student, said she uses budgeting and work to avoid debt.

“I make sure I balance my finances enough so I have a buffer,” she said.

Paul said her parents taught her from an early age to avoid debt at any cost. When she was first applying to the nursing program, she said she did end up gaining some debt, but quickly paid it off.

“I can see why it would affect other students,” she said. “My plan is to maintain scholarships I’m getting now.”

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