Liz Hexler, 18, a rising sophomore at American University, shook her head as she contemplated the idea of transferring to a more affordable college.
“I already am getting a large scholarship, but it still is not feasible for me to be at American University for more than two years,” said Hexler, of Chicago.
She came with the hopes to succeed in the international relations program, but has been left angered by what she sees as excessive fees and tuition.
With college prices on the rise and more and more people applying, students are struggling to repay loans. Currently, U.S. graduates and students owe $1.2 trillion in student debt, according to debt.org.
Every second, $3,000 in student debt is acquired, and the average debt for the U.S. graduate student is $33,000, according to debt.org. In 2014, the average amount of debt at graduation rose 56 percent, from $18,550 to $28,950, according to the Institute for College Access and Success.
Joanna Sobieski, 24, a 2015 American University graduate, and Alex Mazzarisi, 22, who graduated the school in May, both supported the idea of going to community college for the first two years and then transferring to a more expensive.
“I worked three jobs, so I didn’t have the typical college experience,” Sobieski said.
Sobieski had to work numerous jobs to keep up with with all of the expenses that come with attending American, where the average annual cost is around $60,000, according to American University’s website.
After graduation, Sobieski worked abroad for a year with a very low-paying job, so she was able to postpone the loan, but now she is very stressed as to how she will repay the loan. In order to repay, she plans to work a 9-to-5 job and work retail or waitress on the side.
Rebecca Weber, 27, an American University graduate student, said when she finishes her master’s degree in international affairs, she’ll have more than $100,000 in loan debt.
“I’m not going to live where I want to live or be at the same level of comfort,” Weber said.
Others, like Mike Limarzi, 33, did not see student loans as a huge obstacle.
“They do impact, but not disastrously,” Limarzi said.
Limarzi graduated from Georgetown University, a private school in Washington, D.C., in 2004. While student debt wasn’t a struggle for him, he still pays his wife’s $500 monthly student loan.
“We have an amount to pay, and we try to pay over it each month so we finish fast,” Limarzi said. “We know how to budget.”
Sitting on a bench outside the American University library where she works, Tara Barnett, 28, explained what helped her the most with student debt after graduating from Reed College in 2009.
“I had a lot of financial aid,” Barnett said. “Without it, I couldn’t have gone.”
For many, grants and loans are the major forms of federal financial aid for undergraduate students. According to the U.S. Department of Education, over 1.9 million students receive financial aid each year. For some, it’s the only way to afford college.
“My boyfriend goes to school in Denmark,” Mazzarisi said. “He didn’t come from a well-off family, but he is still able to go to one of the best colleges in his country because it is free. He also gets paid $800 to attend.
“The U.S. can maybe learn something from that,” she continued.