How Much College Debt Is Worth Taking On?

Read Time: 4 Min
There’s no magic formula for deciding, but these tips might help focus your thinking.

If you’re getting ready to send your kids to college or you’re aiming for your own degree or certification, how much an education should cost becomes a complicated and emotional question. Some deep benefits are immeasurable—the learning, the opening up of life choices. But other advantages are tangible, including increased long-term earning potential. Here are some tips to help bring this huge topic into focus.

Look at your whole financial picture, present and future.

According to U.S. News & World Report, common advice is that you should keep your total college debt below your likely post-college first-year salary. That means pursuing a career with a higher salary can help justify more debt (you can find out more at the Bureau of Labor Statistics about what jobs are in demand—and their likely salaries). And check out “Matching Your Aptitudes to a High-Paying Career,” our article about career fields that are full of potential.

For parents helping their kids, college funding is part of your overall debt and savings picture—car and house payments, as well as retirement. Talk to your Huntington banker about how to balance college debt with your other goals and obligations.

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Get a sense of the total cost.

It’s easy to fixate on tuition sticker shock and forget the rest: room and board, books, travel, and even lost income if you quit or cut back on a job. This College Board calculator can help you estimate how much college might cost.

If that number looks too big, remember, students don’t have to start with a four-year college degree. Some professional careers, like nursing, require only a two-year degree.

Explore all financial aid avenues.

Aid comes in many forms—grants, scholarships, and work study (jobs from the college)—and can go to many types of students. Learn more about how to qualify for student aid, and make sure you research private scholarships as well.

From Doodle for Google scholarships to more traditional academic, athletic, and community-service oriented awards, you or your child may have more options than you think.

Pay close attention to loan terms.

Federal loans generally have better terms than private loans. But there can even be differences among federal loans, like when you need to start repaying the loan§.

This financial aid calculator can help you determine your monthly payment and explains some useful college loan terms. Get to know the options, then sit down with a Huntington banker to view them in the context of your own financial situation.

Be flexible.

Your or your child’s big dream may involve a four-year college across the country, but colleges are changing, and there are lower-cost opportunities if you think creatively. Some online colleges have great programs in fields such as occupational therapy or education, with flexible scheduling to accommodate working students.

Public community colleges averaged $4,837 for tuition for in-state students for the 2018 to 2019 school year—roughly $10,000 less per year than the average tuition of private colleges**—and that doesn’t even include room and board.

Apprenticeships might also be an option. For more, read “Do lower-cost college options pay off?

Related Content

Allesandra Lanza, “Student Loan Options for 3 Stages of Borrowers, U.S. News & World Report, April 9, 2014,

“Occupational Outlook Handbook,” Bureau of Labor Statistics,

§ Op. Cit.,

** “Average Community College Tuition Cost,” Community College Review,

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