You've probably seen plenty of recent arguments against traditional higher education. Critics claim that it's too expensive, it's too easy for students to get loans, and there's no guarantee of even a mediocre job with a bachelor's degree--let alone a great one. It is even theorized that rising student loan defaults could lead to a scenario in which the U.S. economy as a whole is threatened. Of course, none of this provides much comfort to those who already have mountains of student loan debt.
The good news is that there are companies and organizations committed to helping students (or former students) get out of debt. There's no use wishing for a do-over, although it is worthwhile to see if you qualify for partial or full loan forgiveness. If you don't (few do), or if there's still debt left over, consider connecting with one of these companies:
1. American Student Assistance
This non-profit was formed in 1956 and helps students before, during and after school. It's never too late. Nobody is born with good financial planning sense, and repaying your higher education is rarely something that's explored fully while you're in the thick of finals and declaring majors. Enjoy free financial advice via an innovative educational program. The ASA partners with over 250 American universities and colleges, but your school doesn't need to be a partner campus in order for you to reap the benefits.
Dubbed the Airbnb for camera gear, this business links art school grads with unused gear to rent on a budget (You can also rent out your own gear). Prove popular opinion wrong; it may be possible to actually enjoy a decent salary and thriving career with an art school degree. This startup, launched in early 2013, has a presence in dozens of cities around the country. According to founder Adam Derewecki, "It's a little shocking to realize that a $3,000 camera can pull in $100/day while a $10k car might only pull in $60/day on Lyft or Uber." You need expensive gear to land the best gigs, but why get into more debt buying when you can rent?
Do you need a little more motivation than just "paying off those loans" to keep you inspired? SaveUp rewards students when they make student loan payments and even offers a $2 million jackpot. A unique personal finance program, it's free, simple, and there's a bevy of prizes begging to be picked up. Paying off debt might not necessarily be "fun"--or is it? Plus, this feeds into the gambling thrill many people enjoy without any risk (but plenty of rewards).
4. Peace Corps/AmeriCorp
This is one of the oldest tricks in the book to get rid of student loan debt--and of course it's not really a trick at all. You get a certain percentage of your loans forgiven for every term of service spent in Peace Corps and/or AmeriCorp (the forgiveness is more generous with Peace Corp) and you can enjoy deferment while serving. The Peace Corps provides you with new skills right after graduation. Plus, it's an excellent way to live abroad, which for many is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The worst thing you can do about your student loans is embrace ignorance. Your loans aren't going anywhere if you ignore them. In fact, paying the bare minimum (or none at all) can get you into a world of financial hurt. Ask for help, seek out options, and remember that refinancing can be a lifesaver.