Student loan debt in the US currently tops more than $1.2 trillion. As millions of soon-to-be high school graduates head off to college, parents and students have a big issue to face: How to pay for college?
For students heading off to the University of Arizona, they'll be paying the highest tuition rate the school has seen yet. The Arizona Board of Regents approved raising tuition at all the state schools for the upcoming year.
In-state freshman will be paying about $11,800 per year. That's about a 3.2% increase from last year. Out-of-state freshman will pay about $35,000, up 7.2%.
But, it takes a lot more than that to cover all the costs.
"Tuition is laid out pretty well, you know how much you're gonna pay for tuition, but you have to kind of budget yourself and kind of plan for how much you're gonna spend on living costs and that kind of stuff," said senior Erik Rivas.
Dean of Undergraduate Admissions, Kasey Urquidez says the U of A offers services to help prepare incoming students.
"We've changed the award letters so that it fully explains more clearly if the money is free money, if the money has to be paid back, based on parent's credit score for example, or any of those kinds of things so we try to lay it out nicely," she said.
One of the main issues is that students don't fully understand what taking out loans really means.
"I think there's just this assumption that either it's just gonna get figured out or your parents are gonna pay for it," said junior, Rebecca Garcia. "It's something people need to talk about because student debt is huge and I know people that are going to finish out of here owing $30,000."
One way to avoid taking out loans applying for scholarships.
"There are a whole bunch of scholarships that are not based on grades or GPA" said Rivas."They're based on so many random things. My supervisor likes to tell the story where his friend got a scholarship for males who are left handed and bald. But, she wasn't a male, she wasn't left handed and she wasn't bald. But, she was the only one that applied to it and she got it."
The U of A also offers on-campus work opportunities.
"Most of the jobs around campus are pretty flexible with your hours and around your classes, working isn't bad if definitely helps you if you need the extra money," said sophomore Darrius Amos.
Or, starting out smaller could be a better option.
"I would definitely go where the money is," said Garcia. "So if a university is offering the most money go there, but if you're securing a big financial aid package at a community college I would start there."
After four years of borrowing money, many graduating seniors are now faced with figuring out how to get back on track.
"I think the scariest thing is finding a job, and then second you can't really progress forward until you pay off these loans," said Garcia. "I don't know very many people who are qualifying for home mortgage loans when you still owe $40,000 in student loans. You're kind of stuck in time until you finish paying off loans."
Helping students fully grasp the finances they're taking on can help eliminate leaving them with thousands of dollars in debt after gradation.
"Really just sitting down, having a good conversation with your parents, and kind of looking at everything, trying to figure out where you're gonna have gaps potentially and then figuring out what might be the best thing in terms of a job for the students," said Urquidez.
The Arizona Board of Regents is set to finalize tuition costs at the u of a at the end of May.