Surviving the Debt

Andrea Valadez
Age: 26
Current Profession: Kaiser Permanente Business Consultant for SCAL/BIO
Undergraduate Degree: Bachelor of Science, Political Science with a Pre-Law Emphasis from Pacific Union College in the Napa Valley of Northern California.
• Vice President of the History Club
• Law Society Member
• Hospital Volunteer in the Oncology unit at Loma Linda University Medical Center
Graduate Degree: MBA in healthcare administration from La Sierra University Zappara School of Business in Riverside, California.
• Member of A Daughter’s Heart Cancer Charity
• Co-Founder of Alpha’s Fellowship for Autism
• Loma Linda University Medical Center Oncology Volunteer
• Intern for Heritage Gardens Skilled Nursing Facility

I only finally understood college and the financial side of it until I had graduated from college. It took me all four years to fully comprehend the student loan debt I had accumulated and how I was going to pay it back. My future self would tell my 18 year-old freshman self this: “Do not borrow more than you can pay back.” Let me start by introducing me to you, my name is Andrea Valadez and I have recently graduated from business school with my MBA in healthcare administration from La Sierra University in Riverside, California. I currently work for a great healthcare foundation, Kaiser Permanente and I am a business consultant for the Southern California Business Information Office and IT. I did my undergrad up in the Napa Valley at Pacific Union College and majored in Pre-Law/Political Science. So, back to 18 year-old me. I remember stepping into the financial aid office and my counselor stressing me out about tuition and the mounding debt I would accrue throughout my years in school. This is exactly how he poised his questions (mind you, I am 18, away from home, and don’t have a clue how loans work), “Andrea, you don’t work, you are taking 16 credits, and tuition is due by next week, do you want me to drop you from your classes?” This was also another shaker, “Andrea, if you don’t find a way to pay, you have to cough up $8,000 for this quarter alone.”
Of course I was frightened at the prospect of me getting dropped from my classes or scrambling to pay 8K! Once the financial aid counselor saw the pure look of shock on my face, he pulls out two documents. One was a subsidized loan and the other, an unsubsidized loan. Do you think an 18 year-old has a clue about that? I’ll speak for myself and say “nope!” I went ahead and opted for the unsubsidized loan (this is where the government does not pay the interest rate and the interest is capitalized to the loan balance). Keep in mind, I only needed to pay 8K, but my counselor said I had $20,000 available and I can accept the entire offer! Boy oh boy I thought! I hit the jackpot! I will have an extra $12,000 all to myself! Living in the present moment, at the age of 26, I want to scream at 18 year-old Andrea for thinking so immaturely and accepting such a wild offer. If you are a freshman and reading this, let us go down a list of mistakes I committed so you can (I hope) avoid them at all costs.
1) Do NOT accept more than you need. I did not need 20K; all I needed was the 8K. You have the option to choose your own amount.
2) Ask for your options. Understand what you are signing before accepting any type of loan.
3) Know the difference between an unsubsidized loan and a subsidized loan.
4) If you are a working student, try to lessen the burden on the loan by paying a monthly interest on the loans you have chosen.
5) Don’t get intimidated by your financial aid counselor. Ask what you can do to avoid loans. During my junior and senior year, I chose to make monthly payments to my tuition rather than opt for a loan.
College is tough, being away from home and finding a balance between study time, classes, and work can add unwanted stress. Before you even walk into financial aid, research your options. Many times you can go to the bank you invest with and ask them for a private loan. Remember, you are not restricted on decisions to pay for college, it is just a matter of you understanding the many possibilities out there and choosing what is best for you.
I feel compelled to save you the research part of it, so here are some helpful links that helped me during my time in college:
What’s the difference between a subsidized and unsubsidized loan?

http://www.staffordloan.com/stafford-loan-info/faq/whats-the-difference-between-unsubsidized-and-subsidized-loans.php

Private Student Loans:

http://www.finaid.org/loans/privatestudentloans.phtml

Other options:

http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2011/07/07/4-overlooked-ways-to-pay-for-college

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