I spent hours at a time with Mark at his physical therapy appointments. I would see the same young “techs” whose job was to set timers for people in the pool, restock towels and pillow cases on the tables, check patients in and out, schedule appointments, etc.
Never wanting to pry but ever curious, I struck up a conversation with one kid who proceeded to tell me a pretty terrifying story.
He went to Pitt, having graduated at the top of his class in high school. As an avid high school athlete, he planned on physical therapy as a career. When his grades started to slip during his sophomore year, he knew he would never be accepted to PT school but still pushed ahead to finish his degree. He finished in 5 years due to an inability to schedule required courses and graduated with…..wait for it…..$120,000 in student loans. His monthly payments are more than $1,400 for the next 10 years! The more young people I talk to, the more I realize that this kid’s experience is pretty typical.
His parents are helping him with the payments but he’s still working two jobs to pay what he can (usually not half). He has no plans to move out any time soon. He enjoys free room and board at home plus access to a car and his parent’s cell phone plan. He doesn’t feel great about it but he is grateful for the safety net. He can’t afford to do anything with friends but doesn’t have time to anyway.
He’s hoping to refinance for a longer term and a lower payment but he doesn’t earn enough at either of the jobs to qualify yet. Side note: Neither of the jobs requires a degree, including the PT tech job. He’s been unable to land a job that pays more where his degree might be required. He’s thinking about a certification as a PT assistant but isn’t sure he would earn enough to make a significant difference and he worries about piling more debt and interest on top of his existing loans while they’re in deferment. He doesn’t think he could handle both jobs and classes at the same time.
Before you tell yourself that he wouldn’t be in this situation if he had kept his grades up and pursued a PT degree, remember that graduate school likely would have cost at least another 100k, maybe more.
The median income for a licensed physical therapist is anywhere between $60,000 and $86,000 (depending on where you live and what table you look at). According to one loan repayment calculator, he would have to earn $113,000 (assuming 15% of gross monthly income toward loans). The top 10% of earners in the field don’t even make that, let alone in their first 10 years. Sure, he could make less and dedicate a higher percentage of his gross income toward student loans but his total debt after graduate school might be double what it is now.
I wish kids would start telling their stories instead of feeling ashamed and embarrassed by their debt. Parents and students get on a fast-moving train toward what they think is a successful career that takes them underwater instead.
I don’t know what the answer is except to say “no” when a school is steering a kid toward crushing levels of debt. It just isn’t worth it.
If you would like to share your own student debt story, I would love to hear about it. I really think it could help people make better choices about school, work and life. Click the “contact” tab at the top of this page and include “My Student Debt Story” in the subject line of your email.