What Students Wish They'd Known About Paying for College Before Graduation

Susannah Snider

Seth Burgett, a recent John Brown University graduate, has some advice for future college students: "Just slow down, think and get experience before you go to college," he says. "If you're on the fence, you don't need to go to college right away."

Burgett started at the University of Nebraska--Lincoln before transferring to John Brown in Arkansas after a "mid-college crisis." He graduated in December 2014 and has around $33,000 in student loan debt, which "will keep me back from some things," he says. But mostly, he wishes that he'd known that he could take time to really explore the value of college before enrolling.

[Discover how to get the most value out of a liberal arts degree.]

Students can learn from graduates' financial mistakes and advice, says Jodi Okun, who founded College Financial Aid Advisors, which helps families navigate the college financial aid process, and who serves as a brand ambassador for Discover Student Loans.

Graduates often regret not familiarizing themselves with financial aid and student loan repayment terminology, she says. They wish they'd understood the differences between subsidized and unsubsidized loans and known the meaning of terms such as interest and accrual.

"They talk about how financial ignorance is not really bliss," says Okun.

[Understand the pieces of your student loan payment.]

Others regret not learning how to budget in college, says Scott Juedes, director of student financial services and financial aid at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. When it comes time to invest in a new business venture or a graduate degree, "they wonder, 'How do I pay a bill? How do I finance big investments in life?'" says Juedes.

U.S. News asked college graduates to weigh in on what they wish they'd known about paying for college before heading off into the real world.

Some Twitter users wrote that they regret not anticipating the challenges of taking on debt.

Others tweeted advice about budgeting and repayment, underscoring the benefits of prepaying student loans and understanding how student loan debt stacks up against other monthly bills.

Some wish they'd paid more attention to the repayment terms of their loans.

"I hear, 'I wish I'd written down the details, whether I borrowed $2,000 or $20,000,'" says Juedes of Wellesley. Students tell him, "I didn't even know who my lender was."

The good news, say experts, is that it's not too late for current students to start developing their financial skill set. Students can sign up for budgeting services, such as Mint.com, to track spending, contact their financial aid advisers with questions and estimate student loan bills with a repayment calculator.

If students develop good financial habits while in college, "more than likely they will go on after college," says Okun.

Trying to fund your education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for College center.

Susannah Snider is an education reporter at U.S. News, covering paying for college and graduate school. You can follow her on Twitter or email her at ssnider@usnews.com.