How much debt is reasonable for undergrad?

I have no experience on this because I went to cheap state schools and stayed home for the most part. I do wonder how things would’ve been different if I had tried to go out-of-state or private for college but Florida in-state tuition is incredibly cheap (as in a little more than $100 a credit hour). Also I was a good but not great student in high school and I doubt I would’ve gotten much in the way of scholarships even if I had the initiative to apply. My sister is a junior in high school and she’s not really interested in the massive Florida state schools or its teeny liberal arts one. If she stayed in-state she would not have to pay tuition because of the Florida bright futures scholarship. She is an excellent student and I told her she should at least apply out of state but I really don’t know how much would be a reasonable amount to borrow. Of course, opinions will vary widely but I’d like to hear yours just the same.

It’ll depend on lots of things. What’s tuition at the school she wants to go to, how much does she have saved, will she be working, etc. I have a friend that had $40k in debt after graduating from a state school. He didn’t work at all during the school year and went for 5 years though.

That would be a good deal these days, at some state schools: The University of Texas estimates it’s yearly cost is over 20K, assuming a full course load, dorm residency, and a meal plan.

A lot of it really depends on what you plan to do afterwards: if you are getting a degree in underwater basketweaving not because you really care about underwater basketweaving but becuase you have this vauge idea you are suppossed to go to college and it’s the subject that bores you the least, any debt at all is serious. If, on the other hand, you are strongly motivated by money and are pursuing a career that will allow you to make large loan payments, then even a large amount of debt isn’t a problem. I would also say debt is ok if you are really, really passionate about studying something in particular, even if that something in particular isn’t obviously lucrative, because in my experience people with true passions tend to do ok because they know what they want and find a way to make it work. But it needs to be a real passion, not just a desire to be passionate about something, the sort of thing where you care about X more than you care about your relationships, your standard of living, anything.

Another category to add to Manda Jo’s if you get a degree in something that lends itself to public service, larger loan amounts may be ok. Such as Teaching. Teachers don’t generally make big bucks, but if you are willing to go places where they seriously lack teachers–especially if you will stay for 2-5 years-- you may be able to get large chunks of your loans paid for by the state. Depending, mostly, on just how large your loans are to begin with.

I went to school at UC Davis and came out of it with approximately 22K in debt. Mostly student loans but with a decent amount of credit card debt as well. I’d consider myself as pretty low on the debt scale. the UC’s are fairly cheap to begin with and I went to school 3/4 free(including living costs) due to grants.

I did 3 years at a technical institute and another 3 years at a university and ended up with about 36,000 CDN in debt. (about $1,000 USD…HA!).

another UC Davis grad. I got out with $10k in debt. It was the 1980’s, I worked, had some grants and lived below the poverty line. I knew lots of other people, mainly at different schools, that got out owing $50-100k. I think that’s insane. Sure, they went abroad for a year of study, which cost a gazillion dollars. Me, I took a year off, went to Taiwan to study and taught English, and came home with more money than I left with. Definately a different experience. But I think coming out of University with minimal debt is definately the way to go.

I went to college a while ago, and graduated with debt equivalent to one year’s tuition. I still consider taking the loans to have been an excellent decision and I don’t regret it at all.

On the other hand, getting a liberal arts degree that has you working at Starbucks means you should plan on graduating with no loans. You could get lucky and get a well paying job with your sociology degree, but chances are you won’t - or at least not for a number of years working a series of less well paying jobs.

How do you want to answer this without even knowing what the interest rate on the loans will be?

In Canada, student loans are interest free while the borrower is still in school, so naturally, the best amount to have is as much as they are willing to give me. If there is some tax incentive for them after graduation, then it might be a good idea to keep it after graduation.

In the US, some loans are interest free in school, and others accrue interest. If the loan is need-based, generally it’s “subsidized,” meaning the government pays the interest while the borrower is in school. If it’s unsubsidized, interest accrues while the borrower is in school, but is capitalized at graduation, meaning the borrower doesn’t pay the interest while in school but has the interest added to the principal when school ends, and repays it then. Right now, student loan interest rates are variable but capped at 8.25%.

When I went to college lo these many moons ago, college was much less expensive than it is now. I’d be concerned about a college student now coming out of school having paid for a significant amount of school with loans, because that necessarily impacts quality of life afterwards.

When I got out of graduate school I was upwards of $100K in debt; that necessarily limited the kinds of jobs I could take after graduation, and limited some choices about how I’d use my salary as well, because my loan payments were over $1000 a month. (Fortunately, the job I got turned out to be a good one, so no real sacrifices there.)

But if I were advising a young’un, I’d say to go to the least expensive school that will enable you to reach your goals. You don’t want to be tied down by loans for the rest of your life.

You ain’t fuckin’ kidding. I went there for 6 years, used loans for tuition, rent, books, and food, and left owing like $62(!!!)K. Would’ve been 72 if my dad hadn’t paid for the first year. By your calculations, though, seems like I got a good deal… :dubious:

Ugh, I just think it’s sickening how much it costs to get a good education in this country. I wish I’d done more research when applying for schools… and I probably would have, if I’d had any idea I’d be paying for it myself. A Bachelor’s is a freakin’ Bachelor’s… I wish I’d gone to Texas State.

What is she interested in doing? There are a lot of excellent programs within the State University System of Florida, and there are a lot of good programs in the smaller schools around the state. If she doesn’t know yet or isn’t a high enough achiever compared to all the other kids applying to private and out-of-state schools and isn’t likely to get an amazing financial aid package, I wouldn’t recommend skipping out on the Bright Futures Scholarship. It makes a world of difference in the cost of going to school, I wouldn’t recommend accruing much in the way of debt for an undergraduate degree. They just don’t go as far as they used to.

We’ve got 11 state schools, and not all of them are huge. FAU, in fact, is quite small compared to FSU, UF, and USF (The last three are our flagship schools). It has a smaller school culture, but is more commuter oriented than most of the other state schools. FSU has the second largest campus, IIRC, and UF has the largest campus in the state. They’re big, but living on campus makes the campus seem smaller and more community-oriented. There are a lot of great resources related to being part of the SUS, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to get money for school through a state school than it is a private school.

How excellent is your sister as a student? There’s a heavy amount of competition for spots in top schools, and being an out-of-state student makes you a target for higher tuition and less access to scholarships and grants in most areas. I was in her position about eight years ago, and I knew very few kids that got full ride scholarships to private and out-of-state schools; one of them was awarded one of the two full ride scholarship awards that the University of Miami (FL) hands out to each incoming freshman class. Just two substantial awards for the entire university’s freshman class of several thousand. Financially, private institutions are “reach” schools for those who are expected to pay their own way through college. This doesn’t, however, mean that she shouldn’t apply to one or two schools out-of-state that she thinks she has a chance of getting into and liking.

Is your sister an ideal candidate? High GPA, good SAT scores, extracurriculars? Is she going above the minimum for community service? Does she have an after school job? If so, is it with a company that offers scholarships that she’s qualified for? There are a lot of ways to get money for college, and since she’s still a junior, she should research scholarships in addition to colleges so she’ll have a good idea of what to apply for in both circumstances. Oh, also, if your sister doesn’t know what she is interested in studying, it would be best for her to go to a school with enough academic diversity that she has the opportunity to “explore her options” in the first couple of semesters of classes.

College is really competitive these days, even for the really motivated students.

Sometimes. I go to a Minnesota State College that specialized in giving mouth breathers and shaved monkeys Cs for four years and then giving them a BA.

Third UCD alumna here, I walked out with $2500 in debt, total.
I had parents helping with tuition fees but worked full-time for all other expenses while barely managing 20-24 units per quarter. I definitely do not advise you do this. I’d much rather have walked with some debt and have, you know, actually had the mental acuity to pay attention in class.

NajaPop DVM (also UCD alum) finished paying off his student loan debt around age 50. That was more or less the entire impetuous for me having a panic disorder regarding student loans.

NajaHusband went to Georgia Tech and carries around $20k for undergrad work; he also got through with some help from parents.

You’re insane Naja. You must have graduated in what? 2.5 years? What was your major?

I hope you still had time to enjoy college.

I did the same thing, and I also regret it somewhat, since I didn’t do as well in a lot of courses as I could have.

Graduated last July, did university in 2.75 years, with one year in between for the military, ended up with $11k student loans and a portfolio of ~$18k in registered investment accounts and ~$12k in non-registered investment accounts(Thanks, taxpayers! Now you see why universities and students love socialism.). I was anxious to start working instead of flushing money down the toilet in university.

I had initially counted on the student loan interest to be somewhat beneficial come tax time. They were not, or not as much as I expected, and their interest rate was becoming very uncompetitive, so I shifted some funds around and extinguished the loans last week. I’m expecting this to free up an equivalent amount on my credit report in terms of total debt, so I can re-borrow immediately at much better rates.

There are a lot of factors to consider here. First, please remember that you can’t just look at the tuition and calculate how much debt you’re going to be in at the end. Financial aid in the form of grants and work-study can greatly lower the amount shelled out. Apply to the school first, then wait until after you’re accepted to figure out if you want to pay for it or not.

Let’s look at Swarthmore college. Their tuition/room/board/fees total is $45,700 for the 07-08 year. If we assume that will remain constant (which it won’t) that’s ~$183,000 for all 4 years. If you and your parent’s can’t pay that, you won’t. In fact you’ll pay much, much less. Yes, there will be debt, but you’ll get grants because this school has pretty good financial aid. Others are even better. Some of the ivies, which have loads of money, dropped all parental contributions for households making less than some amount ($45k?)

What if your parents can pay, but won’t? Then your kind of screwed. Many schools (Swarthmore included) require contribution from both parents in the aid calculations. You can be married with a kid(s), but they don’t care. In that case you’re stuck with loans for the whole thing. I’m not sure that $200,000 is really worth it.

Also keep in mind that where you go to college will effect your options post-graduation, especially if you might go to grad school.

How much money are you going to be making after? Chemistry grad school pays $20-25k/year as a stipend, and you still count as a student if you have those interest-free loans. If you’re in a good program, you can expect $35k/year as a postdoc and ~$90k/year in industry. Oh, you want to be an art teacher? That’s cool, but it might not be so lucrative

[Edit: this is written like it’s addressing the OP instead of the sister, but I’m sure you all know what I meant.]

When I say my sister is an excellent student, I mean she has received 2 B’s so far in high school and the rest of her grades are A’s. That leaves her with a GPA of around 3.9 and a weighted GPA of 5.1. She hasn’t taken the SAT yet (I advised her to take it this spring or summer) but she did well on the PSAT last year without studying so hopefully she will prepare for the math, her weak area, and get a really good score. I know she doesn’t know what she wants to major in (possibly biology), so a school that offers lots of choices is a must. She is in a few extracurriculars that require her to do community service but she hasn’t done anything extraordinary like a science project that provides power to half a dozen low-income schools or whatever the hell you have to do to get into Harvard and the like. She is not interested in a school that is mostly a commuter school, so that rules out most of the Florida public schools except for UF, FSU, and the New College of Florida and she has her reservations about those. I told her she will probably like any school she goes to well enough if she makes an effort to meet people and get involved but I know she’s prefer a medium-sized school.

I probably would not recommend she exceed $15,000 in student loans. My parents will only be able to pay for a few thousand a year (maybe 3000). My dad is retired now and my mom makes a pretty good income as a nurse. Does anyone have any recommendations on good schools that are not impossible to get into and offer decent financial aid packages? Thanks!

Right now I probably have something like 50k. I have two more semesters to go, so probably another 10k. I only work 20 hours a week, and I don’t have any contribution from the parents. I will have gone 5 1/2 years though, as I switched my major twice.

I even went to a 2 year school to save some money

** Lately I have pulled the maximum on loans every year, mostly to pay rent and some expenses. My bills are something like 800-900 a month, and I only make about 500-600 dollars a month at my part time job.