Life with big student debt: tales from four college graduates

College costs have soared in the past decade, rising much faster than inflation. The result: More students borrow – so much so that cumulative student loan debt now tops $1 trillion, more than Americans owe on credit cards. Some grads pay $700 or more a month. How do they swing it?

3. Christy Morley

Courtesy of Christy Morley
Courtesy of Christy Morley

Graduated from Rhode Island College in 2001

Amount owed: about $35,000

Job: high school chemistry teacher

Christy Morley chose a public college to try to keep costs down, but she still graduated with about $30,000 in debt. She took seven years to get her degree, in part due to the cost – but now realizes that may have hurt her because it delayed her career and meant she had to take out more loans to cover living expenses.

With a degree in chemistry, she was overqualified for lab jobs and underqualified for research work, so she went into teaching. Ms. Morley, who lives in North Carolina and now has two children, still hopes to get an advanced degree someday, but is daunted by the idea of taking on more loans. Today she owes about $5,000 more than she did when she graduated, due to a few years when she couldn't cover all of the interest payments.

One possible bright spot: She is about to finish her fifth year of teaching in a high-needs school as a highly qualified science teacher, which should entitle her to get $17,500 of her student debt forgiven.

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