College Connect Fall 2018: Students with Debt Struggle with Transition to Grad School

By Tucker Pennington

Imagine driving six hours to class and back each week to save $425 on rent.

That is exactly what Jori Moore, a 24-year-old master’s student in school counseling at University of Georgia, does to help make grad school affordable.

For the Lilburn, Georgia, student, living at home is one of the many financial decisions she has made in pursuit of her graduate degree, and every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday she drives an hour to reach campus.

Her mom offered for her to stay at home because it made sense financially, said Moore. “I have a close relationship with my family, and my mom definitely helps me out a lot financially,” she said.

As an undergraduate, Moore took advantage of the HOPE scholarship – a scholarship given to students in Georgia who maintain a 3.0 grade point average – took out $25,000 in loans and worked on campus at the Village Summit dining hall. After graduating, she got a full-time job at Advantage Behavioral Health Systems, a local Community Service Board that offers mental health services. Moore made around $28,000 after graduating, but said budgeting was not a priority.

That changed in the fall of 2017 when she decided to return to UGA for grad school. In addition to commuting to school three days a week, Moore has taken out another $28,000 of student loans to pay for grad school for this year alone. She has been forced to rethink her spending habits.

“I wasn’t working a full-time job anymore, so that income, those checks every two weeks weren’t coming in anymore. It was the extra things, like getting my nails done, I couldn’t do anymore,” said Moore, describing how she has had to cut back.

Stories like Moore’s are not unique, according to Kristin Short, a 28-year-old studying for a doctorate in financial planning with an assistantship focusing on teaching graduate students at UGA about personal finance. Short runs a student loan workshop on campus and has encountered many students who are unprepared for the financial leap to grad school.

“Everyone is going to have that transition, whether it’s going to grad school or getting a job, it’s just heightened in grad school because you don’t have as much income,” said Short. “The things that stress them the most seem to be their student loans. Specifically, people are more stressed if they have undergraduate student loans.”

Short said managing the stress from having little income can be helped by tracking where and how students spend their money. She also described programs that will help grad students manage student loan debt.

“The public-school loan forgiveness program is definitely a good option for a lot of people,” said Short. “Going to grad school is going to increase their income enough that it will be well worth it and they shouldn’t be worried about their student loans.”

Moore plans to take advantage of the loan forgiveness program, which will forgive her student loan debt after working for 10 years at a public school as a school counselor. To take advantage of the deal, she must keep up with her loan payments until the forgiveness requirements are met.

After completing grad school, Moore plans to manage her finances more strictly.

“I know I’ll probably still live at home for a while until I can save up, because I’d rather buy a house than have to rent,” said Moore, describing her plans.  “For the most part, save money any way I can.”

Tucker Pennington is a journalism student at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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