By Jenny Vo

When Russell Cochran left Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, he also left behind a football scholarship worth about $22,000 a year.

Cochran said he no longer wanted to play football and transferred to the University of Georgia to pursue a degree in Housing Management and Policy.

“I was a sports management major there and I decided I wanted to do real estate and they didn’t have it, so I transferred,” he said, noting that it costs more to go to UGA. “But I believe it’s worth it.”

To attend UGA, Cochran has relied on his parents and financial aid to help pay for his tuition and expenses.

“I realized in the summer of 2018 that I would need loans because when looking at financial aid, I realized the money for living on campus wasn’t there. I was only paying for my tuition,” he said. “I knew I needed to take out the loan to pay for my rent, books, groceries and other needs.”

Cochran looked at loans online and settled on a private loan through Sallie Mae, based upon the recommendation of a friend.

Sallie Mae is a company that provides private student loans and is the nation’s largest originator of federally backed student loans, according to Investopedia.

“Right now I have to student loans through Sallie Mae and it’s roughly around maybe 10 or 12 grand,” he said.

When taking out loans, many students have the option of federally-backed programs or private loans through banks or other commercial lenders.

The main difference between the loans is the flexibility of payments and the amount of interest. With private loans, the lender sets the interest amount as well as when payments are due, according to the U.S. Federal Student Aid office.

“I chose a deferred loan. That way I wouldn’t have to pay until after I graduated because I don’t really have the time to have a job right now,” he said

Cochran is to graduate in spring 2020 and admits he is nervous about the debt that awaits him.

“I’m a little anxious because I know that when I do graduate I have the big amount of debt waiting for me at the end of the six months post graduation,” he said. “But I have picked a major and a hopeful career path that will benefit me with what I consider a high paying job.”

According to Michael Thomas, an accredited financial counselor and lecturer at UGA, students like Cochran are better off taking federal loans than private.

“Federal loans generally have more flexible payment options, payback periods, and then generally have lower interest rates,” he said.

According to Thomas, students like Cochran who choose deferred payment plans can end up waiting too long to start planning how they will repay their loans.

“A lot of college students don’t want to look at any of this stuff, they want to defer the process,” he said. “The optimal strategy is to be mindful of where you want to be before you even graduate; to be actively working towards either maintaining being in that position or making adjustments along the way.”

Thomas emphasized the importance of making the most of your college experience and using all the available resources to help your future debt.

“There are things that you can do now to better position yourself to lower that payback period, whether it’s applying for more scholarships, being involved with organizations, establishing social capital in order to improve your career prospects and earnings opportunity,” Thomas said.

Jenny Vo is a journalism student at the University of Georgia.