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Watching Money Fly Away...

Seniors Express Little Concern About Paying Off College Loans But Say They May Not Be Adequately Prepared

At a commencement speech on May 19 at Brandeis University, Madeleine K. Albright, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., told the students that graduation is one of the five milestones of their lives.

"The others are birth, marriage, death and the day you finally pay off your student loans," she said

About half of all Harvard seniors will have loans to pay back, and the average senior with loans will be between $15,000 and $20,000 in debt, says Director of Financial Aid James S. Miller.

Seniors say they are not overly concerned about their ability to pay off loans and that their post-graduation plans are not being unduly influenced by their financial responsibilities.

In order to prepare seniors for their post-graduation obligations, the financial aid office requires those graduating with loans to attend exit interviews during which they calculate with financial aid officers exactly what they owe and what that will mean in terms of repayment.

Seniors say that before attending their exit interviews they knew very little about their options or responsibilities for repayment.

Most say they had not been informed about their loans since first-year registration day when they watched a government-mandated video on loan repayment. Few say they had even thought about their loans before they learned they had to attend the exit interview.

Some seniors says they are, in the end, dissatisfied with the exit interview because it did not provide any more information than they could easily have found out on their own.

"It was kind of useless," says Chip Sumner '96, a physics concentrator who plans to continue his studies next year at Cal Tech. "The government puts out a good book, so it seems pointless to go somewhere where the person speaking doesn't know as much as the book."

Others say they were more prepared for their exit interviews, but only because they had taken the time and effort on their own to learn about loan repayment during the previous four years.

Miller says financial aid officers are encouraged to bring up loan payment options whenever possible during meetings with students as financial aid packages are put together.

It is crucial for financial aid officers to discuss loans periodically with students so that they can ensure that the right amount of loans are being taken out by students, Miller says.

"We want to make sure we meet their need, but we don't want to bury them under the debt," he says.

Each student's financial situation is different, based on factors like the income level of the family and post-graduation plans, he says.

Seniors who will work on Wall Street will be able to borrow differently from those who plan to go to graduate school.

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