Commentary: Reduce college debt by spending loans responsibly

College has its pros — meeting new people, expanding your knowledge, earning many useful life lessons, not to mention employment. The unemployment rate is higher for non-college graduates and lifetime earnings for college graduates are on average $650,000 higher than those who do not earn their degrees, according to the Pew Research Center.

But college does have cons — it is not a one-way ticket to a long, successful career. According to the Huffington Post, 27 percent of college graduates are working full-time, yet underemployed. And, with an underemployed position, it could take more than 20 years to pay off college debts, which brings us to another con: outstanding debt.

The Pew Research Center also found that one in five households in the U.S. had outstanding loan debt in 2010, with those affected owing an average of $26,682, an amount that has risen 14 percent since 2007.

Particularly at UTSA, 74 percent of students in 2012 were awarded loans totaling $164,711,836, according to the UTSA Fact Book.

Students need to realize the reality of college and its cost. College is not a place to rack up loan debt, blindly unaware of the post-graduation consequences. In today’s tough job market, students need to prepare for underemployment (or lack of) and with that, a lower-than-expected pay grade.

First, make sound financial decisions. Don’t borrow more than you need and spend loan money on college expenses — not movie nights with friends. And remember, the search for financial aid and scholarships isn’t over after the first year of college; it’s a repetitive effort.

Secondly, students should give 100 percent toward grades, organizational involvement and extensive networking. If you’re going to pay for college — for years and years to come — make sure to get the most out of it.

UTSA, like most educational institutions, provides a handful of helpful services for every student, such as the University Career Center, and hosts plenty of on-campus events from job fairs to financial planning seminars.

College can take you far if you take advantage of what’s offered, but it will also clean out your wallet, so make sure to get your money’s worth.