In a letter to the editor, published March 22 in The Lantern, President Barack Obama said, “The average undergrad who borrows to pay for college ends up graduating with about $28,000 in student loan debt.”
And many Ohio State students are turning to services like Scarlet and Gray Financial, as they try to stay on top of their debt.
Bryan Ashton, assistant director for financial wellness in the Office of Student Life Student Wellness Center, oversees financial literacy programs for OSU and said he understands that students have a lot to balance when it comes to finances and that’s where SGF can be helpful to students.
“(SGF) gives them a pretty good overview of their financial situation and then helps them work through any questions that they may have around different areas of their financial life,” Ashton said. “It also helps them really think about the long-term financial future that they may have. They are meeting with a very well-trained fellow student who sees anywhere from 40-90 clients a year … and can really help to work through a variety of topics — from day-to-day financial management all the way through thinking about loan repayment.”
Steven Gazdag, a third-year in finance, has worked as a “1:1,” or one-on-one, financial coach at SGF for four semesters and has seen the amount of students coming for assessments rise since his first semester as a coach, as they now see “upwards of 1,400 students per year.”
He said that a lot of the time slots are filled up with students who are going through the Second-year Transformational Experience Program. Students in this program are required to go through a “1:1” coaching session as part of the STEP requirements.
SGF is in the second year of that university mandate, which has, in turn, called for an increased number of volunteer financial coaches.
“We had around six or seven coaches when I started my training, and now we are upwards of 30,” Gazdag said.
“If (students) have things that are concerning them, I think it’s a great tool to calm the nerves, and we really given them the tools that they need to kind of attack it,” he said. “We like to think of it as a financial check-up. We’ll ask questions and dig deeper a little bit, and figure out ways that you can be a little more financially sound, and healthy.”
Gazdag said keeping the bigger picture in mind, along with their goals, is a great way for students to stay on the right track. He said that the coaches at SGF can coach students by showing and explaining all of the options available to them, but cannot advise them to take specific loans or routes because they are not licensed to financially advise students. The “1:1” sessions are free, and appointments can be set up by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“All of our coaches are extremely dedicated and passionate about what they do,” Gazdag said. “We all love what we do — being able to come in with students and really give an impact on their lives, in terms of finance and their well-being. What we do, as kind of our goal, is to empower students through that educational process. The more you know, the better options you have and the better equipped you are to make the best choice for yourself. We want students to prioritize how they finance their education.”
But some OSU students said they are more preoccupied with classes, making it difficult to balance managing finances.
Amine Bouhara, a second-year medical student, said he primarily pays for college through loans and scholarships. He said his focus is on getting through college and worrying about the debt after graduation.
“I’m aware that I’m going to have to worry about it later,” he said. “You can’t do two things at once; you can’t deal with your financial situation at the same time as you try to deal with school.
He said he does keep track of how much loan debt he is acquiring while in school, but he trusts the process and guidance that OSU provides to him.
“I think I’m standardized, like what I’m doing is the best thing,” he said. “Because through the med school there is a financial office and they try to always give you the best deal. There is no other way for me to get around (loans). Med school is really expensive. I don’t think anyone in my class is paying cash, unless they are super rich. Everyone is taking out loans.”
Maysen Mesaros, a second-year in molecular genetics, said her parents help pay for her classes through loans, which she will have to pay back after she graduates.
“In the back of my head, I know that there is going to be debt that I’m going to have to pay off. I’m worried more about if I make it to med school, that debt,” she said. “I’m aware of it, but I don’t know the exact amounts (of debt) I’m going to be in, or anything like that. I just know that there is going to be debt eventually.”
Mesaros said she thinks visiting SGF would help her as she plans for life after college.
“I think that (a financial wellness assessment) would be good for me,” she said. “I think that it’s important to know now, obviously, so I’m not shocked when I’m out of college. So that I have a plan and that I’m not basically screwed when I’m in med school. I’m obviously not going to have a large income then, so I think it’s important to know now, so I can start setting aside money and finding small jobs here and there to start paying that off.”
Each student has a different financial profile, and Ashton said that pointing students in the right direction financially now will help students be more successful in the long run. He said that if possible, students shouldn’t finance anything other than the essentials that are required for their education, such as tuition and housing.
“What we kind of like to say is, you want to live like a college student today, so you won’t have to afterwards,” Ashton said.