Another reason to avoid student loans

by Grace

Level of student debt burden, not choice of school, is the biggest predictor of a college graduate’s well-being.

Last year Gallup surveyed over 30,000 college graduates to learn how well they were doing.

For the most part, the type of school has little correlation with well-being.

… It asked graduates how they were doing across five different metrics, including financially, physically and socially. Eleven percent of graduates of public universities and private universities said they were “thriving” across all five. Twelve percent of graduates of U.S. News & World Report’s top 100 schools were thriving, essentially the same as the rest.


But student loans can cripple well-being.


The biggest predictor of whether a graduate wasn’t thriving was whether he or she had student loans. Fourteen percent of those without any debt said they were thriving, compared to 2 percent of those with more than $40,000 of debt. You can’t draw iron-clad conclusions from that, but those figures should be worrisome all the same for anyone thinking about taking on student loans.

Takeaway lessons:  Going into debt to attend your “dream” school may be detrimental to your well-being.  Private school may not be worth the extra money.


These are the five elements of well-being that were measured in the Gallup survey:

Purpose Well-Being: Liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals

Social Well-Being: Having strong and supportive relationships and love in your life

Financial Well-Being: Effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security

Community Well-Being: The sense of engagement you have with the areas where you live,

liking where you live, and feeling safe and having pride in your community

Physical Well-Being: Having good health and enough energy to get things done on a daily basis


Max Ehrenfreund, “Private colleges are a waste of money for white, middle class kids”, Washington Post, December 18, 2014.

5 Comments to “Another reason to avoid student loans”

  1. Look at the dip in well being for grads of private for-profit schools. My understanding is that they also bear the highest debt level, so those grads are probably disproportionately represented in the group at the bottom of the second chart. So is the cause the debt, or having graduated from a for-profit, or something else?


  2. “So is the cause the debt, or having graduated from a for-profit, or something else?”

    Don’t forget these graduates probably start out with a deficit in well-being, compared to all other categories. Which leads me to consider that public school graduates also probably start out with a lower well-being measure compared to private school graduates.


  3. I think you have to compare public vs private non-profit based on selectivity. I suspect kids who go to UMichigan are pretty similar to those who go to NYU or Tufts or even Yale. OTOH, there are a lot of private, non-profit, non-selective schools out there, and their students are likely to be comparable to the ones who go to regional state colleges.


  4. Yes, although private school students do tend to be from higher income families.


  5. Not mine! Most of our students are Pell eligible. There are lots of private colleges out there that serve disadvantaged students.


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