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Beat Student Debt Blues: Get a Job Pre-Diploma

Land a Job Before Leaving School

Seniors entering their final college year worry about two things—landing a job and paying student loans. Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest time to do either. Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that workers ages 20 to 24 have a higher unemployment rate—13.8%—than any other demographic with one exception: workers age 16 to 20. That’s why it’s not so surprising that grads are having a harder time paying their loans. The U.S. Department of Education reports that nearly 9% of borrowers default on their student loans. That’s up from 7% in 2008.

Students can take several steps before graduation to ensure they’ll have a job and a paycheck when they turn the tassel. Read on to learn six tips on how to land a job before leaving school to avoid student loan default.

Know Your Odds

“(Student loan) default rates vary tremendously by institutional type and level,” explains Stephen Rose, senior economist at the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. “At the two-year level public schools, the default rate is pretty low because the costs are so low.”

Data vary among four-year schools. While 7.2% of public school students and 4.6% of students at private schools default within two years of graduating, 15% of those attending for-profit institutions do so, according to the Department of Education.

By researching their school’s default rate, students can be aware of how well-prepared grads are to face the job market, then decide whether they’ll need to take steps to beef up their resumes, says Rose.

Students can research student loan default rates at individual institutions by heading to the Department of Education’s Official Cohort Default Rate Search.

Hone Your Skills

Students of all majors can enhance their marketability and decrease their default risk by sharpening skills that all employers look for, such as critical thinking, communication and quantitative reasoning, says Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

“If you want to major in (something like) comparative literature, you also should be doing some other kinds of courses: learning how to do an Excel spreadsheet, learning how to communicate effectively in short- and longer-form writing, speaking, making presentations,” he says. “These are things that you may or may not get in your comparative literature major. If you’re not, you need to make sure that you’re getting it with your elective courses.”

In a 2010 MetLife study of Fortune 1000 executives, 99% said problem solving and critical thinking skills were essential or very important to career readiness, while 97% said that the ability to write clearly and persuasively was important.

Aim for a Career

Jobs pay the student loan bills immediately. Careers pay them for life. A longitudinal study by the National Center for Education Statistics of 1992 to 1993 grads shows that borrowers don’t default on student loans right away. Among grads who defaulted, most did so nearly four to five years after leaving college.

Rose says that by aiming for a career path they’re likely to stick with for years, grads can increase the chances of paying off their loans and decrease the likelihood of unemployment in the postgrad years.

“(Students) should be on a reasonable career track within four or five years (after college) at most,” he says. “For those who really don’t start finding it ... it’s seen as a mark against them.”

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