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Financial Debt after Psychology degrees

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Okay, so I was browsing the net and found this : 

http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/01/debt.aspx

You can go through the article but the statistics shocked me. 

" APA's latest survey of doctoral graduates, completed in 2011, revealed that more than two-thirds of all students took out loans during their education, with the median amount of debt ranging from $30,000 for psychology research PhDs to $80,000 for students in health service professions. PsyD students graduate with a median debt of $120,000."

I know it's 2011 figures but I find this ridiculous. Not one psychologist I know starting out earns the buckets of money that is needed to repay these loans off quickly and efficiently. Some corporate law and med students are in similar situations but their salaries are way higher after graduation than psychologists. It made me doubt whether I am willing to take up such a huge financial burden.

What is your opinion on the debt accumulated by PhD Psych students? Any experiences to share?

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A few years back, I applied to masters programs and to one PsyD program where I landed an interview and was accepted. It was explicitly stated that there was no funding and financial support and I already have over 100k in student loans from undergrad ( now more, after my masters). It would have been a really poor decision for me to move forward with the program or really any masters program without financial support ( for example BU accepted me, but costs ~50k to attend vs. my program provided 20K off the bat in scholarship merit award, no questions asked). My masters helped me land a research job that pays 60K and I've been able to pay down 25k (paltry amount of my full debt nonetheless) in less than two years. I've found a system to pay off my loans that has worked for me (until I go back for my PhD, and then everything will be put on hold), however many people don't...its crippling and holds you back from living your life. Unfortunately, I think taking out intangible amounts of money for your career and future doesn't seem so awful when you know you'll make a salary eventually...until you're faced with the numbers and reality of how much you're expected to cough up every month. I think the big key is to really organize yourself and make a plan, no matter how unique your situation is. As an immigrant, my family had no idea how to help me with financial aid in undergrad so in my family...it hasn't felt so wild to be in debt. However, they now play a huge role as a resource in helping me organize myself to pay off my loans in bigger chunks. At the rate I'm going, it would take me another 8 years to pay off everything, and frankly that doesn't scare me...but only because I have a plan. 

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The obvious thing to say here is that for the research PhDs, those figures include the apples and the oranges--both funded and unfunded students/programs. Which is not to say that people who walk into a program with full-funding necessarily leave with no new debt. Folks take longer to graduate than their programs would like/can afford, stipends don't stretch as far as they'd hope. But not knowing what the ratio of funded to unfunded PhD students is, it's hard to know what to make of that median stat of 30K--or of the 2/3 figure, as it pools PhD/health profesh/PsyD. 

I can't speak to any experiences accumulating debt at the PhD level, but my (possibly unpopular) opinion is that PhD programs that can't afford to fund their students should stop admitting or close up shop, and that no one should accept an offer without funding. And everyone should look very closely at their funding offers with respect to cost of living in the area, median years to graduation in the program vs. years guaranteed, consider whether they already have debt they should start paying down, and ask a lot of questions about funding--of current students where possible--when given the chance. 

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I also wanted to say that outcomes in your prospective programs is something else to look very closely at. Even a relatively small amount debt is crippling if you can't get a job that pays a decent wage (and even if the eventual outcome is a good job, you may be spending several years after graduation as a poorly paid postdoc). You want outcome statistics, not outlier examples (oh, we just placed somebody TT at U-XYZ). It's extraordinarily tempting to assume you'll be among the lucky few, but don't. Assume you'll be in the bottom 50%. Especially if you are an aspiring academic, it's important to have a viable "Plan B" if that you can't get an academic job, so check out the alternative careers of people in your prospective lab (lab in particular rather than program overall, since alternative career paths will be determined skills acquisition). 

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20 hours ago, overdetermination said:

The obvious thing to say here is that for the research PhDs, those figures include the apples and the oranges--both funded and unfunded students/programs. Which is not to say that people who walk into a program with full-funding necessarily leave with no new debt. Folks take longer to graduate than their programs would like/can afford, stipends don't stretch as far as they'd hope. But not knowing what the ratio of funded to unfunded PhD students is, it's hard to know what to make of that median stat of 30K--or of the 2/3 figure, as it pools PhD/health profesh/PsyD. 

I can't speak to any experiences accumulating debt at the PhD level, but my (possibly unpopular) opinion is that PhD programs that can't afford to fund their students should stop admitting or close up shop, and that no one should accept an offer without funding. And everyone should look very closely at their funding offers with respect to cost of living in the area, median years to graduation in the program vs. years guaranteed, consider whether they already have debt they should start paying down, and ask a lot of questions about funding--of current students where possible--when given the chance. 

yes, the ratio isn't mentioned. But honestly, what is the point of an unfunded PhD program unless you are stinking rich? I agree with your assessment that PhD programs should really be upfront about their financial capabilities. 

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Do these figures include pre-doctoral debt? For example, I know a lot of people do unfunded masters as a way of upping their chances for PhD programs, so that might be where some of the debt is coming from. I was the poster who previously mentioned that I would have been $140k in the hole if I had completed my unfunded masters. I actually quit the program and am only $60k in now, but still....

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9 minutes ago, dancedementia said:

Do these figures include pre-doctoral debt? For example, I know a lot of people do unfunded masters as a way of upping their chances for PhD programs, so that might be where some of the debt is coming from. I was the poster who previously mentioned that I would have been $140k in the hole if I had completed my unfunded masters. I actually quit the program and am only $60k in now, but still....

I was wondering this too.  Sure debt is still debt, but I would be interested in seeing how much of it is from unfunded or partially funded Master's degrees in comparison to just PhDs or PsyDs.

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