Unless you've been extremely fortunate, you're probably going to need to use student loans worth thousands of dollars to finance your college education. Whether you're entering school for the first time or returning to college after a long hiatus, you may be shocked to find that the cost of education has risen dramatically during the past two decades. The average cost for tuition and fees at a private institution now exceeds $40,000 per year. Meanwhile, the average college student withdraws from school or graduates with more than $20,000 in total student debts. It's unlikely that the job market will be capable of absorbing all of these indebted graduates without major economic improvement.
Before you begin to worry about your exposure to student debt after graduation, you'll need to ensure that you can afford to pay for your education in the here and now. You'll need to check with your higher education institution to determine its exact student-loan eligibility requirements. In most cases, you'll need to be a "half-time" student in order to become eligible for student-loan financing.
Depending upon the means by which credits are calculated at your college or university, this may require you to take between six and nine credits per semester. At an average cost of $800 or more per credit, this means that you'll need to spend between $4,800 and $7,200 per semester in order to receive your loan disbursements. Of course, the vast majority of these expenses should be covered by your loans. You'll be eligible to receive about $5,500 per semester in federally-backed Stafford disbursements and may be able to make up the difference using federally-backed "Parent PLUS" loans. If the latter loan type isn't a viable option, you might able to procure private loans on the open market.
It's important to note that the terms of your loans may be fairly strict. In particular, you may become liable for making payments on the interest that has accrued to your loan balance during the course of the school year. You'll typically suffer this consequence after becoming unable to fulfill your credit requirements, withdrawing from school without graduating, or failing to meet a pre-determined GPA requirement. If this happens, you'll immediately become responsible for paying off your student loans according to your lender's repayment schedule. Since this schedule can be quite aggressive, you'll quickly need to start looking for work or beginning the re-enrollment process.