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"If they continue to make that salary over 10 years and they allocate 10 percent of their gross income to paying back their student loan, they'll be able to pay off their student loan within 10 years," LaBreche says.
Besides researching national salary trends, LaBreche suggests you also look into what graduates of the school you're attending are earning. Most colleges have a career center where you can ask for this information.
Avoid future shock
The idea isn't to discourage you from pursuing your career passion, but to give you a clear-eyed view of the financial risks of borrowing money to do so.
"A lot of students get out of college not having the earning potential they think they will have," LaBreche says. "When they're in school, they are borrowing with rose-colored glasses on, thinking they're going to get their dream job."
But many of those students face a stunning reality when the loan payments come due after they start working.
Other ways around student debt
Before you sign a promissory note for a student loan you'll end up struggling to pay, make sure you've exhausted the alternative funding sources available to you -- especially grants and scholarships.
"Maximize the free aid first, because that's money that doesn't need to be repaid," Kantrowitz says.
Other options to explore before you apply for student loans include part-time work and tuition installment plans.
"If you can't afford to pay the bill in one big lump sum, you can spread it out into equal monthly installments," Kantrowitz says. "They don't charge interest, but they do charge an upfront fee that's typically less than $100. That can be a reasonable alternative to long-term debt."