Are you a high school senior wondering how you’re going to pay for school next year? Or maybe you’re a working adult thinking about going back to school to earn your degree and potentially advance your career.

Especially if you’re a high school student, you may have heard this:

A bachelor’s degree will take you as far as a high school diploma did years ago. You need one to get any job.

Is this true? It might be. Certainly, if you have no work experience, a college degree is one way to set yourself apart, while an advanced degree might make an employer realize you’re even more serious about your career. (After all, you invested all that time and money.)

But, let’s get down to it. That’s bachelor’s, master’s or even associate’s degree is costing you. How are you paying for it? And how soon will it “pay for itself?” What’s the ROI on your college diploma? And how much does that ROI drop if the only way you can pay for college is through student loans?

The answer to that last question: Quite a bit. So is it worth it to go into debt to go to school if it’s the only way you can pay for it? Only you can answer that question based on your current education level, your career field, your life goals, and a number of other factors. But these three things you may not know about students loans will offer food for thought… and maybe those thoughts will lead to other, better ways to pay for college.

1. An expensive degree can make it harder to find a job

Think about it. You hope your first job out of college will cover your living expenses, which usually includes rent, transportation, food, clothing (at least enough threads to wear to that new job!), and maybe a little left for your cell phone, internet connection and entertainment of some sort.

When you add student loans into the mix, you could be adding several hundred dollars to your monthly budget. Will you be able to find an entry-level position out of school that covers your costs? You might be pickier, hoping to land a job a little further up the corporate ladder, which could lead to being unemployed longer… which looks bad on your resume… and makes it harder to find a job. That’s not a fun cycle to be in right out of school.

2. 40+ percent of students make late payments

More than 40 percent of student loan borrowers made a late payment within the first five years of re-paying the loan, according to the Institute for Higher Education Policy. This goes back to the problem that entry-level jobs, even for college graduates, often don’t have enough earning potential to permit employees to pay back student loans. It becomes easier to make loan payments without financial hardship as you advance in your career to higher paying positions.

3. It is possible, but not likely, to get student loans discharged in a bankruptcy

For years, the party line was that student loans could not be included in a bankruptcy. That’s not true. This article in the Huffington Post explains that if a debtor can prove the loan causes “undue financial hardship,” there’s a 40 percent chance that student debt will be forgiven. If you are unemployed, considering bankruptcy, and are wondering if you can or should include your student loans, it’s worth asking.

How to Graduate College in a Better Financial Position

It would be irresponsible to talk about the downside of student loans without also discussing the benefits of a college education — and how to get that education without loans. The statistics may seem disheartening, but there are a few things you can do to graduate in a better financial position.

Find a job within your field during college, to help pay for college. Not only will you save on student loans, but you’ll enter the workforce at a higher level after you graduate, putting yourself in a much better position to pay back whatever loans you did take out.

Additionally, consider taking core courses at a community college and transferring to a four-year school after those core requirements are met. You’ll save a ton of cash on tuition, room and board and travel. Again, work while you’re in school and try to pay for those less expensive classes with cash.

College Grads Really Do Earn More

Depending on your career path, a college degree can help you earn 84 percent more over your lifetime than you would without it. Even more striking, a study out of the University of Georgetown estimated that 63 percent of American jobs will require postsecondary education or training by 2018. These are two compelling reasons to get a college degree, but you’ll reduce stress in the long-run, and be able to enjoy those additional 84 percent earnings sooner, if you do it without a student loan.

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