Student Debt Art

As part of our initiative called Curious Cornhuskers, an anonymous reader asked The Daily Nebraskan, “For someone graduating from [the University of Nebraska-Lincoln] with average student debt and making an average salary (bachelor’s degree), how does Lincoln compare to the rest of the United States?”

According to The Institute for College Access and Success, Nebraska ranked 38 out of the 48 total reporting states and the District of Columbia for 2018 graduates’ debt. Alaska, Arizona and North Dakota did not report to the institute and were excluded from the list.

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Nebraska is listed on the website as having an average student debt of $26,422, while the first and last ranked, Connecticut and Utah, are listed as having an average student debt of $38,669 and $19,728, respectively, for 2018 graduates.

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Compared to other Big Ten schools — the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is not included due to not providing data to the institute — UNL graduates had the second lowest amount of student debt. This includes an average student debt of $22,676 and $8,978 in tuition and fees, according to the institute.

With debt being a problem for many graduates, UNL’s Husker Hub has trained employees who can offer advice and recommendations for saving money both in and out of college.

Jessica Van Buskirk, a recent UNL graduate with majors in psychology and environmental studies, and Pete Haslett, a graduate music student, are student service specialists at Husker Hub. The two provided their top-four pieces of advice on how to save money both in college and after graduation.

Apply early, apply often

Whether students think they qualify or not, Van Buskirk said, they should apply for federal aid, grants and scholarships.

Because students do not think they qualify, she said some don’t fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or UNL’s 500-word scholarship admissions essay. By filling these out, students can be eligible for various aid opportunities.

Upon admission, the student’s essay and profile are automatically looked at for academic scholarships, like the George Beadle Scholarship, Ruth Leverton Scholarship and the Regents Scholar Commitment, as well as leadership and diversity scholarships, according to Van Buskirk. She said students are sometimes also eligible for grants, which do not need to be paid back.

UNL upperclassmen can apply for continuing student scholarships in their MyRED accounts starting in mid-November, Haslett said.

He also said the EducationQuest Foundation, a nonprofit helping students access higher education, provides external scholarship information on its website. According to Haslett, unclaimed money is leftover each year after scholarship deadlines, and students are able to access it if they just apply.

“I encourage all students just to [apply],” Haslett said. “They might have to apply for hundreds of scholarships, but they get some money that way, and it’s free.”

Have an interest in lowering interest

When students are first offered financial aid packages at the beginning of each school year, they should be careful not to accept more than they need, Van Buskirk said.

As a freshman, she said she was offered a large amount in financial aid and loans and accepted the package without looking at what she actually needed.

“I got this hefty refund, and I thought I was getting paid to go to school, whereas it’s really loan money that has to be paid back in the future,” Van Buskirk said.

She said by minimizing the amount of loans accepted, and by paying the principal balance each month, interest is minimized, and the interest does not capitalize upon itself.

Federal loans also sometimes provide more flexibility than private loans, such as a zero dollar payment while in school, according to Van Buskirk.

Budget now, spend later

Students are often told to create a budget, but Haslett said it needs to be a livable budget.

When students know how much they make, as well as how much they usually spend, he said they’re able to make smarter financial decisions while also knowing how much extra money they have to spend or save.

Saving today can solve tomorrow’s problems

Van Buskirk said saving now will allow students to spend later and be able to handle unexpected disasters, like a tree falling through a roof or a tire blowing out on the side of the road.

When she got her first paycheck after graduating this past May, she said her initial thought was that she was rich and had money to spend. 

“It’s hard not to go out and … buy a new couch or to decorate my whole house because now I have money to do so,” Van Buskirk said. “I think it’s really important to take a good portion of that paycheck and put it aside.”

Despite UNL’s average student debt ranking toward the bottom of the list compared to other Big Ten schools and 2018 graduates, Van Buskirk and Haslett said it’s still important to minimize debt and maximize financial success.

“Grants and scholarships are the way to go,” Haslett said. “Student loans are great if you need them, but if you can do it without loans, that’s even better.”