I am going to be attending a New York university this spring as a
music major. My ultimate goal is to get a doctorate of ethnomusicology
and to teach at a university while also completing fieldwork research. My
loan debt will be very high (at least $100,000). Do you know how to
attempt to get a high-paying college job right out of school? Also,
will my loans need to be paid back if I go from undergraduate to
graduate with no breaks?
— Katie G.
There are very few jobs in ethnomusicology outside of academia, mainly
working for a museum or library. Some ethnomusicologists work for
record labels. Employment typically requires a doctorate. Even if you
get a doctorate in ethnomusicology and are hired by a college, the
salary is fairly low, $40,000 to $60,000 a year for an assistant
professor. The median salary for all college faculty in musicology and
ethnomusicology, at all experience levels, is $60,400 according to the
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job prospects in related fields, such as
music therapy, aren't any better, although the education requirements
aren't as stringent. Music in general is not a major that pays well,
aside from a very small subset of popular performers.
Given that you are contemplating a six figure debt to pay for your
undergraduate and graduate education, your debt-to-income ratio will
be at least 2 to 1. At least a quarter to a third of your gross
monthly income will go to repaying your student loans, assuming a
10-year repayment term and that you borrow only federal student
loans. Such a high debt load puts you at very high risk of defaulting
on your loans. You will need to use an alternate repayment plan to be
able to afford your monthly loan payments, and even then you will be
at the limit of affordability. Extended repayment with a 30-year
repayment term will reduce the monthly payments to about 15% of your
gross monthly income. The total payments under extended repayment will
be more than twice your original debt. Just the interest payments
alone will be more than what you borrowed. Income-based repayment and
graduated repayment will start off with lower monthly payments, but
will ultimately cost you almost as much in interest.
You will be in debt and struggle financially for most of your working
life. You will have to assume a very austere lifestyle. You will
probably need to continue living at home with your parents for the
next two or three decades because your finances will be extremely
tight. You may need to work two jobs just to make ends meet.
If you enroll in graduate school immediately after graduating from
your undergraduate university you will be able to continue defering
repayment on your federal student loans while you are in
school. However, interest will continue to accrue on your federal
unsubsidized Stafford and Grad PLUS loans, digging you deeper into
debt. If you capitalize this interest by adding it to the loan balance
instead of paying it while you are in school, your debt at graduation
will be tens of thousands of dollars higher.
If you default on your loans, it will ruin your credit. Borrowers who
default on student loans are often unable to obtain credit cards, auto
loans and mortgages. You may even have difficulty renting an
apartment, because many landlords check the credit histories of
prospective tenants. You will not be able to escape from this debt,
ever, because student loans generally cannot be discharged in
bankruptcy. Less than 1% of bankruptcy filers who have student loans
succeed in getting those loans discharged. The federal government will
garnish up to 15% of your salary and offset your federal and state
income tax refunds. The government will even garnish up to 15% of your
Social Security benefits.
It is ok to follow your dreams, but you need to find a way to pay for
them that involves a lot less debt. You must cut your debt burden at
least in half. For example, you could borrow less by enrolling in a
less expensive college with a more generous financial aid
policy. (Your college is one of the most expensive and least generous
colleges in the country.)
You should search for scholarships on Fastweb.com and other free
scholarship matching services. There are several hundred music
scholarship programs, but most are college-specific and have
geographic restrictions. Still, every dollar you win in scholarships
is a dollar less you will need to borrow.
Public service loan forgiveness might be an option, if you can find a
job that qualifies, such as working for a tax exempt charitable
organization. To benefit from public service loan forgiveness you will
need to repay your loans in the direct loan program under the
income-based repayment plan. After ten years of full-time employment
in a public-service job, any remaining debt will be forgiven.
You should consider double-majoring in a more lucrative field of study
so that you have a way of paying the rent and repaying your debt while
you pursue your dreams.