Connor Hogan played the financial long game when picking his college.
"I was deciding between two schools, and my parents were like 'oh you can go to RIT or you can go to Plattsburgh, and if you go Plattsburgh it's cheap enough that we can probably pay for it," the Poughkeepsie native recalled.
"If I go to grad school I don't want to have debt from undergrad as well," he remembered thinking as he weighed the schools.
At SUNY Plattsburgh, Connor studied nutrition and dietetics.
"I was really fortunate to get an RA position my sophomore year and I did that for three years," he said. Knowing that one of the perks of being an RA (besides the single room) was free room, he knew before he entered college that he was shooting for such a position. Thanks to his campus life position in addition to a merit scholarship and the affordability of the state school, he only ended up paying about $3,000 per year before graduating in 2016.
While applying to colleges, Connor didn't look at financial aid, but he did apply for plenty of outside scholarships. His English class even included a few scholarship essay assignments.
He said he knew what his family's finances were, so the first round of FAFSA didn't have many surprises.
"I didn't take [out] any student loans at all," he said, and sounded almost surprised at his circumstances. "I graduated without any debt whatsoever."
And then came graduate school.
"I was kind of freaking out," Connor recalled as he described realizing his Master of Public Health degree at Tufts might put him $50,000 in debt. Then his parents reminded him that some people pay that much for a fancy car, which isn't going to advance your career the way a degree can.
"You can pay that off in 10 years," he said, even if it’s unsubsidized: Unlike some federal loans for undergraduates, loans for graduate degree programs start accumulating interest even while the borrower is enrolled. Connor noted with a sigh that he probably had a few thousand in interest on his loans already, even though he won’t graduate until this spring.
But as with the RA position, Connor’s job options may help him out in the student loan department. Public service loan forgiveness is one of several ways the federal government can release students from their debts.
Connor said this option was one big reason for his desire to go into health care, and specifically public health. “That kind of plays a big part in me continuing to do it and I think it's a really important factor in people going into health care and nonprofit work,” he said. “Helping people is really important to me, and having those loan forgiveness plans lets me do that.”
He advises those entering college to be open to the idea of taking on student loans and if they do, to talk with their loan officer about what their repayments plans are.
“I would say don't worry as much about going into debt for education because it's really important and it will increase your odds of landing a job and the job you want--but you should constantly be aware and have a plan for how you are going to get out of debt,” he said.