When students receive their tuition refund checks, they sometimes think about purchasing the newest iPhone or the latest game system rather than textbooks for classes.

In reality, most students are supposed to use these funds to purchase books or cover living expenses throughout the semester.

With the rising amount of debt students acquire before graduation, the government has issued mandatory entrance and exit counseling for students receiving government loans. The entrance and exit counseling can be taken online by going to the National Student Loans Data System (NSLDS) website and clicking on the financial aid review tab or the exit counseling tab.

Tara Cates, senior psychology major and financial aid secretary, said she knows when refund time has hit, because everyone starts talking about purchases they are going to make.

“I remember being that person,” Cates said. “Thinking, ‘OK, I got this money I can do whatever with,’ but you don’t think about how years from now you have to pay this back.”

Cates said when she first started taking out loans no one explained to her what all was involved when a student takes out a loan.

“When I first started taking loans out, nobody counseled me or talked to me,” Cates said. “It was just like ‘OK, here are your options; take out a loan; this is what tuition is going to be; you are not going to make it without loans.’”

Cates recently had to participate in the entrance counseling when she applied for loans this past semester. Cates said the online entrance counseling talked about how to payback student loans and how much time students have to pay them back.

“I think I would have made different decisions if I had known what I know now,” Cates said.

When she first started college in 1998, Cates said she was not required to take the entrance counseling before she received her funds. If students would take time and carefully read what it is saying, students could get a lot out of it, she said.

“At some point in time, you are so focused on that $2,000, that one day you are going to turn around and that $2,000 has turned into $50,000,” Cates said. “And you have no idea how it got there.”

Laurie Rosenkrantz, interim director of financial aid, said the entrance counseling is a federal requirement for all students who receive financial aid.

“This just gives students an update that they are taking out a loan, and that they have to repay it,” Rosenkrantz said.
Rosenkrantz said if students had a loan at a previous school, then they most likely have already done the entrance counseling and are not required to do the counseling again. Entrance counseling is a federal requirement for all schools in the United States.

“It just gives you an overview,” Rosenkrantz said. “It is so that students do not go into default.”

Rosenkrantz said the entrance counseling also tells students not to over-borrow .

“There are some students that have to have living expenses,” she said. “We try to teach them and talk to them about over-borrowing too much, because it will come after you after you graduate.”

Students are supposed to take part in the entrance counseling before they take out the loan, Rosenkrantz said. If students fail to participate in the entrance counseling, she has to hold a students’ loan until the spring semester, due to federal law.
“In the big scheme of things, we did a great job,” Rosenkrantz said. “Most of the students have completed the entrance counseling.”

Hope Ellis, graduate financial aid counselor, said students also have to take exit counseling at the end of their schooling, so they can understand how to pay off their loans.

“It’s really easy; it kind of helps you navigate,” Ellis said. “ It talks about how to repay your loans, if you are having trouble making payments, or discharge or forgiveness, and it tells you the resources, the steps that you can take.”

Ellis said students have to participate in the exit counseling in order to meet federal requirements, which all schools must complete.

Ellis said most students think it takes a long time, but in reality it only takes a matter of minutes. It gives students valuable information that they can utilize, Ellis said.

“I think that it is really important that the students educate themselves about their loans,” Ellis said. “Simply, because it will help them long term.”

Ellis said students and future graduates never know when they are going to lose their jobs and still need to find a way to pay off their loans.

Rachel Peel

rlpeel@txwes.edu