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Podcast episode

Managing Your Student Loans, Part 1: Managing Student Loans and Money while in College

For this episode, we spoke with Aaron Satyanarayana, an undergraduate student, about how he manages money while working towards graduation. This episode discusses tips and tools to help make good decisions around paying for college and managing money while enrolled as a student.

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Episode transcript


Aaron Satyanarayana
Undergraduate, Behavioral Economics Major


Brian Stone
Policy Analyst, Students and Young Consumers, CFPB

[Beginning of recorded session.]

Brian Stone: Welcome to the Financial Intuition Podcast where you can find your inner financial intuition one money topic at a time. The goal of the podcast is to educate, inform, and engage our audience with tools and resources created to help them make more informed financial decisions. These tools and resources can be found on our website at You can also click the links in the show notes for additional information. This is the first episode of a three-episode Managing Your Student Loan series which will focuses on managing student loans and money while in college, discussing the Veterans Benefits Administration GI Bill Comparison Tool, and the CFPB's Your Financial Path to Graduation Tool, and also postgraduate degree repayment options.

Before we get started, I'll read our Consumer Financial Protection Bureau standard disclaimer. This podcast is being produced by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. It is intended to generate discussion about managing student loans and money while at college. The questions asked and topics discussed were developed in coordination with the presenter and may not represent the Bureau's policy on any particular matter. Any opinions or views stated by the presenters are the presenter's own and may not represent the Bureau's views. Nothing said in this podcast by a Bureau representative constitutes legal interpretation, guidance, or advice from the Bureau.

Hello, everyone. I'm Brian Stone, a policy analyst in the section for Students and Young Consumers. Our section creates tools and resources for those working to help students, young adults, and their families manage their money, build credit, save or pay for college, and repay student debt.

We're excited to gain insight from Aaron Satyanarayana on managing student loans and money while in college. So, without further ado, let's jump right in. Welcome, Aaron. Can you tell our audience a little bit about you and your college experience?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Of course. Thank you for having me, Brian. My name is Aaron. I am a junior in my undergraduate studying behavioral economics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I am originally from Oregon, and I actually graduated high school in 2017. Before Carnegie Mellon, I spent 2 years at Oregon State University, which is close by, actually, to where I grew up. My decision to go to Oregon State University really was because Oregon State University being a public institution was really affordable for me. I didn't really know what I wanted to do, and I had a lot of friends from high school going there. But over the years, I kind of figured out that I wanted to do something more specific with my college education, and that probably ended up transferring to Carnegie Mellon. My interests lie in applying behavioral insight into solutions with regards to poverty as well as financial inclusion, and that's how I ended up being able to intern this past summer with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Brian Stone: Great, great. Thank you, Aaron. Yeah, we definitely enjoyed having you in our section, learned a lot, and yeah, so it sounds like you were very intentional about preparing for college, but were there any steps you took before you actually started to walk in the door, walked on campus?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Yeah. Like a lot of students, I really didn't know exactly what I wanted to study, and so the best option for me was to think about what kind of priorities look like for a student who didn't have a specific interest already. There are always colleges that are really good at having a specific program, but Oregon State is one of those colleges that are expansive enough in what they offer where you can really find yourself. So I really valued that.

I was lucky enough to go and be able to actually visit the college campuses of the colleges that I applied for because I applied to a lot of state schools in Oregon. So, for me, college visits, talking to faculty and actually sitting in on classes was kind of important for me to kind of get the classroom environment and feel of what it was like or what it would be like going to college there. Those programs, though, if you are looking for universities that aren't right next to you or could use a little bit extra help, a lot of universities often offer overnight programs, where they can help pay for a plane ticket and have you visit and stay overnight. There are definite options there, so definitely college visits for me and looking at the affordability and the tuition.

Brian Stone: Right, right. Yeah. And that's good that instead of outside of, I will say, just searching on the internet, you actually put yourself in the environment to sort of get a feel and then understood the financial part of paying for college also. So, yeah, that's important.

What resources did you use to help you make your college decision? Did you use any support at your high school like any counselors or speak with any financial aid advisors for college or anything like that?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Mm-hmm. I was lucky enough that my high school had what was called an "Aspire Center," where you had Aspire coaches that would help you stay on top of the college application process. So you would come in, and they would help figure out your list of programs and schools, help provide you feedback on your essays and other application materials as well as help connect you with your teacher so you could get letters of recommendation for that, and that was really helpful. Kind of being like a rambunctious, disorganized senior in high school, having somebody that can be helping you stay on track with the college application process was really important.

Brian Stone: Okay. Great, great. Did you apply for any scholarships, and if so, what types of scholarship application strategies did you use?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Of course. There are a lot of private, you would say, scholarships available to outgoing seniors in high school, and the strategy that I used was spray and pray. Apply for as many as you can and hope that you get them, but there are two main pieces of advice that I can give you for that.

A lot of applications are focused on a certain type of a student profile. So, for example, like scholarships with regards to since you want to go into music education—that was a big one in my city. And so you aren't going to be able to fit every single profile or every single kind of desired outcome that a private scholarship wants for the applicants, and that's okay. There's a lot of ones that are more general, and then, too, the main thing is to make sure that you have solid letters of recommendation and support from teachers and other people who can vouch on your behalf, because those go a long way, regardless of what specific scholarship you're applying for.

Brian Stone: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, like you said, casting a wide net, and seeing what you get back. And I know one thing. We had someone on our first episode of our last series who was a high school teacher and teaches personal finance, and she really stressed for her students to start applying for scholarships, write one general essay, and sort of tweak it, like you said, based on the profile that the scholarship application is actually looking for. So just remember the scholarships are free money that don't have to be paid back, and so it potentially will reduce your student loan debt down the road if you just take the opportunity, the hour, the 2 hours, however long it takes to complete the applications. Very timely advice in preparing for college, so thank you.

So, next, I guess, thinking about the college preparation experience, it seems like you did a lot. As I said before you're extremely intentional, but if you could go back and do some things differently, what would you do? Or you could think about what advice would you give someone coming through, I guess, now.

Aaron Satyanarayana: Yeah. Prior to applying to college, I think I would have done a better job of probably applying for more of these private scholarships. There's a lot of them. I think one thing, though, that I wish I could go back and do again was while I was at Oregon State, taking more math courses. I say that actually as a transfer student. I think something that affected me was the fact that a lot of my courses—some of the courses that I took at Oregon State didn't transfer when I started attending Carnegie Mellon, and I actually lost an academic year for that. That's actually a big thing for other transfer students, particularly transfer students that are intending to do 2 years at a community college and then transfer and graduate from a 4-year university. It's really important that you—even if you don't know what exactly you want to do yet, try and take courses that are essentially like the building blocks of a lot of your other 4-year programs. That way, you can ensure that you're getting the most bang out of your buck when you transfer those credits and all of that coursework to your new 4-year university.

Brian Stone: Again, I think that makes a lot of sense. So have an idea of where you want to end up so you can sort of, I guess, backwards plan from there. I know I want to be at X university, and I plan on going to a community college, so making sure that those classes are going to transfer so I don't have to potentially retake them, costing me more.

What resources did you use to manage your money and pay for college?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Yeah. With regards to figuring out how to pay for college, your financial aid office at your university will always be a great resource for you. They can help you figure out the more nuanced aspects of the college expenses you'd get at your specific university as well as help you also better understand what your financial aid offer is. If you ever need to make, for example, like an appeal or something like that to kind of correct the record to see if you can get more aid, that's going to be your go-to place.

Second, the Federal Government actually offers a lot of great resources through the Federal Student Aid website as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau right here. CFPB has a great page that breaks down the different kinds of student aid that you may get from the differences between grants, Federal, and private loans.

Brian Stone: Yeah, that's great. So, yeah, at and Practitioner Resources of Students—Aaron, I think that's what you were talking about—we cover a vast amount of topics related to students and money outside of just general money management, but they include paying for college, managing money, student banking, public service loan forgiveness. There is a ton of information that we'll make sure we link to in the show notes.

But we have another tool. I think you had mentioned the Your Financial Path to Graduation Tool, also known as Grad Path, which also is a pretty good resource for students who are thinking about how do I manage my money, pay for college, and create a plan. So what the Grad Path tool does is it gives students a sense of their overall need, their student loan debt burden, the potential ROI they'll get on their college investment, but the tool also pops in some other personal finance, information as you sort of work your way through. So we'll also make sure the link to the Grad Path tool in the show notes. That's perfect.

We talked about money management techniques that you implemented, and I know one part of a personal financial plan is the budget. There are different types of budgets that work for different people. Some people use a pen and paper. An app might help, or there might be a budgeting app, like you said, a budgeting option through your banking app, but you have weekly budgets, biweekly budgets, your irregular income budgets. For students, a semester budget might work better. Is there one particular budget that you found helpful in managing your finances?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Yes. I mainly use a monthly budget. Along with student loan debt, an important aspect of kind of managing your debt, I would say, is also credit card debt. When it comes to paying things right now while you're in college, the credit card might be an option because it's also a great way to build your credit score while in college, which is important while you're in college and especially after.

Personally—for me, I'd try and avoid using a credit card, but I actually opt to use other ways of building a credit score while also avoiding credit card debt. I personally use credit-building loans at my local credit union so that I can build credit in a more safer and responsible way that would avoid me kind of spending outside of my budget.

Brian Stone: Right, right. That makes sense. Like you said, it's just important to use all financial products responsibly. So that could be a credit-builder loan, credit card, and just make sure that, especially with a credit card, you're not spending any more than you would normally spend in cash, and also that you can pay it back at the end of the month. Yeah, that's definitely an important topic.

So now we'll transition to thinking about life after college, thinking about student loan repayment. Are there any strategies that you think might be particularly helpful?

Aaron Satyanarayana: Yeah. This is always a looming question that everybody has, Brian, and it's the question that I think every single student who has student loan debt has to deal with. For me, the field that I really want to go in, which is public policy, I want to see whether there are options from employers that may help me pay down my debt to deal with the current college debt that I'll have and possibly future ones from grad school. But there are a lot of different options you can consider pursing with regards to different options in like repayment itself, like income share agreements, or also refinancing your student loan to get a better interest rate in the future.

I have yet to figure out exactly what I'm going to do, but those are different kinds of options available to you.

Brian Stone: Yeah, yeah. As you had mentioned before, a wide range of options, it's best to start planning as soon as possible because, as you said, eventually looming student loan debt or student loan repayments will eventually be there. Using resources, again, if you have a Federal loan or if you have a private loan, contacting your lender and just making sure that before you get to that point that you're aware of your options and your course going forward. So, yeah, that's great. Thank you for that.

Thinking about decisions, weighing decisions and prioritizing like your first loan payment and your future goals, how do you prioritize what's most important?

Aaron Satyanarayana: I think in this day and age with the cost of education for me and for a lot of people, we have to kind of balance the priority of affordability and kind of like sense of fulfillment of what we're going to get out of our college education and our careers.

With regards to that, I think those two priorities really aren't actually mutually exclusive. Similarly, if somebody wants to go to a really prestigious or top university, kind of worrying about finances, they can. It is possible. With the correct kind of financial planning and planning for a path to graduation, it is possible to kind of hold these two priorities at equal levels of wanting to go to a program that you really desire as well as making sure that it is affordable and within your financial needs.

My postgraduation plans are essentially what your job is, Brian.

Brian Stone: Watch out.


Aaron Satyanarayana: It is to work in public policy, whether at a policy institution or even in the Federal Government. I would plan to work a couple of years and kind of cut my teeth in that are and then maybe get a graduate degree in public policy or public administration, and I think this entire process really—like going to college—has shown me the importance of this idea of return on investment, because you may get a little intimidated by the entire kind of experience or prospective experience in going to college and just how costly it is, but just remember that college is a return on investment in the sense that if you are savvy enough and you make sure that you get the assistance that you are eligible for, you can make sure that college pays off.

Brian Stone: So, yes, today we received some great advice from Aaron on managing student loans and money while in college. To recap for our listeners, we would like you to walk away with the following takeaways. First, have a plan to pay for college before starting and adjust it as needed. Second, use the CFPB's and Department of Education's resources to help manage Federal student loans, and for private student loans, make sure you reach out to your lender; and third, understand the importance of graduating on time and understand your repayment options before you graduate.

Thank you for joining us today, Aaron, and sharing your money experience with our audience. We appreciate our listeners for tuning in. To stay tuned, please visit our Podcast page on, and so you don't miss future episodes, sign up to be notified of new releases.

As always, remember to continue to develop your financial intuition and learn money lessons you can use now to build a future you want tomorrow.

[End of recorded session.]