For most graduating from high school, the best prospects for long-term self-sufficiency lie on the other side of college graduation. The odds are even better if the field of study lies in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and better yet if the student earns a post-graduate shingle. But financing a college graduation is difficult for most. Using the minimum amount of borrowed funds is wise, because repaying student debt can limit graduates’ financial freedom for decades.

Aggregate student loans in the U.S. have risen to $1.2 trillion. In 2012, among those who borrowed, the average debt was $27,183. Graduate students took on even more, and represent 40 percent of federal loan disbursements. Among those who earn a master’s degree, 47 percent borrow more than $40,000 and 20 percent borrow more than $80,000. Among undergraduates, 68 percent borrow $10,000 or less, 7 percent borrow more than $30,000, and 2 percent more than $50,000.

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