It’s no secret that college is expensive. Sadly, more and more incoming freshmen and grad students are signing up for student loans without thinking about the long-term effects of that debt.

Here are some of the best/worst stories of what people said about their debt. 

“I Was Not Prepared to Take on Debt”

1. “I regret going to college when and how I did. I didn’t know how a debit card worked when I started college at 17. I was told I would get a fantastic job and wouldn’t have to worry about those loans. I graduated a year ago, have the same jobs I had during college, and am deferring most of my $40,000 of loans (mind you, I went to a private university and half of my debt was paid with scholarships) because I can’t pay the bills. I am desperate to be a stay-at-home mom, and I can’t because of my loans. I worked the entire time I went to college, but all of my money went toward my living expenses and a car, so I was not able to put any toward tuition.” —Kelci T.

2. “Thankfully my parents paid cash for my undergraduate degree. I did, however, take out loans for graduate school. STUPID! STUPID! STUPID! In my sixth semester of physical therapy school, I had to quit because I was diagnosed with a rare illness that would prevent me from practicing PT. I left grad school with $40,000 in student loans and no degree to show for it—worst mistake of my life!” —Lara K.

3. “I had no clue what the difference was between subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Six months after graduation, my loans were thousands more than I took out! We need to educate students more on that.” —Amy D.

4. “Wow! To see what it costs to go to college is unreal! With student loans right now, I owe almost $21,000, not including the APR. I am still working for my degree, which is a two-year degree, and I already completed two years! I was not prepared to take on that much debt!” —Stephiane C.

5. “My parents let my sister go to a four-year private liberal arts college even though she could only pay for the first two years of tuition. My parents thought they could figure something out for the last two years. They haven’t and she may have to leave.” —Manda W.

Planning Ahead Really Works

6. “I planned for college ahead of time by joining the military, saving for years before I got out, and getting three well-paid internships. When I finished school, I had no college debt and money in the bank.” —Chris O.

7. “We have twins who just finished their freshman year in college. During their senior year, every other Sunday afternoon we spent two hours at the kitchen table researching scholarships and applying. One son received $13,000 this way, the other about $5,000 (but his school is less expensive). When they went to college, they thought it would be okay to get loans. After meeting kids who are financing college completely with loans, they were glad we insisted on working on scholarships. My best advice is to do everything early and make scholarship hunting a part-time job. It will work. We hope to make the next three years debt free.” —Beth S.

8. “Our daughter is commuting to a four-year university twice a week, while also attending a local community college twice a week for courses that will transfer to the university. She finished her freshman year debt free by doing this and living at home while she can. We also rented her textbooks. It’s so much cheaper to rent!” —Elizabeth R.

9. “I’m going to finish college with an RN degree and zero debt by attending a community college. I pay $4,000 a year, while other people I know are going to the university up the road and spending $20,000 a year for the same education. In the end, we have to take the same national test to be an RN, so why not keep the $16,000?” —Kayla O.

Advice From a Financial Aid Advisor and Recruiter

10. “I am the student recruiter for a community college, and I have learned that these kids have no idea about the cost of college. They want to go to four-year universities and do not even consider how they will pay for this education, let alone living expenses. I encourage students to go to college in their backyard. I wish I would have started at my local community college!” —Regina D.

11. “Here is my two cents as a student financial aid advisor. Don’t borrow to live a lifestyle you want; you can work for that now or later when you can afford it. Be aware of all deadlines and meet them (school, financial aid, scholarships). Do your homework before moving in on campus. Can you afford it? If not, make other arrangements.” —Connie S.