According to a recent study from nonprofit The Education Trust, Black students are much more likely to incur the largest average student loan debt out of any group in the United States, including their white peers.
It's a situation Dr. Shamell Bell knows well. Even though she had scholarships, Bell, who is now a Harvard lecturer and single mother, took out multiple student loans to pay for her living expenses while she pursued higher education.
Bell told "Good Morning America" the stress from her college debt has significantly impacted her life. "Every single night, I'm not getting sleep because I'm worried about my bills. I'm worried about loan payments. I'm worried about my credit," she said.
"We were sold a lie with the educational system. I went all the way to the top and I still feel like I failed."
Bell isn't alone. A 2021 report from the American Association of University Women, based in part on federal data, shows that women not only make less than men after graduating from school, they hold more debt, an average of $31,276 more. Black women also borrowed an average of $37,558, more than other racial and ethnic groups overall.
'Every single night, I'm not getting sleep because I'm worried about my bills. I'm worried about loan payments. I'm worried about my credit.'
Financial aid expert Jessica Brown, author of "How To Pay For College When You're Broke," told "GMA" there are several keys to tackling college debt. Here are her recommendations:
Financial advice for incoming students
- Apply for grants, loans and other aid as soon as possible with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
- Research prospective schools.
- Understand the cost of attendance at different schools.
- Make a financial blueprint with your family.
Financial advice for current students
- Use apps to look for "unclaimed" scholarships. Apps like Scholly and the HBCU Hub can help you identify these funds. You can also look into community organizations and see if they offer any scholarships you qualify for.
- Build relationships with your college's financial aid office.
- Maintain academic excellence. Many scholarships award strong academic performance.
Financial advice for graduates
- Build a relationship with your loan servicer. This way, you can identify the best repayment plan for you that's realistic and feasible for you to maintain.
- Inquire about consolidating federal student loans and see if that would be best for your situation.
- Check your eligibility for public service loan forgiveness. Some jobs, in sectors such as education and the federal government, offer loan forgiveness for employees.