Molly Enright, 22, is a fifth-year political science and film studies major at the University of Colorado.
Like many students, she has accepted student loans through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid each semester to help pay for her tuition.
Although she's graduating this May, she does not know much about the loans she has and, admittedly, has little desire to learn.
"I don't even want to think about them," Enright said.
Ofelia Morales, associate director of CU's Office of Financial Aid, said that many students share Enright's philosophy, and that it's the goal of the financial aid office to educate them.
"I think it's one of those things. You apply to financial aid once a year. You accept a loan. You register for classes," she said. "I think students are much more focused on the here and now of getting good grades as opposed to the debt they're accumulating."
Enright said that accepting loans is as easy as checking a box with the offered loan and clicking "submit." Although Free Application for Federal Student Aid's website and CU's financial aid website offer information about the loans being accepted, it can be easy to disregard.
The average federal student loan debt at CU is $20,700 for an undergraduate, Morales said.
While students can apply for private loans through personal banks and Federal Perkins Loans that are decided based on funds' availability and financial need, each student that fills out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid and is enrolled at least half-time is considered for a federal direct subsidized or unsubsidized loan from the U.S. Department of Education.
A subsidized loan is need-based and does not accrue interest while the student remains in school. An unsubsidized loan may or may not be based on need and accrues interest while the student is in school.
Enright did not know the difference between subsidized and unsubsidized loans, nor did she know which particular loans she had. She just took what she could get.
"I accepted them because I didn't have any other option. I needed help paying for school," she said.
Students nearing graduation are typically the ones beginning to panic about the loan debt they've acquired, Morales said.
"Some students just want to come in, sit down and make sure they understand everything the semester before they graduate. That's when we send them emails reminding them about their loans," she said.
'I try not to think about them'
Ted McCarville, 20, a sophomore neuroscience and psychology major, has a few years to go before dealing with his student loans. His attitude reflects that.
"I just took as much as the government would give me. I try not to think about them. I'm either going to win the lottery or make some kind of life-changing scientific discovery to pay them off," he said.
To combat student loan apathy, Morales talked about a new requirement within the financial aid department that requires students to take online loan counseling before taking out federal loans and exit counseling for those about to graduate.
The counseling goes over interest rates, loan limits, different types of repayment options, figuring out how much a monthly payment would be and what loan default is.
"It gives us the assurance that students are getting the information that we need them to have for their student loans," she said.
Sophomore communications major Katie Sexton, 21, was required to take loan counseling.
"I learned about the subsidized and unsubsidized. I learned I have to start paying the loans back six months after I graduate, and I learned I can consolidate them. It helped me figure out after I graduate what the minimum payment I can pay on them is," she said.
Students should know 'how their debt is going'
Although students are now required to hear about their loans in the beginning and end of their academic careers, Morales would like to see more being done in the middle.
"We've been doing a lot more in the last few years to reach students to make sure they know during school how their debt is going," she said.
Morales recommends students consult the website studentloans.gov to help calculate how much they're borrowing and how much they can afford to pay back. The site has resources that estimate future income based on intended profession to decide how much a potential monthly payment could be.
As far as sage words for students looking to borrow money, Morales said they should just borrow what they need. She listed options such as borrowing money from a family member or getting a part-time job as alternatives to student loans.
"Make sure you're borrowing is in line with the amount you could potentially earn," she said. "We implemented a policy where if you come into our office wanting to borrow more, we have you print our your loan debt and make you calculate your monthly payments.
"We have seen a decrease in students wanting to borrow more."