Sweet Briar among top Virginia colleges with lowest student loan debt

Posted on September 08, 2016 by Jennifer McManamay

Sweet Briar College is ranked No. 9 among Virginia colleges for Lowest Student Loan Debt at Graduation, according to a study by LendEDU. The list includes 41 colleges and universities.

“Clearly, the top-ranked schools are doing a great job at helping students afford their educations and attend college with as little debt as possible,” said Dave Rathmanner of LendEDU.

The study analyzed the average student loan debt at more than 1,300 colleges throughout the nation and found that the average borrower from the Class of 2015 graduated with $28,400 in debt. Using that data, LendEDU then ranked colleges in each state by average debt per borrower.

Sweet Briar graduates in 2015 owed $25,354 on average. The average was notably higher among several peer colleges — by more than $8,000. In contrast, debt levels for Sweet Briar graduates were more comparable to those of many public colleges and universities in Virginia. Additionally, 69 percent of Sweet Briar students graduated with student loan debt. Again, that rate compared favorably against some nearby nonprofit colleges where the percentage of students owing debt hovers around 80 percent or more.

Wanda Spradley, Sweet Briar’s director of financial aid, says students are becoming more aware of the implications of borrowing money for tuition and other expenses.

“They are hearing what’s in the media about student debt,” Spradley says, and that is making this year’s students even more receptive to the messages her department has been delivering for years: understand how much you have to pay back and why you’re borrowing it.

Sweet Briar has always required either group or one-on-one financial aid counseling for first-year students, Spradley says, which the U.S. Department of Education accepts in lieu of its online counseling requirement. This year, Sweet Briar is having first-years complete both. She’s a firm believer in the personal touch.

“We talk about budgeting, go over what all the terms mean and ask them, ‘Do you really need this extra money that you want to borrow?’ ” Spradley says.

Her department makes sure they understand the kind of loan they’re applying for and she says students are being more careful about differentiating between subsidized and unsubsidized student loans. That’s where in-person counseling makes a difference.

“They can read about it on the government’s website, but it doesn’t sink in unless you talk to them,” Spradley says.

See the full list of Virginia colleges and universities here.