Jenny, 28, was the first person from her high school in Florida to go to Yale, on a need-based financial aid package that helped her graduate without debt. She went on to work in the admissions office, focusing on outreach to low-income students. After getting into two MBA programs, she negotiated her scholarship offers (yes, it’s a thing!), but still needed to take on about $75,000 in loans. She recently bought a home with her husband in Chicago and is on track to pay off her loans in under five years.
How did you end up working in college admissions?
I studied sociology at Yale and was particularly interested in access and equality. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after, and I ended up in the Yale admissions office, focusing on outreach to low-income students. A lot of elite schools have extraordinary need-based scholarships. Coming from a middle-class family, I benefited from that significantly – it’s an incredible way to level the playing field. I think people at my high school thought I was secretly rich, but I just had a great financial aid package! I was at the admissions office for three years, which I absolutely loved.
Why did you want to get an MBA?
A lot of my work doing low-access outreach was data-driven: Where do we find these populations and how do we meet them where they are? I was really interested in data-driven marketing as a result, and my boss (the dean of admissions) strongly encouraged me to consider an MBA. He was a Kellogg MBA grad, and I really admired his leadership style and energy.
How did you decide on a program?
My fiancé (now husband) was applying for law school a year ahead of me, so he applied in cities with programs that interested me. He landed up at the University of Chicago. Neither of us had been to Chicago before admitted students’ weekend! I got offers from both the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Being an admissions officer, I knew how to play the scholarship game. I used my offer from Kellogg to negotiate a better scholarship from Booth, but I was still about $75,000 short.
What was it like taking out loans for the first time?
I had good enough credit to take out loans on my own, but I knew I could get a better rate with a cosigner. My first instinct was to ask my parents, and that’s when I realized where my own earth-shattering fear of debt came from. They struggled with credit card debt during my childhood and they didn’t feel comfortable being cosigners. It was a hard conversation because it felt like they weren’t confident in me. I asked my husband, and I knew he believed I could pay it back. I took the plunge and signed two 10-year loans with Sallie Mae at 6.5% and 7.5%.
What was your job search like?
I went to school, thinking I would go into nonprofit management, and I spent a lot of time networking in that space. Then while I was in school, I was recruited at a mission driven industrial manufacturer in Chicago, focused on health and fitness. They hired me as a product manager, and I do digital strategy and new product development for them. It’s not something I thought I would be doing, but I’ve been at the company for almost a year and I’m loving it.
How did you feel about your loans once you graduated?
One thing that was drilled into my head at Booth is that interest rates always incorporate risk. When Sallie Mae determined my rate, my post-MBA career prospects were up in the air. Fortunately, I was at a top program and found a wonderful high-paying job. I was no longer a risky bet. I submitted applications to three places and CommonBond was above and beyond the best offer I received. I felt that CommonBond actually appreciated that I was a sure bet.
What was your refinancing experience like?
My goal is to pay down my loans as quickly as possible, so I consolidated them into a 5-year repayment period at 4.2%. I put my signing and merit bonuses towards the loan – I appreciate that there’s no penalty for making extra payments. I am paying less than 20% of my take-home income each month, which is extremely manageable in a dual-income household. Everything with CommonBond has been fantastic from start to finish. I love that if I call in with a question a real human being picks up the phone. I appreciate how easy the online portal is to navigate. I love being able to watch my balance go down each month. Pretty embarrassingly, I sign into my account probably more than once per month just so I can feel accomplished about how much of my debt I have already paid back!
How do you handle finances with your husband?
As the MBA in the family, I do all the budgeting – I’m the one managing the spreadsheets and keeping track of our bills. I’m very much a planner, so it’s helpful for me to think about different scenarios. If my income is “x” and my student loan payment is “x,” how much do I have left? We bought a house in Chicago, and I feel like now that my education is behind me, I also want those bills behind me. My husband and I want to start a family, and I'm grateful that we'll be able to do that without the shadow of debt.
What advice would you give to others applying for schools?
My advice is to think really strategically about what your priorities are and whether the degree or graduate degree you’re pursuing is going to help put you in strong financial position to pay back your loans. When you’re taking out loans, considering the caliber of the school and the opportunities that come after is really important.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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