Graduation from college is often associated with a feeling of being free.

Graduation from college is often associated with a feeling of being free.

Students have reached the checkered flag in their post-secondary education, are without homework and are on the lookout for their dream job. But, as they move forward in their careers, loans become the ball and chain that restrict the feeling of true freedom.

Starting this fall, those who take out subsidized Stafford loans might have higher payments. This could happen if lawmakers don't prevent a hike in interest rates from 3.4 to 6.9 percent set for July 1.

But current students say when their eyes are set on post-secondary education, a change in an interest rate won't be enough to scare them off, especially when they're not sure how that applies to them.

Laurina Hannan, who will be a junior in the fall at McPherson College, said the change in loan rates will not likely affect her decision making. Although she will need more financial aid this coming year, her eyes are set on a diploma.

“At this point, the interest rates won't deter me from getting them because I know I need that money and I need to worry about graduating rather than loans,” she said. “I know it's all recorded and I can look at it when I graduate.”

Courtney Huff, who will be starting her senior year in the fall at Central Christian College, said her mother has helped her choose loans and the interest thing is the main aspect they examine.

“I think students need that time (in college) to grow and mature, but I also understand it's important to be financially mature,” she said.

She said it is difficult to do so when the process is so difficult to understand.

“I think a lot more students would be more conscious about what they're getting into if they understood it better,” she said. “After that first week of 'OK, we just signed our life away,' you kind of forget about it.”

Graduates who are already paying off their loans will not be affected by the possible loan changes, but know what its like to pay them off.

Ashley Luthye graduated two years ago from McPherson College. She said her loan buildup drifted to the back of her mind while she was in school.

“I feel like my first and second year I was more worried, and the last two years I was like, “Ah, it's going to build up anyway,” she said. “I didn't really think about it much until I started paying them back.

“I would say it's intimidating. When you see those numbers, it's $8,000 here and another $2,000 there.

It adds up fast.

She is currently working three jobs to make enough for living expenses and loan payments.

“If I didn't have loans I could live comfortably, but since I have loans I have to live a little tighter,” she said. “I'm saving every penny I can so I can pay back student loans.”

Konner Bergstrom, a 2012 graduate from Central Christian College, said he kept good track of his loans throughout college.

“I did it to know what to expect when I was getting out,” he said. “I knew each year what I was taking out to make sure I was covering my college cost, but also I knew it was an investment. I needed that money to get my college education.”

Once he graduated, his plan was to be debt free as soon as possible. He hopes to pay off his debt in less than 10 years. If he could go back, he said he'd work more to pay more costs out of pocket rather than taking out loans.

“The amount total I quickly realized was kind of eye opening,” he said. “I knew it was something I had to tackle. I saw it more of a challenge.”

Lane Allison graduated from McPherson College in 2012. He said he thought the loan process was difficult to understand, but the financial office helped him figure it out once he was done with school.

“It was a shock because there were a couple I had forgotten I had taken. That was an eye opener when I started getting the notifications,” he said. “But I'm in a situation where I don't have to be worried about being able to make those payments.”

Looking back, he said the loans were worth it.

“I'm glad there are programs like that where they allowed me opportunities to go to a college like McPherson and get the experience in the classroom and outside the classroom with internships and programs,” he said. “And I was able to be a part of a small school.”

Contact Jenae Pauls at and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel.