She took out $200,000 in student loans & paid everything in 2 years

November 20, 2023
Chabely Rodriguez wanted to pursue a career in medicine, but soon after earning her bachelor's degree, she realized that medical school wasn't for her. She is a 28-year-old New York native who graduated from her undergraduate degree debt-free in 2017. But when it came time for her to apply to medical school, she realized that her time and financial needs were much greater than she had hoped. “Financially, it wasn’t going to make sense for me,” Rodriguez recently told CNBC Make It. She began exploring other medical careers that required less schooling, still provided a steady income, and allowed her to pursue her passion for science and helping people. Through her research and networking with medical professionals, Rodriguez earned her Anesthesiologist Assistant certification. Certified anesthesiologist assistants are medical providers who “extend the care of an anesthesiologist,” Rodriguez says. Not only will this career benefit her critical thinking skills and her love of chemistry, but her master's degree alone could make her a CAA, without the need for medical school.

Turning a $200,000 loan to a $200,000 annual income

For many people, taking out $200,000 in student loans doesn't make sense. But Rodriguez doesn't have many options for master's programs, all of which cost more than $100,000. Student loans are often the only way to finance your education. Still, experts recommend borrowing only what you need and making sure your total student loan debt is less than your expected annual income after graduation. One of the reasons Rodriguez was interested in anesthesiology was her high salary, so taking out such a large loan was not an issue for her. “Given that the salary would be around $150,000, I still pursued the profession knowing I would go into debt,” she says. “But I felt like I had a realistic chance of paying it off within five years.” Rodriguez originally borrowed $200,000, but was able to repay some of the loan because the total cost of the master's program was slightly lower. Although she made some payments during her time in school, she still owed approximately $123,657 when she graduated in August 2021. However, her first salary offer was even higher than she expected. At the end of 2021, her annual base salary was $170,000. Her overtime work also contributed to her annual income increase. In 2022, she earned over $210,000.

Taking advantage of the pandemic payment pause

Earning more money than expected wasn't the only benefit Rodriguez received from her student loans. Rodriguez made some payments while in school and after graduation, but since all of his loans were from the federal government, he realized he could take advantage of pandemic-related interest and payment suspensions. Instead of continuing to pay off the loan, she put the money into a high-interest savings account. By the end of 2022, she had saved enough to pay off her debt, but she didn't pay it off right away. She continued her savings and waited for her money to grow until September 2023, when student loan interest started accruing again. In August, she made her last payment and paid off her student loans. In total, she repaid her $127,590.