7 Women’s Stories of Student Debt

June 01, 2017

AAUW’s 2017 research report Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans found that when it comes to student loans, women bear a disproportionate burden of student debt. Due to the gender pay gap and occupational segregation, what should be manageable debt becomes especially unmanageable for women. This debt burden can follow borrowers for their entire lives and careers, leaving them with less funding to afford further education, owning a home, and saving for retirement.

The women you’ll read about below made the decision to invest in their futures by pursuing college degrees. But those degrees came with a hefty price tag.


Ashley took out loans to finance her education but now, can’t afford much more than the minimum payment. The balancing act of paying off her student debt and affording living expenses has actually forced her to take on additional loans. It’s a frustrating cycle.


Ashley thought she made the financially responsible choice by attending community college before pursuing her bachelor’s at a state school. Once she graduated, her deferments went into effect, leaving her six months later with $20,000 in debt. After experiencing sexual harassment during her fellowship as a reporter at the state capital and facing a stagnant job market, she decided to get her master’s degree in order to open up her career opportunities. With that degree came even more debt. When asked what her expected payoff date would be, she replied, “Never.”

Read her story

Fear of student loan debt made Valerie sacrifice her dreams


Denied Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) aid and afraid to take on any student debt, Valerie took on a waitressing job to put herself through community college. She eventually transferred to a state school; however, in her junior year, she hit a funding wall. Deciding her only option was to drop out of school and work full time, she took one final Hail Mary and applied for an AAUW scholarship. She won the scholarship and was able to finish her undergraduate degree. But the fear of student debt is creeping up again, as she needs an advanced degree in order to make more money to support her family as a public interest lawyer. Valerie says she can’t justify going into massive debt for a career that still holds financial uncertainties. She thinks she may hang up her dream of being a lawyer once and for all.

Read her story

Woman smiling in front of college campus


Khallilah was a first-generation college student. At the age of 18 she had no idea of the onerous burden paying back her student loans would be. Now with $70,000 in student loan debt, she uses her story as a cautionary tale for others seeking loans to fund their education: “Attending your dream school is great, but it’s important to understand all the costs involved.”

Read her story

Growing up, Curry Oglesby always knew she would go to college. Her brother was the first on her father’s side to finish college, and she was expected to do the same. “What wasn’t covered in those expectations was how I was supposed to pay for it.”


Curry was accepted into her dream school, Howard University. While her family expected her to attend college, how to finance it was up in the air. Curry took out student loans for the degree that she hoped would put her into a stable, well-paying career in health management. But she graduated in 2009 just as the economy collapsed and no hospital was hiring, especially not entry-level workers. Forced to take low-wage jobs just to get by, she could barely afford food while paying off her student loans. Then, the government began garnishing her wages.

Read her story

Christina Thomas


Many students who pursue law degrees believe that the careers they enter after graduation will be profitable enough to be worth the student debt they incur. In some cases, they’re right; but for Christina, who graduated from law school with $200,000 in student debt, things aren’t quite so straightforward. Christina faced unique challenges as a single student parent, but those challenges became still more complex when she graduated from law school and began dealing with the day-to-day grind — and the long-term consequences — of student debt.

Read her story


Jaclyn decided to take out student loans for college when she was only 17 years old. Now, at 22, Jaclyn is getting her first taste of the world after college — and of life with $38,000 of student debt. She estimates she’ll have paid around $68,000 toward her student debt loans by the end of her 25-year fixed payment plan. Student loan debt isn’t just changing the way people experience college: It’s changing the way they experience the rest of their lives.

Read her story

Candice Gooch

Like thousands of others, Candice had the bad luck of entering the job market as the Great Recession hit. “I couldn’t find a job for eight months,” she says. “I moved back home with my parents, applied to 200 places, and never got called back. I went on one job interview that was at a dollar store, and the job went to someone else with more retail experience.” While Candice was frantically searching for a job, her loans went into default, and the interest kept mushrooming. She graduated with a student debt burden of $69,000; but thanks to interest and fees for her time in default, her loan burden is now about $120,000.

Read her story

This post was cowritten by AAUW Political Media Manager Amy Becker and AAUW Editorial Assistant Femi Sobowale.


The Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap research report cover Spring 2017

Simple Truth about the Gender Pay Gap

The gender pay gap plays a large role when it comes to women and student debt.

Male and female college graduates in mortarboards

Have You Experienced Student Debt?

How is student debt affecting your life? Share your story and help us put a face on the student debt problem.

Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans research report cover

Deeper in Debt: Women and Student Loans

Find out more about why student debt disproportionately hurts women.

Amy Becker By:   |   June 01, 2017

Join the Conversation

You must be logged in to post a comment.