It took just one not-so-great year at St. Lawrence University in New York for Yarmouth native Olivia Conrad, 19, to accrue about $25,000 in debt – a serious wake-up call about paying for college.

“I kind of understood it … (but) I feel like I should know more about how my college is being paid for,” said Conrad, now a sophomore biochemistry major at University of Maine in Orono, where in-state tuition is a fraction of St. Lawrence’s $60,000 tuition and fees. “When you are my age and starting to apply to college, all you are thinking about is where to go, not how to pay for it.”

Crunching the numbers on what she’ll have to pay back is “kind of a reality check.”

After calculating her debt from her freshman year alone, she’s pared her expenses down to the basics at Orono, renting a place off-campus, not participating in a meal plan, and spending the summer working to save up rent money.

It’s sobering, but part of growing up, she said.

“You go from being a high schooler, and not having to pay for it, and suddenly you are faced with having to pay for such a huge thing,” she said.

The student loan debt she’s already accrued, she says, “takes away your ability to be carefree.”

“I’m always thinking about a job. Thinking about paying off that debt,” she said.

“But everyone is in the same boat. In this day and age, that’s the situation for most people. You just have to roll with it.”

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