Can College Debt Hurt Academic Performance?

What Does the Research Say?


debt affects academic performance

There’s no question about it; the ability to focus and concentrate for extended periods is absolutely critical to college academic success.

In his outstanding book Deep Work, author Cal Newport says this about extended periods of focus and concentration: “Deep work is the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task. It’s a skill that allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time. It’s like a super power in our increasingly competitive twenty-first century economy.”

Can student loan debt interfere with the focus and concentration necessary for doing “deep work”?

College students say yes.

In this article by college student Ashley Bulchandani on, she tells adults exactly how she feels. “As a current college student, I am personally struggling with college debt and paying off my loans.” She worries that, “debt accumulation can stress out students and lead to negative behaviors such as drinking, smoking, working a lot, and not focusing in class.” She points to research showing that, “excessive college debt results in overall low academic performance in college and low graduate school attendance.”

The happy news is that parents can help. A lot.

1. Restrain your urge to push your child toward education that comes with a high debt burden.

Surprisingly, prestigious Gallup research concludes that expensive education does not lead to a happier life, more career success, or more money. See the exciting, liberating article I’ve written on this subject here. Or see me talking about this here.

2. Fill out the FAFSA financial aid form every October you’ll have a kid in college the following fall, even if you think you’re too wealthy to get anything.

When you do, avoid these 30+ common FAFSA mistakes, and your child could get thousands extra to help pay college bills — without loans. Even if you make over $200,000 a year and have significant assets. It’s worth a try!

3. If the stress is so bad that your child’s considering dropping out of college, here’s help.

You can see the gentle, practical advice I provided for a worried parent just like you, here.

4. Communicate with your child about the debt, and make a strategic plan together.

A research study at Montana State showed that when students with significant debt received letters warning and guiding them toward better actions and academic decisions, those students ended up with, “improved GPAs, a higher number of credits completed, and increased retention in school.”

It would be helpful if your child’s college would send out a letter like this, but if it doesn’t — you can.

Or maybe you don’t know what to say to your kid on this subject? My STRATEGIC COLLEGE STUDENT class will do all the talking for you, in just one 3-hour session. To find out when you and (or) your child can next take this class either live or online, subscribe to my email updates using the form on this site. Then whitelist me with your email provider so that communication from me always goes straight to your primary email inbox.

5. Remember, the best plan is to use multiple strategies so that student debt isn’t a problem for your child.

For clear, step-by-step help that provides parents every viable strategy for getting kids through college debt-free, it takes only 7 hours to read my book:

You can see more than 80 reviews of this book on Amazon by going to:

(Tell your friends.)

You can see the “Top 9 Questions Parents Are Asking Me About LAUNCH,” here.

Read just one chapter of LAUNCH every 1-3 months while your child’s in middle school and high school, and you’ll know every viable strategy for debt-free college at exactly the right time to implement it.

And if your child’s already well past middle school? That’s OK; you can run to catch up. But the process of getting your kids through college debt-free goes more smoothly the earlier you start it – especially if you’re not planning to save up any money to pay for college.

Do you have friends who are parenting kids ages 12 – 26? SHARE this post on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn right now.

What about you? How did student loan debt affect your feelings about college and your academic performance?

Comment below or LIKE Jeannie Burlowski Author on Facebook, find this post on that page, and let’s talk about it there.

Who is Jeannie Burlowski?

Jeannie is a full-time academic strategist, author, speaker, and podcast host. Her writing, speaking, and podcasting help parents set their kids up to graduate college debt-free and move directly into careers they excel at and love. Her work has been featured in publications such as The Huffington Post, USA Today, NerdWallet, and US News and World Report, and on CBS News.

Jeannie also helps students apply to law, medical, business, and grad school at her website You can follow her on Twitter @JBurlowski