By Christian Hudspeth
Most college graduates will tell you it's hard enough to complete four (or more) long years of packaged noodles, 10-page papers and excruciating final exams.
Things often get harder for new graduates after school's over, especially when it comes to finding a job. The unemployment rate among recent college graduates (under age 26) is still at a stubbornly high 8.9 percent, according to a 2011 report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce.
But there's one challenge that may present an even greater threat to a new grad. It follows them for years -- even decades. It typically can't be forgiven in bankruptcy. The government can garnish wages to make sure a graduate repays it. And it doesn't care what kind of job the graduate gets -- it must be repaid at all costs.
Meet student loan debt -- a financial burden that two out of three college graduates must face each and every month.
Collectively, college graduates now owe more than $1 trillion in student loans -- more than what all Americans owe on auto loans or even credit card debt. The graduating class of 2010 owed an average of $25,250 per student, according to the Institute for College Access & Success.
Here are the top 10 states that held the most student loan debt per graduate at the end of the 2010 school year, according to a report by the Institute for College Access and Success:
10. New York -- $26,271 Owed Per College Graduate
The state that boasts the prestigious, popular and pricey universities of Columbia, Cornell and NYU also boasts some big student loan debt.
9. Rhode Island -- $26,340 Owed Per College Graduate
It's the nation's smallest state by area, but not in terms of debt. Rhode Island's students graduated with the second-highest private school student loan debt in the nation.
8. Indiana -- $27,001 Owed Per College Graduate
Home of the well-known -- and expensive -- universities such as Notre Dame and Purdue, the state of Indiana cracks the list at No. 8.
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7. Ohio -- $27,713 Owed Per College Graduate
Whether you're an Ohio State Buckeye, a Cincinnati Bearcat or a graduate of some other Ohio college, you're likely not happy with your student loan debt amount.
But recent graduates have a reason to cheer up. Ohio's labor market has been looking a bit brighter since last year, and unemployment in the state is now slightly lower than the national average -- 7.5 percent vs. 8.1 percent.
6. Vermont -- $28,391 Owed Per College Graduate
Home to the University of Vermont's Catamounts, the state ranks No. 6 overall and in public school debt in particular. The typical public college graduate in Vermont will owe more than $5,000 more in student loans than the average public college graduate in America.
Fortunately, Vermont's graduates aren't likely to have to work as hard to land a job after they graduate. Vermont boasts the fourth lowest unemployment rate in the entire country -- just 4.8 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
5. Pennsylvania -- $28,599 Owed Per College Graduate
Students in the state that boasts the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are definitely not free from student loan debt. Seven out of 10 graduates from the universities of Carnegie Mellon, Penn State and all other Pennsylvania colleges will walk away from college with student loan debt.
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4. Minnesota -- $29,058 Owed Per College Graduate
While Minnesota's graduates carry a heavy debt load, there is good news. They will have great job prospects compared to the rest of the country -- the state has a healthy unemployment rate of just 5.8 percent.
3. Iowa -- $29,598 Owed Per College Graduate
Called "the food capital of the world" for its huge agricultural economy, this state ranks fourth in the nation in terms of the percentage of students that graduate with student loan debt.
However, Iowa graduates should also feel fortunate about their job prospects. The state has the sixth lowest unemployment in the country -- just 5.2 percent in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
2. Maine -- $29,983 Owed Per College Graduate
Maine may be famous for lobsters and beaches, but Maine's students are swimming in debt. The state's graduates held the most public school student loan debt in the nation, according to the report. Maine's private school student loan debt, however, was well below the national median.
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1. New Hampshire -- $31,048 Owed Per College Graduate
As the home state of the prestigious Dartmouth College, New Hampshire ranks No. 1 in terms of average student loan debt and No. 2 in percentage of students graduating with loan debt. (South Dakota ranks No. 1 at 75 percent.) That's a scary combination.
Ready for the good news? New Hampshire has the fifth lowest unemployment in the entire country -- just 5.2 percent. That gives many New Hampshire grads just the opportunity they need to tackle the debt load they've taken on.