12/09/2014 05:28 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

How Student Loan Debt Is Affecting Women -- Beyond the Bank Account

College is full of possibilities, promising a bright future, new experiences and a safe place for personal growth. But what should be an exciting journey is often overshadowed by the almost suffocating predicament of student loan debt.

This debt, however, is not just a problem that impacts students post college - in fact, the threat of debt impacts decisions students make while still in school and planning for their future. According to a national survey by Toluna Quicksurveys and UChic, more than 67 percent of female students worry their debt will prohibit them from reaching their professional dreams, forcing women to alter those plans as a result. This is especially true for young women, who are slightly more likely to accumulate student loan debt than their male peers.

But to fix the problem, we have to know the problem. Check out three important ways that student loan debt impacts more than a student's bank account.

Missing Out-of-Classroom Experiences
Out-of-classroom experiences (trips abroad, out-of-town internships, "voluntouring") are a critical piece of a college education. They help students find their passion, open doors and cultivate intangible skills like the ability to work under pressure or with a diverse group. However, 95 percent of young women lack easy access to funding for such opportunities, while 59 percent agree that loans are an impediment to enjoying those out-of-classroom experiences. In a world where the right internship or study abroad trip could help land a dream job, those who can't afford to rack up extra loan debt to fund these experiences often end up a step behind their debt-free peers.

Fear of Pursuing Dreams
When the threat of massive student loan debt is at the forefront of your mind, crucial decisions like choosing a college or a career path are called into question. Nearly 60 percent of students doubt their choice of school because of associated costs. It's upsetting to think that someone with the talent and dedication to make it into a top-tier (but pricey) school must forfeit or vastly alter their dreams because of a lack of funding.

This same doubt also impacts decisions on which career path to pursue. When faced with $35,000 of debt upon graduation, choosing to pursue so-called "risky" careers like graphic design or journalism may at first seem irresponsible. No one should be forced to give up a dream job for fear of failing to pay back student loans.

Fear of Seeking Further Education
A post-grad education will always open new doors for a student's professional future - whether it leads to a promotion, a raise or simply more responsibility. But after accumulating alarming amounts of student loan debt from pursuing an undergraduate degree, it's understandably difficult to consider seeking further education like grad school. Fifty-two percent of graduates with student loan debt postpone the decision to buy a new house because their loan payments are too high. It's not surprising, then, that many choose to skip grad school in order to prevent delaying life's milestones.

It's alarming to think that so many women deny themselves incredible life experiences because of the all-consuming burden of student loan debt. Sixty-two percent of students don't expect the government to take action to contain the costs of education.

So, who can provide that relief?

Luckily, from scholarships to crowdfunding, there are ways for students to find outside means to fund life-changing experiences and fulfill their dreams. For example, my company, UChic, is doing this through our 1,000 Dreams Scholarship Program, which provides micro-grants or scholarships to help girls access experiences that shape dreams, careers and lives.

While the broader conversation about the rising costs of a student education continues, it's important to band together - as responsible consumers or business owners - to do whatever we can to ensure we're setting young women not only on the path to fulfill their dreams but, ultimately, change the world.

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