Home > Student Loans > I Learned to Code to Pay Back $70K of Student Loans

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Armando Amador’s story started out much like many other college graduates: He had student debt he knew he had to repay but his job prospects were uncertain. Then his situation took an abrupt turn, and now he makes more than $70,000 a year and hopes to finish repaying his student loans in about three years.

Amador, 28, earned a degree in information systems engineering in 2010, but job prospects weren’t great. He considered graduate school, but he already had student debt “in the high 70s,” and he couldn’t see adding to that. He mainly looked for jobs he hoped would match his skill set, and he ended up finding work as a designer for an online magazine, earning in the low $30,000s. It was enough to keep the rent paid and his student loans current, he said. He’d always been a good saver, and that helped keep him out of trouble when the budget was tight.

Ironically, a layoff in April 2013 was the catalyst for his shifting fortunes. Amador knew from his editorial design job that he wished he could go a level deeper and learn to develop software. So after his layoff, he began to look at free or low-cost options for retraining. Because he lived in the Bronx and met several other criteria, he was eligible to apply for a Web development fellowship. New York City had partnered with the Flatiron School, a relatively new school that offered quick training with the goal of preparing students for high-income jobs in software development.

And while salary is hardly the way to choose a career, it’s worth considering. “Now I have leeway to pay extra on my student loans,” Amador says. “And I don’t have to sacrifice going out with friends or buying gifts because of payments on my student loans.”

Adam Enbar, co-founder of the school, said Amador’s story is not unusual. The school was founded in 2012 to train people for jobs in software and Web development. Its graduates who go to work full time after the program earn an average of about $74,000, and the statistics are on the school’s website. It is still small (so far about 350 people have gone through), and the boot-camp-style program is designed to teach people who have never written a line of code enough to be hired as programmers in just a few very intensive weeks.

While Amador talks about it being a perfect fit, acceptance is far from easy. Enbar said that about 6% of applicants are accepted. The school has campuses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, and only the Brooklyn one offers the fellowships (though they’re open to any NYC resident). Normally, the high-intensity training costs $15,000. Amador said the training took him five months and that landing a new job took about three weeks. He’s currently a full stack developer at Wizard Development.

The school releases detailed data on outcomes, something Enbar wishes were standard in higher education. (Can you imagine a student loan application that included information on the projected employment rate, salary and loan default rate for a student’s chosen major? Enbar can, and he hopes it is standard someday.) Enbar said students come from all walks of life — he’s had Ph.D.s and those who have never been to college, though the majority have degrees. “For a lot of them, people just told them to study what they were interested in,” Enbar said, and college hadn’t necessarily prepared them for employment.

As for Amador, he is enjoying his job and the freedom that comes with not having to stretch every dollar so far that there is little left for fun, though he’s eager to put his student loans behind him. And during the “job search,” he was amazed at what happened when he updated his LinkedIn profile to identify himself as a software developer. “When you’re unemployed, no one replies,” he said, “but when you’re a developer, it’s almost like they are harassing you with job offers.” And so, finally, he was the person doing the choosing.

If you’re having trouble paying your student loans, boosting your income is certainly the ideal route to go. However, if that’s not possible, it’s important to contact your student loan servicer to set up a payment arrangement that works for you and allows you to keep up with your payments. Falling behind on your student loan payments can seriously hurt your credit, and affect your ability to get credit down the road — or at least increase the cost of your debt over time. Checking your credit regularly can show you where you stand, and you can see a credit report summary and two credit scores for free on Credit.com.

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