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Grads Wish They Were More Savvy About College Debt, Survey Shows

Half of all recent college graduates say they are "surprised" at how much debt they accumulated in college, according to a survey conducted by the research firm ORC International for Fidelity Investments.

Nearly 70 percent of graduates left school owing an average of $35,200 in government and private student loans, credit-card debt, and loans to family members, the Cost-Conscious College Graduates Study found. The results were based on a national online survey of 750 graduates from the classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013 conducted in April.

(This figure is higher than reports by the Project on Student Debt, which calculates two-thirds of recent grads carry an average of $26,600 in student-loan debt, because the Fidelity poll includes all debt, not just student loans.)

While graduates don't regret going to college, nearly 39 percent of Fidelity respondents said they would have made different choices related to college planning had they understood the total cost, which was an increase of 14 percentage points from a Fidelity survey in 2011.

If they could do it over again, graduates advise they would: save early, research scholarships and financial-aid options, look for ways to control costs while in college, and open a dedicated college savings account.

The students polled did say they were partners in financing college along with their families. Eighty-five percent indicated they contributed some of their personal savings to cover college tuition and related expenses. And, of those, 27 percent came up with at least $10,000 to support their own education.

Still, 57 percent of recent graduates think they could have saved more for college. About 69 percent acknowledge they could have cut back on entertainment, and 64 percent could have spent less on retail spending. A little more than half of students say they could have saved more from summer jobs.

Just how long do students think it will take them to climb out of debt? On average, about 10 years, according to the Fidelity responses.

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