Physician assistant Ashleigh Shepard on getting out of student debt

How Physician Assistant Ashleigh Shepard Fast-Tracked Her Way Out of $102K in Student Debt and Into Her Happily Ever After

In our latest member spotlight, we speak to Ashleigh Shepard and learn why she chose The University of Florida to pursue her graduate degree in Physician Assistant Studies, and how she tackled a monthly student loan payment that was more than her rent – all the while she and her fiancé save for their first home.

Name: Ashleigh Shepard

Age: 30

Locale: St. Petersburg, FL

Alma Maters: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A in American history); University of Florida School of Physician Assistant Studies (M.P.A.S)

By Day: Physician Assistant

SoFi Member Since: 2015

Original Debt Amount and Terms: $102K / 102 months / 7.4%

SoFi Solution: Student Loan Refinancing / 120 months / 5.2%

When Ashleigh Shepard graduated from the University of Florida in 2013, she was $102,000 in debt—a rude awakening after an incredible college experience. She and her boyfriend hoped to save enough to buy a house someday, but found it difficult to see their way around the mountain of debt.

Three years later, thanks to refinancing her student loan with SoFi, Ashleigh’s debt is under control and she’s planning her wedding, all while enjoying her career as a physician assistant.

What made you decide to become a Physician Assistant (PA) ?

After undergrad, I worked as a tech with a bunch of PAs in a pediatric emergency department. I found it exciting to solve problems when people come to you in a time of need. I enjoyed putting the puzzle pieces together to figure out what was going on and how to help them.

Why did you choose the University of Florida for grad school?

I wanted to make sure I would have job opportunities once I graduated. The University of Florida has a well-established PA program and a great class size of about 60 students. It’s also associated with a medical school, nursing school, and pharmacy school. So I knew I’d be part of a larger medical community.

Related: Beating the Odds on The Way to UCLA – MBA Grad, Mavrick Goodrich, Shares His Inspiring Journey and How He’s Tackling Six Figures of Student Debt

What was your biggest challenge at the university?

Not getting distracted by that community! When you embark on a graduate program, you’re committing to an education in order to better yourself and your career. You have to be disciplined and not get sidetracked by everything going on around you. So if a football game was at 7 p.m., I’d go to the library from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and then make time to enjoy the game after finishing my schoolwork.

What did you like best about the University of Florida?

I loved the staff; they really care about the students. They made sure we were well prepared—not just for board exams, but also for finding jobs and becoming established PAs. Plus, the school offers a lot of activities on campus; you can use the gym and you have access to sporting events, such as football and basketball games.

Where are you working now that you’re out of school?

I work at a pediatric orthopedic practice, and I love it. The kids are great and really funny. I’m also precepting—teaching students on rotation—and mentoring other physician assistants. It’s really nice to be able to give back. On the personal side, I’m also working on planning my wedding.

Congratulations! How did you meet your fiancé, and when are you getting married?

We met during spring break in my last year of grad school. I went to Aruba with seven girlfriends, and he was our tour guide for the week. We just hit it off. We’re getting married in October.

You’re probably busy saving up for that.

We’re saving to buy a home!

That’s a big goal. You graduated with a lot of student loan debt, so how did you feel once your first payment was due?

That’s when it sucked. I realized I’d have to pay back all that money. My student loan payment was such a huge burden—more than my rent! It was $1,400 a month, and my rent was $1,310.

I felt like I had worked so hard, and there I was at 27 years old with no money to my name. So I visited a financial advisor and told him my goals. I wanted to purchase a house, get married—just start living my life. He recommended refinancing student loans with SoFi so I could make higher payments to the principal of my loan and really establish myself financially.

Read Next: 3 People Close to Paying Off Student Debt Discuss Their Payoff Strategies and What They’ll Do Next

How do you use the money you save by refinancing?

I bought a new car, because I had about four inches of standing water in my old car. I’ve also been able to put some money into savings, and invest some in the market for growth. I got close to a 5% return on my investment, which will be used toward a down payment on a house.

Now, I feel more financially stable. Knowing I have a little bit of flexible cash each month is a relief. If I have to buy an emergency plane ticket to see my parents, or if something else comes up, it’s nice to have that extra money.

Do you have a strategy for managing your finances?

I work a lot of overtime! I get paid bimonthly, so on the first of the month I put any overtime money I’ve made into my savings account. Then, on the 15th, I put overtime money toward my student loan. I’d rather get that done now than have looming payments in the future.

How do you and your fiancé handle finances together?

Initially, my student loan debt impeded us from getting married. But now that I’ve refinanced, and have educated myself and him about it, we are at a point where we’re significantly more comfortable. And he’s agreed to marry into it [laughs]! We’ve invested in a Roth IRA, and we plan to purchase a house that’s well below our budget, so we can pay more toward my loan.

Is it difficult to balance paying off your student loan and saving for the future, while still enjoying life in the present?

That’s where refinancing comes in. It’s allowed me to lower my monthly payments and diversify my finances. I’m not living an extravagant lifestyle, but I’m very much able to enjoy it.

The way I see it, I got a great education at the University of Florida, I enjoy my job, and I love the flexibility I have. One of the financial advisors I spoke to put it this way: “At the end of your lifetime, you’re going to make over $3 million. What’s $120,000 for two years of school?” It’s pretty insignificant when you look at it that way.

Share this with someone who needs to say “I do” to paying off student debt faster.

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