I am confident that each student mentally grapples with their debt (and the prospect of paying it back) in vastly different ways.
There are likely some who become mentally obsessed with the money and live very carefully and economically so as to not accumulate more debt than absolutely necessary. These students may work during school in addition to being a full time student while some may choose not to indulge in a dinner out or a movie every so often as it is simply not worth using their debt on such frivolous things.
There are others who may consider their debt to be a necessary evil that does not warrant their attention until absolutely necessary — i.e. when their student loan payments start coming due. These students are perhaps more likely to consider their debt to be the the way for them to get through these 4 years comfortably and do not necessarily wish to cut corners or deprive themselves of certain luxuries simply due to a compounding number that is looming over their heads.
No matter how you view your debt, it is a rather sizable amount of money that begins to look like an insurmountable obstacle obstructing you from living the life you imagined–content with having obtained your life-long dream of becoming a veterinarian, and perhaps buying a house, starting a family, etc. (though surely not everyone dreams of such things). After all, veterinarians have the highest debt:salary ratio of all professionals.
What does that mean?
Simply put, veterinarians have more debt per dollar of salary than any other professional (doctors, lawyers, etc.). We get ourselves into 200k of debt (though sometimes more, sometimes less) only to emerge from school to take a job paying a meager 60k/year (though sometimes more, sometimes much, much less).
So how do we function, as students in debt? I’m not going to lie, at first it was a difficult concept to get used to. I, for one, did not truly understand how much debt I would accumulate when I switched careers from psychology graduate school to veterinary school (and most PhD students get paid on top of having their tuition and health insurance covered). So after the initial shock, and a few anxious phone calls to friends and family, I adjusted my perspective and decided that I would live my life as comfortably as I could afford, and not miss out on good opportunities simply because of financial constraints. I would make it work.
Fortunately, at UC Davis, there are many lunch lectures from outside sources that give advice on how to pay back loans effectively and efficiently. These lectures help prepare me for what lies ahead and now I live with minimal anxiety about my financial situation.
I know there will come a day when I have to pay back my loans…and I will.