Student loan debt in the U.S. now totals more than $1.5 trillion, but students in some states are getting hit harder than others.
Students in the Northeast have the heaviest burdens. Nearly 75 percent of college graduates in New Hampshire have outstanding student loans and they owe an average of $36,367 — that's the highest rate in the country, according to the Institute for College Access and Success's 12th Annual Student Debt report.
The report, published annually, breaks down both the percentage of students carrying undergraduate student loan debt, and the average amount each graduate owed in every state (with the exception of North Dakota, where there was insufficient data). TICAS's report used the most up-to-date data based on the Class of 2016.
Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Minnesota and Massachusetts rounded out the top six states with the highest average amount of undergraduate student debt: Recent grads in these states carry over $31,500 on average.
It makes sense that the Northeast states are carrying higher student loan debt, according to Adam Minksy a lawyer specializing in student loan law. "Certain states have less robust, affordable state education systems," Minsky tells CNBC Make It.
States like California and Florida have major state universities that are both affordable and prestigious, so many students end up going to these institutions and taking on less debt, Minsky says. However, states such as New Hampshire and Massachusetts host Ivy League schools — including Dartmouth College and Harvard University — as well as private universities that may be less affordable. And while several Ivy League schools offer generous financial aid packages, other elite, expensive private universities don't always offer the same level of support.
Utah has the lowest average rate of student loan debt in the U.S., $19.975, and the state's most popular colleges are public schools with in-state tuition of less than $6,000: Utah State University, Weber State University and Utah Valley University. New Mexico, California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida round out the states with the lowest levels of student loan debt, all with average levels under $25,000. This is well below the average debt of $32,731 owed by graduates of the Class of 2016.
More and more, high school students and their families are getting very practical when it comes to picking a college. "I was told by everyone to go to the best school you can get into, even if it's more expensive, it will be a good investment," Minsky says. "Now we're starting to see a shift toward making responsible financial choices about college."
Like this story? Subscribe to CNBC Make It on YouTube!