Was the account in default at any point, and is it a federal loan? If it is federally backed student loan, it will stay with you for the rest of your life until you pay it off. No exceptions. If the account is in collections, and you aren't paying it, it will go into default. This could take 7 years to over a decade to get off of your credit, especially if the status of the loan keeps changing. Student loans aren't like credit card debt where if it goes into collections, it will eventually reach a statute of limitations and fall of your report if it isn't paid off after a long period of time. These things will stay with you until you die, and if it is federally backed, bankruptcy won't even save you.
Just be lucky you only owe $7k. I was in a similar situation to you. I never got to finish school because I had to basically quit my job and school to take care of my father who had a massive stroke and had no insurance or finances for in-home care, and then my mother got very ill shortly after. It was just hell. So I owed 16k in student loans and never even got my full degree. I'm currently down to 8k which is reasonable, but I basically paid for nothing. The funny thing is, even though I do not have a degree in computer science, I still work for a company as a software developer because I am learning what I need to with the help of my co-workers and free web courses. College is a waste of money nowadays for a lot of things. I feel like you get much better training and experience with apprenticeships, if you are already apt in the line of work you choose.