I think I have found the perfect graduate school. The faculty appear to be very passionate about their work and focused on helping students succeed. I want to attend this school because I feel like the professors care, and that the school’s career services will also help me leverage my new skill set into a good-paying job.
The problem is that this is a private school and very expensive. I am up for a scholarship, but won’t know until after the commitment deadline passes if I’ll receive it.
There is a state school that I can go to and it is much cheaper and close to home. However, the professors don’t seem to care a lot about their students. I have asked repeatedly for stats on graduates and employment and have received nothing. I am afraid that if I go to the state school, I’ll regret my decision and yet, I don’t think it’s very wise to go into so much debt for school.
I am 32, and have credit card debt as well. I am currently working and living paycheck to paycheck. So my decision to go to graduate school is to advance my career and hopefully earn a high salary.
My question is: Should I go to a school that I am not excited about only because it is cheaper or should I take out student loans to pay for the much more expensive school that I feel passionately about?
This is increasingly becoming THE question around education. In years past this was a very simple question to answer. The correlation between going to college or graduate school and your earnings was so strong that it made sense to take on student loan debt because the healthy income you’d receive would more than enable you to pay that debt back.
Today the math is very different. First the sheer amount of student loan debt that the average student is graduating with is 2 or 3x higher than it used to be because tuitions have risen so much. Second, jobs are more scarce and even when you find them, often salaries have not been keeping up with inflation. Last but not least, the impact a degree has on your ability to get a job and move up in the workforce is shifting too.
In the information age, increasingly what employers care about is your output and who YOU are as a person, not WHERE you went to school. So now you have to think about education much more carefully. This is all the more true if you have other debt, like credit card debt.
In general, if you are paying more than 10% of your take home pay toward student loans after you graduate, it is going to be exceptionally hard to make ends meet once your factor in all the other costs of life.
So one way to make this decision is to think about what you expect your starting salary to be, how much you’d have a month after taxes to live on and thus whether the student loan payments you’d have to make are reasonable.
I’m meeting entirely too many people who are drowning in educational debt – having taken a step they thought would improve their lives that is now adding extreme stress. As hard as it is to suggest NOT going to a wonderful school where the faculty and staff are so clearly caring, it will be even harder for you if you graduate with an unmanageable amount of debt.
For this reason I’d suggest if you don’t get the scholarship to either wait a year and apply again next year or attend the less expensive school and not take on student loan debt.
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