Going to a Top School vs. Saving Money

Michael Lux Blog, Money Saving Tips, Student Loans 3 Comments

For some, the question is do I take out student loans to pay for Harvard or do I accept a full-ride at a state school.  For others, the question is do I pay full tuition at the local university or save money by going to a community college.  The vast majority of college students face this question in one way or another.  Pick the expensive school or save some money?

Unfortunately, there really isn’t a simple answer.  The most important thing is to take the time to make a well thought out decision.  Before you decide, it is critical to ask yourself the following questions:

Will the expensive school be my final destination?

The classic example: If you go to Harvard law, nobody cares where you went for your undergraduate degree.  If grad school is in your future, the name on the undergrad degree becomes far less important; in some cases it becomes trivial.  Things like your gpa, major, and test scores can all end up being more important than where you went to school for undergrad.

Along the same lines, where you start your degree does not matter.  The part that matters is where you finish it.  If you spend two years at a community college and finish your degree at a more prestigious school, it won’t hold you back at all.  You will save some money, and if anything, potential employers will see the wisdom and work ethic that went into your educational path.  On the other hand community college may not work out or you could end up with bad grades, so their is risk.  However, it is probably worth noting that success at community college and any other university are closely related.  If you are going to do well at one, you will probably do well at the other.  You may even do well enough at community college to get in to a school that denied you coming out of high school.

How important is “who you know” and how are you going to meet them?

The Internet has definitely helped level the playing field in this regard, but many industries and employers are still much harder to access if you don’t know the right people.  Having access to the right network can be very important.  You have to investigate hard to find out the quality of a schools network, but this aspect may be worth spending a little extra money.  If fashion is your passion, you may be able to get a great eduction in Nebraska, but the network you build in New York could be the key to success.

What do you want from your day-to-day college life?

If you are breaking the bank to go to school it means you won’t have money for luxuries such a spring break trips, a nice apartment or fine dining.  Attending an expensive school can necessitate saying no to your friends who don’t yet understand that student loans are not monopoly money, but are in reality a future burden.  If you spend big on tuition, you will have to limit your spending in other ways, both during school and after.

Final Thought: Trust Yourself

College spending is quickly becoming a subject that everyone has an opinion on.  Getting thoughts and insights from people you respect is great, but you have to make the final decision.  It is your life, and it is you who will be on the hook for the student loans.

If you are agonizing over the decision, that is a good sign.  It means you understand the consequences of your choice.  Put lots of thought and research into the decision, but once you decide, own it.  Don’t look back and wonder what might have been.  Life is full of forks in the road and looking back with regret will only prevent you from making the most of the road in front of you.