You've distilled the debate very well! Completing your undergrad is what matters, less so than the school.
You may be interested in the argument Malcom Gladwell makes in his book David and Goliath: you're better off being a "big fish in a little pond" than struggling at an elite school. (The little pond could be a less-prestigious state school.) It's not the school that imparts the benefit or guarantees your success. It's what you do while you're there.
This argument resonates with my undergrad experience. Like you, I'd planned on continuing higher education into a graduate program after finishing undergrad. My family didn't have a lot of money for college, so an in-state school was my first choice. My mother worked in securities law and connected me with a wildly successful partner at a technology law firm.
The conversation he and I had about my undergrad and graduate school completely changed my mind! He recommended that I focus on subjects that interest me to ensure that I would be motivated to learn. With average grades and less-than compelling LSAT scores, he didn't feel like my law school options were that great. He said, if he could do it all again, he'd have taken an entry-level job in business (rather than go to law school) and been equally successful with less work.
I took him quite literally, getting an entry-level job out of undergrad and working my way up. I did eventually get my MBA, which was greatly informed by my work experience. In all that time, where I went for my undergrad mattered very little.
You may have read or heard news stories about how many students graduate college with astronomical student debt, and that's what I would encourage you to avoid.
Desiree recommends the following next steps:
- Read the book excerpt from David & Goliath. Does his point of view resonate with your expectations of college? https://ash.myschoolapp.com/ftpimages/401/download/download_1009994.pdf
- Ask your parents or teachers if they know anyone working in a field you're interested in. Interview them about the path to their current job and what they learned along the way.