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Is it worth going to my dream school if it's gonna give me a lot of student debt?

My dream school is an out of state university with a high tuition. I have a few in state universities that are cheaper on my backup list, but I don't want to give up on my dream school.

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Brianna’s Answer

Hi, Ember,

This is a great question! I agree with TJ that college is what you make of it, and that you don't need to go to your "dream school" to have it be worthwhile. That being said, I went to my out of state "dream school" with hefty tuition fees thanks to very strong need and merit based scholarships and financial aid allowing me to graduate debt-free, so it's not impossible.

Here are a few of my suggestions:

- Determine of you want just a Bachelor's degree or if you want to continue on to get a Master's or other professional degree. If you plan on continuing your education beyond a BA/BS, you can consider going to your dream school in the future (with the added bonus of many Masters and PhD programs offering tuition coverage and stipends to reduce/eliminate debt).

- Apply for scholarships offered by your dream school and third party scholarships offered locally to you or that you can find online.

- Wait to get all of your decison letters in before making a commitment. Many people don't know this, but you can write to a college to appeal your financial aid offer and ask for more aid. You can use your acceptances and other financial aid offers as leverage in this appeal, i.e., "This is my first choice, but the cost is prohibitive. X university offered me $$ in scholarships, and I would need this offer matched or exceeded." You can Google financial aid appeal letters for some examples.

- As TJ noted, really think about why your dream school is your dream school. If it's prestige and name recognition, I'd rethink about paying so much to attend. My general rule is that, unless you plan on getting a PhD and working in academia, going to a "prestigious" school or one "with the #1 ranked program" isn't worth it if they are not offering all or most of the fee covered by financial aid. If you're planning on working in an industry, people look for a completed degree in a relevant major. That is it. The longer out you get from the completion of your BA/BS degree, the less it matters compared to your work experiences and workplace references.

- Consider a work study program at your dream school. Many universities offer work study that covers room/board and/or tuition fees.
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T.J.’s Answer

Hello Ember!

I can see why you want to go to your dream school.

From my perspective, most students benefit the most by going for the most affordable route possible. Mostly, because college is very expensive in the U.S.

Picture this:

If you graduate from college at 22 years old... You will need to pay your student loan debt every year until you are about 40 years old.

The average US citizen spends 18 and a half years paying their student loans.

18.5 years is the average. Some spend 27 years. Some spend 4-7 years. It depends on if you get a Ph.D (27) or Associate's degree (4-7).

To learn more about student loan debt, here's some articles:
CNBC - https://www.cnbc.com/select/how-long-it-takes-to-pay-off-student-loans/
The Balance - https://www.thebalancemoney.com/how-long-does-it-take-to-pay-off-student-loans-4588027

College is a hefty investment 😅

I'd say consider the reasons behind your decision to attending one college over another.

- Does the school provide something that your in-state schools do not? If so, what is that?
- What are three separate reasons why you want to attend this college?
- How far do you want to go away from home?
- Ask yourself: Am I (or my parents) comfortable with being away and handling the costs of this college over time?

If you can list solid clear reasons to attend, and are willing to there: Then.... Great!

If you can't think of multiple clear reasons for attending, and are drawn to the school for one reason - such as prestige ("It's a top school. It got #1 best in the country for excellence!!! 🥇🏆🏅"): Then...

That's an investment you can either feel comfortable or uncomfortable with.

Honestly, you 𝘤𝘢𝘯 get a good education anywhere. College is what you make of it.

Sending you good luck as you decide on colleges :)
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Amber’s Answer

Hey, Ember!

This is a great question, and a very personal decision, though I'm so glad you're thinking proactively about your future.

I will say, I took the expensive, private college route. I had no financial support from family, however I was able to secure free tuition with my high GPA and ACT score. Having said that, I still had to take out loans to live on campus for 4 years, the dining plan, and other expenses. This left me with about $30k in student debt upon graduation where I managed to earn a BBA/MBA at the same time. For me, it was worth it to attend this private religious institution because it fit my life desires to spend those years around like-minded individuals.

I know a lot of people who will say you should always choose the most affordable option, and I do tend to agree with that *in general* but there are certainly exceptions. My case, for example, was an exception. I ended up getting married to someone I met at this private university and that alone was worth the $30k I ended up with in debt. However, I did NOT plan for that to happen and made sure that no matter what, I would graduate with a degree that could get me a solid job in a secure field immediately after graduation in which I would work extremely hard to pay off my loans in as little time as possible. And I did that. It was a huge sacrifice in young adulthood where my other friends were out traveling, buying houses, and just having "fun" as new adults who weren't in school anymore. I did not get to have that experience because I was stuck paying off those loans.

It's certainly something you want to weigh.

If the university is a religious school and that's important to you, maybe that's a good reason to go. However, if it's just a more prestigious school with a nice name, it might not be worth it in the end as so many people out there have degrees today and you don't actually need a college education to earn a great living! If going to the more affordable school will get you the same jobs at the end of 4 years, it might be worth considering so that you will be much more financially ahead than your peers upon graduation. There's definitely something to be said for that. Inflation is high right now and home prices are astronomical. Most people in your age group will likely never own a home, so if you have big financial/retirement goals, it's definitely worth it to consider a more affordable option.

I say make a pro-con list and do a weighted system giving higher weights to the factors that are more important to you and see how it shakes out after your evaluation. Best of luck!
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david’s Answer

Ember, you have already received excellent advice on your question, and I can't add more to their suggestions on pursuing your college preference. However, I do have a suggestion that I hope to take seriously: Get pencil and paper and write down in detail all the reasons for wanting that dream school. Write each reason on a separate line. Then review that list and ask yourself how many tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars MORE than your other colleges that you are willing to spend for those reasons that you wrote. That's what it comes down to. Unless you are in some specific professions, the name of the degree on your resume buys you little. I wish your well.
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Tenia’s Answer

The decision to attend your dream school despite potential student debt depends on various factors such as the value you place on the school, your career goals, available financial aid options, and your ability to manage and repay the debt. It's essential to weigh the long-term benefits against the financial implications and consider alternative options, such as scholarships, grants, or attending a more affordable institution.
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H’s Answer

Hi Ember,

I would recommend that you visit the schools and do the full tour to get a feel of the faculty and the student culture at the school. Each school has a distinct vibe and culture that you will pick up on when you are there. It's important for you to gauge where you will be happiest to enjoy your learning time. I know that financials are a huge factor in this decision, it was for me, too. And I agree that college is what you make of it. I do think, though, that you should go where it feels best for you. Financial aid will vary by size of school as well as your own financial situation when you apply to FAFSA annually. Don't forget to re-apply every year, and to apply to all financial aid opportunities by talking to the school's financial aid department. Clubs and different demographic groups also provide scholarship opportunities, so those are good to join.

For me, personally, I had one school in mind that was highest on my list. I chose it for its academic reputation and also because the financial aid was well funded, so it was a lower cost for me. There was another great school that I was accepted to, and it was more costly to me and was less known and reputable than the first. I honestly liked the culture of the second better, it was more in line with my personality and pace. I chose the first for the reasons I gave, but I think I would've been happier and had a better experience if I had chosen the second.

With that said, it is important to keep the financial burden in mind and to be mindful of ways to lighten the debt however possible. One way to go about reducing your debt is to attend a community college first, then transfer over to your dream school. I did this, and saved a lot of money on tuition. Community college is a great way to boost your GPA while getting involved with groups and initiatives to make your college application stand out. The community colleges also usually have special relationships with the universities that help transfer students to be admitted.
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Juli’s Answer

I think it's important to really think about why it's your dream school. For example, is it a top program for the field you want to study in? Is it a school someone in your life has hyped up? or do you just love their athletics? It's important to weigh that answer with not only the long-term financial impacts but also considering what your degree will provide you. I would say if you wanted to go to a school because of the degree program and you think that what you're studying will allow you to pay off the debt later than it can definitely be worth it. I would also look into grants and scholarships to help pay for college along with part time jobs during college if your time allows it.
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Katelyn’s Answer

Going to your dream school is a huge accomplishment for some people! If it is something you really want, most times there are a lot of recourses you can use! Before saying no to your dream school apply for financial aid, do plenty of research, there are usually a great deal of scholarships you can apply for. It may be a lot of work, but if it helps you afford your dream school it may be worth it!

Another thing to think about is getting a part time job to help with those costs (if you are able), or a job in the bookstore (highly competitive) but you could get a huge discount on your books!
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Lindsey’s Answer

This is a great question! Do you have a major already decided? If so, spend some time looking into schools that have a lot of successful programs related to that major. I would also spend some time looking into the background of staff - for example, the school I attended had no teaching assistants and every professor was someone who had actually worked in that field for at least 2 years and had relevant knowledge. This was invaluable as I went through college. My campus wasn't the stereotypical beautiful dream college, but it was the best choice I made!

However, if you are undecided on your major, I think you should do what makes you happy and works for you! College is also a time to make lifelong friends and memories while you also learn and gain amazing experience. Finances are definitely an aspect to consider, but look into scholarships, grants, etc! There are lots of financial help options out there.

Best of luck!!
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Delia’s Answer

I think it would depend on what makes it your dream school. Is it because you have expectation of it or do they offer programs that are beneficial to what you would like to do. If its the latter, I would say absolutely. Think of it as an investment in the rest of your life!
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Fernando’s Answer

If the debt is too high I'd say look for alternatives. It can be hard, especially if it's your dream college, but you have to think long term with regards to job opportunities, salary and economic stability. When it comes to student loans the big factor is the interest rates and how it becomes a recurring frustration. It's also worth studying and analyzing the current economic environment, job market, inflation and stagnant salary growth. Please think ahead and don't make rushed decision. An average student loan is already a pain to deal with, but a major loan can be a lifelong nightmare.
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Helena’s Answer

If taking on student debt helps you land a profitable and fulfilling career, those loans may be worth it. You can't see the future, though, and there's risk involved. Make sure you work hard to succeed and expand your opportunities so that those loans pay off!
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Ena’s Answer

Hi Ember,
Great question! My advise would be to do a Pro's and Con's list, one for going to your dream school and one for staying in town and going to your backup schools. I think this will give your some clarity and a better perspective on things. I think you should always follow your dreams but within reason, you don't want to get into such high debt unless your dream school is offering an excellent education.

Best of luck.
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bethany’s Answer

I think it depends. Does your dream school have a major, an alumni network, or something unique about it that your in-state schools don't that will result in a higher paying job when you graduate?

I went to one of my dream schools and I do not regret it. My parents talked me out of going to Ivy league schools that were out of state (even though I had already been accepted). A part of me wonders if my career path would have been more lucrative and easier had I gone to an ivy or higher ranked school. Weigh the costs and benefits. In the end, I LOVE my alma matter! You'll love wherever you choose, too!

Ask yourself why it's your dream school and try to think if you'll have regrets 5, 10, 20 years from now if you go to an in state school ... or if you go to your dream school.

Good luck with your decision! I don't think there is a wrong answer here! Such an exciting moment!
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Sierra’s Answer

I definitely think so. It's really important to do the things you want while you're young. I think you should weigh the risk with the reward and consider what your future occupation will provide in terms of paying back that loan, but someday you may not be able to do things like move out of state and go to your favorite school, so follow your dreams. :)
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Rebecca’s Answer

Thank you for your question. If you can have the offer of your dream school, I strongly recommend you take the offer. Otherwise, you will regret in the future. Many people do not receive the offer from their dream school rather than considering the tuition fee.
Below are my suggestions on paying the tuition fee :
1. Explore any student loans offering in the college
2. Apply for scholarship
3. Discuss with your parents on financing your tuition fee
4. Do part time jobs
Hope this helps! Good Luck!
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Lesly’s Answer

Hello! In my view, if your dream school has a unique program that you can't find anywhere else, then definitely go for it! But before you let go of a school, be sure to explore their financial aid options. Numerous prestigious institutions, like Stanford or Harvard, provide exceptional needs-based financial assistance packages. Best of luck!
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