Debate: Is Private School Worth the Student Loans?

Q. Student Loans?

The school I dream of attending to obtain my degree is a private school, and needless to say it is very, very expensive. I would need to take out student loans in order to attend. So my question would be–is it worth it to attend the school of my dreams but be paying off the loans for years to come? Or should I opt for the less expensive options, even if it means sacrificing some of the qualities I’m looking for in a school?

A. While private schools are known for academic excellence and the connections and pedigree that come with a degree, many 40-something women agree it’s not necessary. There is also a rising debate on the necessity of college at all, particularly amongst entrepreneurs like Peter Thiel, PayPal co-founder and Facebook investor, who is offering students $100,000 each to drop out of college and start a business.

That aside, you want to go to college and it is an amazing time to explore your interests, learn, grow, make friends and expose yourself to people and cultures beyond your back door. I would recommend going somewhere that does take you away from home and your comfort zone regardless of your choice.

From my own experience, I think it mostly depends on what you want to do. If you know you want to be a doctor or have a specialty that a private school is known for it is probably worth it. If you don’t know what you want to do, it might not be worth the cost. My father, a scientist, told me “no go” to out-of-state or private schools since I wasn’t sure what I wanted “to be when I grew up”. I chose a smaller public school in my home state and never once felt held back by that. I moved to New York after college and got a job in advertising working alongside many people from private east cost colleges. I am happy I wasn’t burdened with a student loan while existing on my meager salary!

Conversely, my brother knew he wanted to be a geologist and went to an out of state undergrad and Ivy League grad school to achieve this dream. In fact he now teaches there as well many years later. So what you want to do is one key factor.

Here is what some other women have to say. Thank you to all for such thoughtful feedback!!

“I have attended and taught at a state school as well as a private university, and although I’m no longer in the academic world I have many friends who are employed at different colleges around the country. I’d say that unless the student has a really specific professional/research interest that is best served by working in a particular lab/think tank with the only scientist/doctor/economist/etc. who is pursuing the kind of work she wants to do, try to reduce debt as much as possible.

If you’re not limited to one institution for professional reasons, it’s almost never worth the extra money even if it seems like heaven on earth. There is more similarity among various colleges/universities than most people realize, whether it’s socially or academically. The college of your dreams is probably very much like college B over there, just with some different rituals and personalities.

Because of the scarcity of academic jobs, even the second-tier schools can afford to be extremely choosy about who they hire, because there are so many Ivy League PhDs on the job market in any given year. So there’s not all that much difference among the teaching faculty from one school to another, either.

If you’re a motivated student, you will get just as good an education at the less expensive school and the shiny name of the more expensive school is only of marginal significance once you’re out in the real world, and can be a drawback in some settings. It might have made a serious difference 30 years ago, but I don’t think that’s true anymore. The opportunities and resources available at less expensive schools are extensive and impressive.

All that debt will limit the kinds of careers you can pursue once you’re done, because you have to go for a high paying job even if you decide that your true calling is elsewhere. And if you’re choosing your school based on practical reasons as well as academic and student-life interests, you’ll wind up with a fellow student pool with the same priorities as you. There are still a lot of legacy doofuses who get into the famous schools because their parents are super wealthy alumni. They might be admitted as sophomores, but they’re there.” – 40-something, PhD, teacher, Los Angeles, CA


“You have to ask yourself, ‘Why is this particular school the school of my dreams’? If, as a private school, it is legitimately offering you a unique experience outside of its impressive reputation then I say go for it, but don’t be seduced by “name brand” institutions for reputation alone. Once you graduate, you’ll be surprised how few people will ask you where you went to school. – 40-something, strategic consultant, New York, NY


“Luckily, I did not need to take student loans for my college choice, but had family members who did so to obtain specialty degrees, and each one would tell you it was well worth it. However, paying the loans back will be a significant financial toll on your 20s and possibly your 30s so be sure you are choosing this college for the right reasons. Seek council with a financial advisor; he/she can help you make the right choice now and how to pay them off quickly and wisely in the future. Also, there is available ‘free money’ from companies and private donations that many people don’t realize exists. Spend some time researching these options to help lighten the load down the road.” – 40-something, fashion industry, San Diego, CA


“Although going to a named prestigious college can look great on the resume. I’m in the school of thought that it is not necessary and getting into debt before you have started your life in this day and age doesn’t seem like a wise choice. I don’t think opting for a less expensive college means sacrifice, it’s just being smart and realistic. It is not the college you attend that will make you successful, but the work, dedication and passion you put into your career that will make all the difference in the world.” – 40-something, business owner, New York, NY


“I believe the school you attend not only provides you with an education but it helps form how you think and it further introduces you to a great network of individuals. The relationships and friendships you build in college are just as valuable as the education you receive so the student body matters. With that said, I would attend the school that afforded me the best education, a great student body and a strong alumni association. This could very well be the less expensive state school – like a UCLA – so it all depends on her options and the actual choice of schools.” – 40-something, financial services/global wealth management, New York, NY


Your education is what YOU make of it. For undergrad go to a less expensive option. Even with work-study and scholarship it took me until age 32 to pay off my undergrad. And that was in better economic times. Excel and try to get a free ride at school of your dreams for graduate school. I never got to continue my education because of debt.” – photographer, artist, freelance consultant, Santa Monica, CA

I look forward to getting a few more responses on the trade-off between private school and student loans. In addition here is a link to a site comparing pros and cons of private universities. One point they bring up is the student to professor ratio, which is more advantageous at a private school. To the point of your education is what you make it, this can also be helped at public / larger schools by being proactive. I just read a blog making the point that the first thing you should do in college is go introduce yourself to your professors and advisors. Good luck and most of all, enjoy your time in college!

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