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PARENTS: Just how much do huge loans suck?

fullfreightyfullfreighty 4 replies1 threads New Member
edited September 2005 in Parents Forum
I'm a rising senior in the natural sciences at a very highly-ranked school. (That's all I'm going to say for anonymity purposes.) I am interested in continuing to grad school (PhD, but Masters first for the flexibility). I am in the middle to bottom end of my class, just below 3.0, but very good GRE and work/research experience. I suspect I can still gain admission to grad schools, but the GPA issue will preclude assistantships or any other kind of aid. I am not need-based, but continuing to pay $40,000/year (even for one more year) is out of the question without me taking on some pretty big student loans.

So... the debate: Suck it up and get the loan anyway and go to a big-name school, or go loanlessly to one of the cheapest places I can find that nobody's ever heard of? I haven't really found anything in the middle. If you have any suggestions for specific schools with cheap grad programs, yet decent name recognition, I'll take those too.

My friends say suck it up. They're all like, "you're not applying anywhere better?" However, I want to ask this of parents, because I think some of us students tend to assign too much value to prestige, having not experienced enough of money management. (I seem to be in the minority at my school in thinking a loan for, say, three years of a top ten law school is, generally speaking, not going to be paid off in five or even ten years unless you are living in a boarding house and eating ramen.)
edited September 2005
25 replies
Post edited by fullfreighty on
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Replies to: PARENTS: Just how much do huge loans suck?

  • minimini 26167 replies259 threads Senior Member
    If you plan to teach eventually at a college or university, unless your research is stellar and your mentor is connected, going to a "cheap" grad program is no bargain, because of the difficulty in getting a job. Not a good job - any job. But huge loans at a very good school are no bargain either - even if you get one of those good college or university jobs, they just don't pay very well, and you are at the whims of the tenure gods. So if this is where you think you are headed, it might be worth your while to take a year (or two) off, attempt to find a job in the field you hope to be in eventually, and then reapply, with more on your resume.

    If you plan to teach high school, it makes absolutely no difference where you go. And, if you do very well, after your m.a., you may be able to transfer into a very good PH.D. program if you have a good enough GPA, an interesting thesis, and some good mentoring.

    If you are headed into the research field in the private sector, it's just hard to say, as connections (in the early stages of a career) count for so much. A cheap grad program, but in a town where there are corporate research opportunities might not be a bad move at all.
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  • davidav87davidav87 324 replies2 threads Member
    You don't have to go to a big name M.A program if you plan to go on to a PhD. I would reccomend doing extremely well at a less expensive but not horrible M.A program and then applying to PhD programs that offer full support.
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  • fullfreightyfullfreighty 4 replies1 threads New Member
    I'm most interested in private sector / think tank / nat'l lab research.

    David -- that's one of the things in the back of my mind, thanks for giving it a vote of confidence.
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  • newmassdadnewmassdad 3792 replies56 threads Senior Member
    Sciences?

    I'm not aware of a big name school that would take any grad student without full support, in the sciences, certainly not for Ph.D. programs.

    It's hard to answer your questions with much specificity because of what you don't say: Long term career goal? current school? field?

    You should keep in mind that, in the sciences, there is a big difference between MS/A programs and Ph.D. Most Ph.D. candidates receive a MS along the way, but it is not a formal degree objective.

    I cannot say why, after having four years to build your record, you ended up with a substandard GPA, which is what you implied. If this is true, your best bet might be to get into a program you can afford, and work your bottom off (finally?) to prove that you are willing to produce the quality work that your GRE scores imply you are capable of. Then transfer.

    Finally, what is the value of a name degree? It depends on your goal. You really need to speak to some prospective grad departments to see where their grads have gone. Then decide if you'd be happy with that path. These paths are all over the map, btw.
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  • maritemarite 21343 replies243 threads Senior Member
    Ph.D. programs expect students to pay full freight for the first two years (around 50K at a top school), whether coming in with an M.A. or not, and also expect students to take Ph.D. general exams anyway, so going for an M.A. first is not a good strategy. This full freight can be covered by fellowships. In the sciences, these are available through the outside grants that faculty secure to support their research. In return, students work in labs on projects led by the faculty. After the first two years, students benefit from reduced tuition and are eligible to teach or continue to be research assistants. This will pay a stipend, and tuition will probably be waived. The stipend is very modest, hence the expression "starving graduate student."

    If you are admitted but without funding, you can expect to pay around $100k for the first two years of study. It will also not be clear whether you will be able to secure a TA or RA position.
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  • davidav87davidav87 324 replies2 threads Member
    Marite, schools vary. And in fact, most of the top schools will not accept you unless they can provide you with full funding for at least five years. *full funding* of course doesn't mean *full funding* but it certainly covers tuition.

    EDIT: Of course, it probably depends on what programs you're going into. The ones I've researched are in philosophy.
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  • maritemarite 21343 replies243 threads Senior Member
    David:

    I agree that the top schools do not accept applicants without full funding. For non-science programs, this usually means a combination of full funding for the first couple of years when students are taking courses in preparation for the Ph.D. General exams, and TA/RA subsequently (and a waiver of the reduced tuition). Only Princeton, to my knowledge, provides full funding (i.e., not dependent on securing a TA/RA position) for five years. I don't know what schools below the top level do in terms of financing grad education.
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  • fullfreightyfullfreighty 4 replies1 threads New Member
    The GPA is a combination of inadequate science preparation in high school (no AP where nearly all of my fellow students had AP), and significant illness on three occasions. I show an upward trend, but it's slight. I certainly haven't been slacking, but I'm not sure a grad school would consider those fully mitigating circumstances either (it's been a long time since freshman year, I should have caught up by now, and nobody wants to hear a person whine about his/her health as an excuse if it wasn't life-threatening).
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  • idadidad 4849 replies179 threads Senior Member
    Grad school admission is often based a great deal on faculty contacts. I would check to see if your undergrad mentor(s) have solid contacts in a grad school in which you are interested. This is also the surest way to funding. (I have a friend who teaches at a lower tier state school, but who is quite well regarded in his field who has no problem getting students who he thinks warrant it into very selective top tier Ph.D. programs in his field, and all are funded.)


    The MA route has merit as well. I had lackluster undergrad performance (never really finished 4 years), found my way into a lower tier MA program, ended up at a top tier Ph.D. program, funded, due in total to a faculty member at the top tier school, who I met through a friend, going to bat for me. It can be done.
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  • poetsheartpoetsheart 5493 replies103 threads Senior Member
    How does one proceed to graduate school if one "never really finished" his undergraduate degree?
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  • FloridaToNYCFloridaToNYC 132 replies2 threads Junior Member
    fullfreighty, it's time for a reality check. "Middle to the bottom of the class" is not PHD. territory in sciences. It's time to grow up and map out a strategy for professional school so you can eventually pay your loans back and live like human being. Sorry you weren't born 40 years earlier when the gov't $$$ was flowing. Sorry your not a "truster". We all have to play the cards we were dealt with and it seems like you're pulling for an inside straight.
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  • itstoomuchitstoomuch . 1727 replies18 threads Senior Member
    Discover what the average and median pay your field with the degree and experience that you propose to achieve.

    Subtract the cost of living: Housing, transportation, food, clothing, spouse (?). Don't forget to subtract the cost of entertainment as phone, internet, movies, recreational food, computer upgrades, vacations to sunny beaches and other stuff that makes life enjoyable.

    If the money remaining is enough for your student loan payment for the next 15- 30 years. No problem. Go for it. Thats the intellectual answer.

    The gut answer is, Do what you think is best, its no one's business but your own. The world is made of guts and hope.
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  • ariesathenaariesathena 5072 replies16 threads Senior Member
    I concur with ItsTooMuch except for the loan calculation of 15-30 years. Honestly, 30 years after graduation, you're going to be retiring. Sometime in all that, you'll want a house, a car, and maybe kids who will need their own college to pay for. Calculate it for ten years. If things get rough, you can stretch out the loan - but really think long and hard about what your life will be like if you have to still be writing out checks fo this thing when you are 60. Look at your parents and try to imagine them still cutting checks for their own education.

    Don't forget to subtract TAX from your salary.
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  • idadidad 4849 replies179 threads Senior Member
    Inflation will help pay it off as well. One exercise is to look back 10 years and what the salaries were and I how much would be borrowed. Go through the exercise as described above for that period. Now look at current salaries. I think you will find that the real cost of the loan will be far less. It happened to me. I thought my loan amounts were high, but good ole inflation helped a great deal.
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  • Mr.BMr.B 1826 replies88 threads Senior Member
    You mentioned three years at a top law school...there you can find some statistics...I think one of the reviews that rank law schools will show you that a median range law graduate from a second tier school will earn between 50 - 80 thousand while a top law school median range salary will be 80 -125+. (rough figures from a cloudy memory) There is a lot to consider if you are only considering the payback financially within a 3 or 4 year window.

    However if you broaden your window to your career as Idad ....that is where you will find the difference. If you are interested in the law...study the law. If you are interested only in the title and earning a living...there are third tier law schools with good bar passing results. They might even prepare you for a private practice better than a Harvard Law Degree which will focus on studying the idea of law and then you have to get into a firm to begin to learn about billing and practicing law.

    If your plan is to close real estate, and handle traffic cases...your training can be different than if you would like to teach, be a noted judge, or represent a country in a trade case.

    I am concerned that you cannot find a middle in your law school search. There is a big difference between the top ten and the bottom ten. If money is your desire you can always apply the second law of wealth accumulation - marry it.
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  • ariesathenaariesathena 5072 replies16 threads Senior Member
    Well, IDad, with inflation at historic lows right now... it's a bit different from the good ole days.... ;)

    I'm always a worst-case scenario person - I want to know if I could survive my loan repayment on what I earn when I graduate. Just me and my quirk. If I then earn more and loans eat up less of my paycheck - yay! If not, then I'm not expecting life to be miraculously easy several years down the road.
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  • LakeWashingtonLakeWashington 8926 replies483 threads Senior Member
    You've gotten good advice from nearly everyone in this post. For my two bits, I'll concur that if you go into teaching or a government (non-research) job, your pedigree may not be critical. That's not a knock on teachers or government employees, but truth is that many folks who are hired in those arenas don't come with whopping debts from elite graduate schools.

    I like the idea of choosing your local run-of-the-mill state Phd program if a top school does not offer your adequate funding. After admission, work your fingers to the bone. As was stated, admission to most Phd programs is quite competive and from your stated stats, premier programs will easily find the deficiencies in your preparation as justification for rejection or non-funding. More likely, you will face the former rather than the latter.
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  • fullfreightyfullfreighty 4 replies1 threads New Member
    Wow. This thread exploded while I wasn't paying attention.
    poetsheart: How does one proceed to graduate school if one "never really finished" his undergraduate degree?
    I will have (I am heading into my senior year now). Are you asking because you thought I hadn't, or because you're wondering this for yourself? I don't think you can.
    "Middle to the bottom of the class" is not PHD. territory in sciences.
    I'm aware of that concern. On the other hand, I'd like to think that it's partially a small-fish, big-pond thing -- being in the middle to bottom of a highly selective school is different from being in the middle to bottom of a large and not-very-selective state school. Additionally, I have done quite well with the research experiences I have had, so I'm going to give it a shot. If a college doesn't think I'm PhD material, they can not admit me. I doubt I'll come out without any options. My question was about finances, not about whether or not I should go to grad school.
    You mentioned three years at a top law school
    Sorry, not interested in law for myself. I was just citing how some of my (mostly non-science) friends are thinking about their loan costs. As finaid for law is very limited, most of them are in the same financial situation I'd be if I got into a top grad school without funding. But thanks for the advice; it does apply to both.

    Thanks everyone for the excellent advice.
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  • newmassdadnewmassdad 3792 replies56 threads Senior Member
    fullfreighty,

    You've gotten a lot of advice here. If you're at a top tier school like you imply, use the professional advising resources such schools offer. And, talk to department members in your area of interest. They will give you a far more realistic appraisal of your options than we can with so little information.

    Another hint: If your lab work was so great, the lab head will be willing to go to bat for you. Your best shot is to use that resources to the max. If you find the going difficult, there is a message to be heard.

    Keep in mind that many grad school slots in the sciences are filled through personal connections - someone at your undergrad school thinks enough of you to pick up the phone (or send a long email) to someone at another school. Since grad school admissions are in general departmentally based, this system can be powerful. If you cannot tap into it, you will know where you stand.
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  • fullfreightyfullfreighty 4 replies1 threads New Member
    Of course I'm going to ask many more people than just CC, but I wanted to get a wide range of opinions fast, and put some options in the running that I hadn't thought of, and this thread did just that. Thanks again, everybody.
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