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.)