Should I go to Northwestern with $120k debt or Northeastern with no debt

I have a major conundrum.
I got into Northeastern Honor’s Program, and they gave me a good chunk of money, and my father is willing to cover the leftover amount, which would basically mean that the next four years of college would be free for me. However, I may also get into Northwestern off their waitlist, but I’ll be paying full fee, which is something my father is not comfortable with and will result in me accumulating $120k debt. I’ve done some research, and although I’m still a stranger to the world of credit, it seems like things will be bleak until I’m middle-aged. NW is ranked above NEU in both overall and CS rankings (plus prestige). I was and still am a very ambitious student, and since none of my top choices accepted me, I feel like I need NW to show myself that I am actually a great student. NEU is great as well, but I’m scared I’ll just keep constantly reminding myself that I’ve failed, if I go to NEU. Keeping all of this in mind, where should I go? (I’ve committed to Northeastern but was planning on shifting to NW if things work out).

Glad you did research. When you become an adult you’ll realize no research was needed.

Northwestern is a wonderful school - but not with debt.

Northeastern is also a wonderful school. Yes, it doesn’t have the pedigree but many people think because of their leading co-op program, it’s one of the best schools to go to - because you get experience and employers want that.

Northeastern is a wonderful and difficult to get into school in it’s own right so congrats on getting in.

Frankly, if you posed the same question but said - name your flagship state school - UMAss or Illinois - the answer would be the same - save your money.

Nonetheless, you got into one of the more difficult to get into schools in the country with a fantastic scholarship.

Be grateful. Congrats to you. Dad is right.

PS - going to any college shows you didn’t fail. Going to one that accepts 18% of its students - hmmmm - is unreal.

And for them to give you money too.

Why would you think you failed? Your hard work more than paid off.

Congrats - have a cup of chowder and enjoy Boston.


Debt is not your friend.


Northeastern, without debt, hands down. They gave you 30K/yr merit? That’s great! Especially when you consider that Northeastern is not some dying, financially desperate school discounting tuition for everyone just to fill the dorms.

Nothing to be ashamed of, going to Northeastern. You have NOT failed! You did very well, getting into Northeastern with such a substantial merit scholarship.


My son is a Northeastern freshman. He had a fantastic year of in person classes and dorm life during the pandemic. Northeastern did a better job navigating Covid-19 than most elite universities with larger endowments due to their vision, commitment and scientific know-how. You will find many great professors, bright and motivated students and fun things to do in Boston. The parents Facebook group is filled with enthusiastic comments about their kids’ experiences. Here are a few recent examples from 2 parents:

  1. My daughter had 3 co-ops, study abroad in London, a Dialogue of Civilization in Japan, and best of all a full-time job offer once she graduates. She beat out Ivy League and Stanford kids for her job because she had what they don’t - a stacked and full resume of actual work experience!

  2. Our oldest is graduating in a few days and has the job she was hoping for in Bio Engineering after co-oping at 3 incredible companies. It turned out her first co-op proved to be the area she wanted to focus for her career. These co-ops really help them find their path. Her younger sister will be coming for Honors Architecture and is so excited. While she had much better financial aid offers at other great schools, we just know too much about how wonderful NU is and all the opportunities it opens up.

Congrats on your great scholarship and I hope you have a wonderful experience at Northeastern. They had over 75,000 applicants this year and many high stats students were waitlisted or rejected.


I vote debt free- Full disclosure: D went to Northwestern (NU) and graduated last spring. It was a terrific school, but the difference in perceived “quality” is not worth that much debt for a CS major.


You can’t borrow $120,000. Your dad’s uncomfortable with the cost, so why would you ask him to cosign those kinds of loans? Go to the school your parents can afford. If you still want to sign on for massive debt do it for grad school when you don’t have to involve your parents.


The amount of money you make will be good, and any difference between the two schools when it comes to the job hunt will be more due to luck and serendipity than the schools per se.

What you will have if you choose NW is debt, as others have alluded to. The impact of that can’t be overstated. It will have a lifelong negative impact on your ability to save. You will end your career with far less money because that debt service will impair your ability to fund your retirement and buy options if they’re offered.

Choose NE and don’t look back.


Northeastern. As much as I like Northwestern, certainly not worth the difference, as is pretty much no school. Boston is a great city for college and Northeastern’s coop program is well known. As has been said, getting a scholarship there is certainly no failure. You will get a great job with a CS degree, especially from Northeastern. Will you stare at the diploma on the wall and think, “Man am I glad I paid an extra $120K or another $665/month for 20 years by going to Northwestern!” or will you save all that cash and still get a great job by going to Northeastern?

Life will be a series of these decisions. Where you live, car you drive, if and who you marry, profession you follow, etc. Making the right decision, being comfortable with your decisions, and not caring what others think is the key to a bright future.


Do you actually have a choice ?

My understanding is that you have only been offered admission to Northeastern; is this correct ?


@Mando99 Agree with all the rest of the comments…Northeastern is the logical choice here. I will also add that unlike Northeastern, Northwestern has done a pretty miserable job dealing with covid and the parents page is filled with many very unhappy and frustrated parents. There is definitely a looming concern about how committed they are to holding in person classes in the fall.

Also, can you clarify when you got off the Northwestern waitlist, and what your college would be there? You are the first person I have heard that got off the waitlist - congratulations!

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It sounds like OP has not been accepted to Northwestern (yet). They are just on the waitlist, waiting.

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Thanks…misread the original post. I have one at Northwestern and one on the Northwestern waitlist and am not optimistic. Sounds like the list is very long. We are happily moving forward with the school where my D21 has committed. OP…get excited about Northeastern! Its a wonderful option!

Northeastern is a great school that has become very selective in recent years. I am from Boston and it is very well-respected. If you are doing CS the coop will be useful and there is plenty of tech in this area- Cambridge and Seaport especially. You will have a great experience and no debt. I wouldn’t have any trouble with this decision, but that’s me.

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If you want to choose a college to prove to yourself that you’re smart, choose the smart choice…Northeastern and the freedom to graduate without a loathsome burden tying you down.

Without debt payments to make each and every month, you’ll be free to choose a dream-job without regard to salary if you wish (i.e., if you have a choice between an exciting, creative job that doesn’t pay as much from the start vs. something boring but high-paying), you could save money for a year or two and take time off work to travel the world, or you could marry, settle down, buy a house and start a retirement fund (and children’s college fund) early.

Once you start working, the name on your diploma becomes less important. Being free to live your life…extremely important!

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I missed the past about I may get into northwestern…you do know a WL is a rejection but a hedge for the school in case it misses yield.

The answer is obvious as everyone has stated even if you were in at a western. But you are not in.

The other thing everyone forgets with loans…there’s no guarantee you get a job after graduating. Just ask last years grads or the grads during 2007-08. You still have grads from last year trying to find a home post college. Every decade or so brings a case where an entire graduating class is put into undue stress due to societal challenges that are hard to overcome.

For anyone willing to take on debt…what then ?

For computer science Northeastern is very good.

Northeastern is of course famous for its coop program. The coop program will very significantly help you when it is time to look for a job. It obviously helps two ways. One is that the companies where you do your coop become potential employers. Another is that you will gain good references and contacts. However, I think that there is a third big advantage. When you are on coop, you will see the way that jobs and the world work. I think that this will help you gain a bit more from your classes. I might be biased here since I took time off between my bachelor’s and my masters, and I found that having some work experience helped me quite a bit in terms of getting more out of my classes.

Also, $120,000 in debt is a big, big problem. You need to avoid this. To me taking on this much debt for a bachelor’s degree is a complete nonstarter – something you should just never do.

but many people think because of their leading co-op program, it’s one of the best schools to go to - because you get experience and employers want that.

I have a lot of respect for Northeastern, but one can do out-of-season (non-summer) internships/co-ops without having to go to a school with co-op requirements.

I am also interested to see if the OP could clarify on the debt situation. NU, afaik, is one of the schools that aims to give enough financial aid so that students do not have to take on debt. Are OP’s family’s finances in a special situation where they estimated that OP’s family could pay a lot more than you actually could? In that case, did OP explore an appeal? Is the OP’s family just not willing to contribute? I think more context here could be helpful.

Thank you everyone. I am an international student, and initially applied as a full-fee paying student. However, my father’s financial circumstances have since changed. Additionally, I’m waitlisted at Northwestern but more or less found out why I was waitlisted, and tried to have it corrected. That’s why I posted with a bit more certainty than is the norm.

But the choice is pretty clear to me now. Even if financial circumstances change again, I think I’d prefer going to Northeastern and feeling less guilty about burning away my family’s savings rather than pay almost twice as much at Northwestern. Thank you for all your advice!