How much undergrad debt is too much?
March 13, 2010 2:51 PM   Subscribe

I will be going into undergraduate debt, but how much is too much?

I will be graduating from High School here in Texas, within just a few months. The issue at hand is how manageable debt will be?

I will be studying philosophy, and I will pursue my doctorate degree after graduating. I understand that at least within this field, I should only accept a doctorate program that in the end pays me. So the only debt I should accumulate will be within my undergraduate education.

Logically speaking, my choice is simple: attend Texas A&M. This option will leave me only $27,000 in debt with federal Stafford loans. They have a phenomenal philosophy program.

Unfortunately, it just isn't where I want to be. I want to be at a small liberal arts college that in the future I can reminisce on. I want to be proud of where I went, to the point where I want to become rich and famous just so I can donate to help said school. I want to get out of Texas to experience a different geographic and demographic climate. I want to be surrounded by somewhat like-minded peers (ideologically and intellectually) for a change.

I've been appealing a lot to the financial departments of schools that meet this bill. Right now, I'm looking at about an additional $20,000 in private loans (which I will have to get without a co-signer), along with $27,000 federal Stafford loans.

I have no experience with debt, and these are my only financial options. My parents will not co-sign my loans, and they are too debt ridden to take out Parent PLUS loans. Besides, I want to take on most, if not all, financial responsibility.

Luckily I'm a frugal liver, but I just don't know if that will be enough. Getting a teaching position in philosophy (and entrance to graduate school) was difficult enough before the recession, but it's even worse now.

TL;DR:
Should I pragmatically go to Texas A&M, and graduate with only $27,000 in federal loan debt? Or should I follow my dreams and emotions, and take on about $47,000 in loans?
posted by SollosQ to Work & Money (67 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Are you factoring in living costs? A lot of liberal art schools would expect you to live on campus and get their food plans, which could increase your expenses a lot.

Can you see yourself at A&M? Could you picture yourself walking to class, eating in the cafeteria, participating in extracurricular activities there? If you can't see yourself being even a little bit happy or content at A&M, then don't go there. You don't want to be absolutely miserable in college.

On the other hand, being $47,000 in debt would make me absolutely miserable. I'd stress out so much about how I'd pay it back that I wouldn't enjoy college even at my dream school. YMMV.
posted by pecknpah at 3:02 PM on March 13, 2010


I want to be at a small liberal arts college that in the future I can reminisce on. I want to be proud of where I went, to the point where I want to become rich and famous just so I can donate to help said school.

This is troublesome. I can sympathize with you because I had once had similar aspirations. I faced almost precisely the same choice as you do; I knew I wanted to go to a small liberal arts school, but the large state school was offering me lots of money.

It's easy to buy into the mystique and prestige that surrounds small liberal arts colleges - the idea of them as intellectual meccas - but that's an image perpetuated by popular culture and you need to be skeptical of it.

(FYI - I chose the state school and am very, very happy with my decision. But it was the difference between $0 and $180,000+ - easier to make.)

I want to get out of Texas to experience a different geographic and demographic climate. I want to be surrounded by somewhat like-minded peers (ideologically and intellectually) for a change.

This seems like a more legitimate concern. Have you considered spending a year at A&M and transferring if you don't enjoy it? If you like it, awesome! If you don't, it's only a year and you've at least saved yourself some money.

All of that said, $47,000 vs. $27,000 isn't a huge difference. People have paid off more. But it is a lot to get into unnecessarily.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:03 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Don't make irrevocable decisions based on your current desire to got grad school in philosophy -- too much can change over the next three or four years. I'm not patronizing you, I just mean part of the reason to go to college in the first place is because it will allow your interests to grow and change, open new paths to you, change your understanding of the world and of your place in it. So - don't bank on your plan staying the same.

That said, it doesn't sound like you're making big decisions based on the grad school plan, so good. No matter what degree you're planning on, it makes sense to try to minimize your debt.

You want a liberal arts college experience rather than a big-university experience. Look into ways of making that happen. Do you have an outstanding undergraduate record? Look into less-famous liberal arts programs, which may give you a full ride if you are above their usual caliber of applicant. Look into the schools discussed in the book Colleges the Change Lives, as a first approximation.

Another possibility is going to A+M (or another cheap school) for a year or two and then seeing about transferring to somewhere else. I don't have a good sense of how this affects your financial aid picture, though. And transferring can sometimes lead to a more isolated social experience (though not always).
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:05 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lower debt. The 27,000 is just about what I graduated with and it sucks. I don't earn a whole lot and in the four years since I graduated, I've managed to barely make a dent. I'm not a huge fan of having more than my yearly salary in debt hanging over my head.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 3:06 PM on March 13, 2010


I will be studying philosophy, and I will pursue my doctorate degree after graduating.

I want to become rich and famous

Take it from someone with a philosophy degree: these things do not go together. Make sure you think carefully about your choice, and try to have a fallback plan.
posted by miskatonic at 3:07 PM on March 13, 2010 [9 favorites]


And I should say, if you have a really REALLY outstanding academic record, a lot of the more famous liberal arts colleges are now paying the full or nearly-full costs of students who can't afford it. (I think they decide "who can afford it" based on FAFSA, so it's possible that your family is above FAFSA cut-offs. But this is definitely worth looking into, if your record is good enough to get into one of those top schools.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:11 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


$50k in debt for a philosophy degree is a bad, no make that, terrible idea. If you were going $50k in debt for a degree that will land you a career as a dentist, anesthesiologist, or cardiac surgeon it wouldn't be such a bad idea because you would have a reasonable expectation of high paid employment, thus having the means to pay back the loans. Many a college student has started school with the idea that "it's only $47,352 for my degree" when in reality it ends up being closer to $90,000+ because they didn't figure in transportation, socialization, beer, spring break, pencils, the ubiquitous late night pizza...in other words, expenses can add up fast and you may find yourself with a piece of paper that doesn't help you get a high paying job so you end up flipping burgers while trying to pay back student loans because the loan companies go all intimidating on you if you don't pay them. And student loans can not be discharged in bankruptcy so you may be setting yourself up for decades of loan repayments.
A better idea: get scholarships, go slower and pay cash, work for the university you want to attend so you get a break on tuition, do your first two years at a community college then finish up at A & M, etc.
posted by MsKim at 3:12 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


A&M. You're underestimating what you'll be able to find there, and you're selling FAR short the breathing space that the lesser loans will allow you. You can, with a good A&M record, have a very good shot at securing the environment you're looking for on the graduate level, while the more expensive school could easily constrain your options over the long term. I'd go for the long view, rather than forcing the choice into a pragmatism/idealism binary. (I speak from personal experience, having chosen a state school education and been pleasantly surprised in retrospect.)
posted by StrikeTheViol at 3:15 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think your real problem here has to do with assumptions.

Why assume that no one like you is going to be at Texas A&M for the very same reasons you're considering attending? Worse, why assume that no one of your intellectual caliber will? You said they have a great philosophy program--why do you think that is? It likely has something to do with the people involved.

You say you will be a philosophy major and you will get a doctorate. Those are great aspirations, but they are aspirations, not guarantees.

Do you want to be at a small liberal arts college because it's a small liberal arts college? No--you want to be there because you want to look back on your college memories and think "damn, college was the best." You are the one who makes those memories. They don't just happen. You can go to thousands of different colleges and make great friends who are interesting people and you'll get exactly what you want--a lifetime's worth of memories.

When people look back and think "I miss college," they're not missing the buildings or the location or even their classmates (because hopefully you'll still have them as friends), they're missing who they were in college. You will be with you wherever you go, and you are going to make or break your own experience.

Give yourself space to change. Take any class that sparks your interest, whether it be philosophy or fashion design or astronomy or Spanish. Be friendly and quit thinking you're smarter than other people, even if you're sure it's true. Don't pick a college based on some image of you and Smart Guy walking around the ivy-covered brick building and talking about the meaning of life.
posted by sallybrown at 3:16 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Only take out as much debt as you can realistically earn in one year.

You may change your mind about what you want to do with your career. Trust me, the school you go to is only as good as the student you are. Schools are all very similar.

The brand name is not worth the extra money. Do the pragmatic thing.
posted by candasartan at 3:18 PM on March 13, 2010


I will pursue my doctorate degree after graduating.

Give yourself a bit of mental wiggle room with that goal; you might end up deciding that however much you love philosophy, the pretty bleak job outlook isn't worth putting yourself through several more years of extremely frugal living after your undergraduate degree.
posted by Catseye at 3:18 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


(I speak from personal experience, having chosen a state school education and been pleasantly surprised in retrospect.)

Yeah, I'm going to ditto this in more detail. Not only have I been pleasantly surprised by how much I like my university, but I've had several opportunities here that a small school would not have afforded me.

Look seriously at the number of courses / professors / areas of expertise offered at A&M compared to this other school - I know I ended up in a sub-field that doesn't exist at the small schools I was looking at. Only Large State School has the resources to spend on something so obscure, whereas Small Alternative School I Considered has very few opportunities outside of a small range of traditional studies.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:22 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Incur as little debt now as you can. Don't give yourself a reason to wait/skip out on grad school (i.e., because you'll be too worried about taking on even more debt).

I went to a tiny liberal arts school (<4>20,000) for my grad program--and keep in mind that the majority of grad programs are generally small anyway, so it doesn't matter what kind of school you go to for that. I hated the environment of the tiny school (I came from tiny elementary and high schools too, where I constantly felt like an outcast never-gonna-fit-in girl... didn't change when I went to a tiny college, funnily enough), and I loved and continue to cherish the experience I had in my small grad program with people whose interests aligned so much with my own.
posted by so_gracefully at 3:22 PM on March 13, 2010


OOPS, my less-than and greater-than signs messed that up. It was supposed to say: (less than 4,000 students), and a huge state school (greater than 20,000) for my grad program.
posted by so_gracefully at 3:24 PM on March 13, 2010


My husband graduated with $45,000 in student loans. Until we were able to refinance, he was paying $650 a month. That's a lot of money. Now the payment is $230, but that's a 25 year term. Still a lot of money, and unless we manage to pay it off early somehow we'll be paying on that thing until we're nearly 50.

Avoid debt if you can, particularly if you're getting a liberal arts degree. I also went to a state school and agree with the people here saying that college is what you make of it. You can carve out a good experience anywhere.
posted by something something at 3:28 PM on March 13, 2010


"... I want to be at a small liberal arts college that in the future I can reminisce on. I want to be proud of where I went, to the point where I want to become rich and famous just so I can donate to help said school. ..."

If you weren't, blatantly, a high school kid, I'd so beat you up on such a fatuous remark.

You're willing to go into 5 figure debt, in uncertain economic times, that may go on for a long time, to study philosophy, on the theory that after you graduate, you'll find a post-grad philosophy program so charmed by your brilliance that they'll pay you, not only to think Deep Thoughts, but enough, beyond all that, to service your undergrad loans? Am I getting all of the foregoing right?

Because, if am getting all that right, my best advice to you, a future philosopher, is that you sit down, right now, and think a lot harder about the economic downsides of failing, and succeeding, at various points, in your dreams of the future. It is, at various times, a greatly variant risk/reward matrix, and there are no guarantees you'll succeed in the whole of the endeavor. I say that as someone who has had, himself, a young person's impossible dreams, and paid later, heavily, for having had them. And, I say that as a parent, who, if you were my kid, would probably be trying to help you sort out all your talents and options, and encouraging you to try to make something real and good of your still plastic high school self, even if you and I disagreed greatly on what that might involve.

Hell, if you were my kid, I'd probably finance your philosophic endeavors through your first meetings of Kant, and consider any future financial contributions entirely on your course grades and GPA following that...
posted by paulsc at 3:29 PM on March 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


"You are the one who makes those memories. They don't just happen. You can go to thousands of different colleges and make great friends who are interesting people and you'll get exactly what you want--a lifetime's worth of memories."

This is very true. Have you visited A+M? You could try emailing the admissions office or the A+M philosophy department -- look on their website and write to their Director of Undergraduate Studies - and asked to be put in touch with a philosophy major who might host you for a visit? It's such a big place that even if there are 15,000 people who aren't like you at all, you'll still be able to find a thousand or more who *are* like you. (the trick is finding them)
posted by LobsterMitten at 3:30 PM on March 13, 2010


How bad are the other Texas state school philosophy programs? A&M is not just any large state school, it does very much have its own culture, and if you're from Texas you probably already have an idea of how well you will fit into that. I know quirky people who went there and found enough people they liked and didn't hate it - and I know people who hated it.

If UT, UNT, U of H, etc have a good enough philosophy program that you could go on to a good grad school, it might be worth going somewhere else and avoiding the private school debt.

Starting at A&M and empirically finding out whether you can find a niche sounds like a pretty good idea as well.
posted by ansate at 3:31 PM on March 13, 2010


Just the Stafford loan is a $310 payment per month for 10 years. Do you want to make that $500+?
posted by smackfu at 3:44 PM on March 13, 2010


Why don't you look at small liberal arts colleges that aren't particularly famous for philosophy, but are solid all-around liberal arts in general? If you have a good GPA, you might score a really great scholarship. There are so very many small schools out there begging for great, motivated students while the "big name" schools get more than they can handle.
posted by desuetude at 3:44 PM on March 13, 2010


I want to become rich and famous

I'm sorry but unless you're writing tons of mediocre novels, or become a "master" in a study where you have low morals and thus will charge people hundreds of dollars for a "remote healing" you will not become rich and famous doing philosophy. You do a study like that because you LOVE it, and are not concerned about debt or your lifestyle.

That being said, go for it, but be open to the knowledge that most people will change their degree/major three times in their undergrad so you may start off Philosophy and end up doing Hotel Management (which can make you rich and famous). I suggest to enter into college with an open mind and take all those generals that will transfer around to different schools, and once you're absolutely sure on your direction in life then go for a particular major, or move to a different school with all those transferable credits that you didn't waste on a specific major which now don't count at all.

As for debt: work, work and work. Plenty of people out there, including myself and my wife, worked 40+ hours a week to pay for school and basic needs while taking a full load of classes. I wouldn't be concerned with your debt as long as you have it planned out so you don't go over 35,000; that is the safe bet. If you decide to go over that I would say you're entering into that realm of "rolling the dice" where your education for $47,000 for an undergrad may not pan out to be worth the money you took on as debt. Do the math on paying that off too, you want to be sure you're understanding the full implications of $47,000 of debt with interest.

I wish you luck, but I also don't want to see yet another person taking on debt that they can't afford *cough* housing crisis *cough*
posted by zombieApoc at 3:49 PM on March 13, 2010


UT Austin has a really good philosophy program, higher ranked than A&M's according to Philosophical Gourmet, and at a comparable price. From my understanding talking to phil. majors is that you can make it an intimate, small school-like experience if you take seminars and pursue honors programs that are available. You're concerned about the whole staying in Texas thing, but UT/Austin is a lot less Texas-y than most places. It's also a strong springboard school to go to a great grad school, including small liberal arts places. The good thing about Austin, too, is that there are lots of part-time jobs available for students to make some extra cash, which is probably less the case in a small town like College Station.

I went to UT for liberal arts and got out with $25k in debt two years ago. The payments were a chunk of my income during my working years, but I was working a pretty low-paying job. I also was able to get some deferments. If you go to straight to grad school like is more customary in academic fields, you basically won't have to pay anything until you get out of grad school, though your unsubsidized loans will accrue interest.

Given the whole top 10% thing, you might not have UT as an option even if you have awesome credentials, so disregard if it's not a choice and you aren't interested in transferring there later on.
posted by ishotjr at 4:00 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


First, I want to say that I totally understand your position. I decided, two or so years ago, that I wanted to go to a small liberal arts college out of state following my time in public school in Texas. I didn't even apply to UT as a safety, I was so sure I didn't want the big state university experience. In my case, however, the small liberal arts colleges ended up costing much less than the state school because of the phenomenal financial aid I was offered. For reference purposes, I've taken out about $7,000 dollars in Federal Unsubsidized Staffords over two years, which doesn't even cover the costs of my meal plan.

In your position, assuming that you're getting these numbers from the actual financial aid departments of these schools (which liberal arts colleges did you apply to, out of curiosity?), I'd think hard about the burden that amount of debt is going to put on you after graduating. When you have to start making payments on that debt, whether it's after grad school or undergrad, your life choices are going to be severely limited by the necessity of earning enough to make minimum payments on your debt. Your freedom to follow your low-paying dreams will be pretty severely curtailed, especially if you think you want to major in something as unprofitable as philosophy.

As for the whole college experience argument, SLACs get away with charging $50,000 a year because they convince kids like you (and me) that they offer incredible experiences. In reality, I've had many of the same struggles at college as my friends at various other schools, despite the supposed better undergrad experience of the small liberal arts college. In fact, because I'm so far away from home and out of my element, I think it's been harder in some ways. Maybe you're super outgoing and this won't be a problem for you. But college is tough at times and not necessarily the post high school Valhalla it's portrayed as in movies and books. Basically, what I'm saying is that in my experience and the experience of people I know, college is a lot more about what you make of it and a lot less about where you are.

As an aside, does UT have a significantly worse philosophy department than A&M? If you want the stereotypical small liberal arts experience and population, I'd tend to think you'd find something more to your taste at UT than at A&M (although you can certainly find that population at A&M as well, I'm sure). Also, did you apply for honors programs at state schools? Plan II at UT, I know, offers a wide ranging curriculum with a liberal arts focus and with smaller classes, but with the benefits of a larger school as well.

And finally (I swear), make sure where ever you end up that you can take classes outside of your original intended major. That's one of the primary strengths of liberal arts colleges (although it can be found at state schools if you're careful), and I seriously advise you to do it. IMO, it makes you a better thinker to be exposed to different disciplines, and it also gives you the chance to try new things and avoid taking a full year of philosophy classes only to realize you hate it- but you don't know what else you'd like better, and the only route to finding out makes graduating in under five years impossible. If my friends at state schools had changed their minds about their major as much as I have in the last two years, they'd be on track to graduate in about 7 years. Give yourself as much room to change as you possibly can.
posted by MadamM at 4:01 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


And barring another economic shitstorm, your job prospects money-wise graduating college in 3-5 years (even if you don't go to grad school right away) are probably way better than people who graduated in the past few years have had.
posted by ishotjr at 4:03 PM on March 13, 2010


Hi there. I was a philosophically-inclined seventeen year old who once dreamed of becoming an artist. Then, about two months before going away to art college, I decided I wanted to be a writer. So I went to a state school (in a state where tuition was still unfortunately expensive). Then I took a bunch of philosophy classes and thought I might be a philosopher so I signed up to get at least a minor in philosophy, though I kept considering switching my major. Then I took sociology and psychology and anthropology classes and loved all of those, too. In the end, I ended up sticking with the writing thing, but you should know: I knew a shit ton of philosophy students in college and, of those that I'm still in touch with, only one has gone on to pursue philosophy classes at a graduate level. The rest of them are a MAC make-up artist, a barista, an unemployed barrister, a law school student, and a high school teacher.

My point is that you can't say with any assurance that you'll be a philosopher. Your attempt to be driven and to plan out your life in advance, at seventeen or eighteen, is admirable, but it's short sighted. Trust me on this one: in ten years you'll think about the fact that a seventeen year old could have decided your course in life and shudder. You'll be a completely different person! And that's a good thing. High school philosophy classes don't prepare you for serious philosophic study. What's more, you've been exposed to very, very little in high school. There are a ton of fascinating subjects that you might be really good at that you currently know nothing about. And a liberal arts education, in the broadest sense of the term, is meant to teach you these things, to expose you to a whole world of new ideas.

The thing is, you don't need to go to a liberal arts school to get an education in the liberal arts. Most state schools will require that you have a general foundation in many subjects before you can take upper-level major courses. And this is awesome. Trust me, if there's anything I miss about college, it's the constant exposure to new ideas and new subject areas that I knew nothing about.

Because my school was still expensive, I graduated with my English degree with just under fifty thousand dollars in student loans. And it sucks. It really sucks. About $400 of my monthly income is going to pay it off, which, though I now have a graduate degree, is a huge chunk of change. The way that I've found it most limiting is that it stops me from taking opportunities that I might otherwise. Because I need to have a steady, significant income, I can't work part-time or move easily without a back-up plan. I took on this debt without blinking, or really thinking about it. I wish someone had sat me down and explained that this is something that I can be realistically paying for throughout my adulthood. Now, I have significantly less debt than my friends who went to private liberal arts schools--they're closer to the hundred thousand dollar mark--but it's still had an indelible and undeniable effect on my life.

Mostly, I'd encourage you to give yourself a life right now that will afford you many options. Why? Because you're growing and changing and you might need room to grow and change in the future, too. A state school with low debt (the lower the better), which will allow you to take a broad range of classes in many subjects sounds like the best course of action. A $20,000 "emotional" purchase for someone who's not even twenty yet is a bad idea, and one that you'll be paying for for years.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:04 PM on March 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


As for the whole college experience argument, SLACs get away with charging $50,000 a year because they convince kids like you (and me) that they offer incredible experiences. In reality, I've had many of the same struggles at college as my friends at various other schools, despite the supposed better undergrad experience of the small liberal arts college. In fact, because I'm so far away from home and out of my element, I think it's been harder in some ways. Maybe you're super outgoing and this won't be a problem for you. But college is tough at times and not necessarily the post high school Valhalla it's portrayed as in movies and books. Basically, what I'm saying is that in my experience and the experience of people I know, college is a lot more about what you make of it and a lot less about where you are.

Oh, and seconding this. A close friend of mine went to Drew University and was tempted to transfer several times because of the cost and small, stifling social climate. Unfortunately, having mired himself in about $50,000 in debt by his sophomore year made him reluctant to do so--it can be painful to coma out and say that an expensive choice was a poor choice. It worked out for him in other ways, but it was not the perfect, rosy, and magical experience the admissions department promises.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:07 PM on March 13, 2010


Remember that if you go to grad school you are going to defer on your undergrad debt. It will accrue interest the entire time. By the time you get a PhD in the US (which takes a ridiculous amount of time) and a job whatever you borrow could easily be double the principal amount.

Undergrad debt is generally a Very Bad Idea if you plan on getting a PhD. Get the undergrad degree by any means possible and save your pennies for the grad school part. That is most important to your career anyway.
posted by fshgrl at 4:08 PM on March 13, 2010


"Look seriously at the number of courses / professors / areas of expertise offered at A&M compared to this other school - I know I ended up in a sub-field that doesn't exist at the small schools I was looking at. Only Large State School has the resources to spend on something so obscure, whereas Small Alternative School I Considered has very few opportunities outside of a small range of traditional studies."

THIS. I went to a SLAC and now that I'm looking at applying for a similar PhD program (Political Theory), I wish I had gone to a bigger school with more chances to do research in my particular area of interest.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:08 PM on March 13, 2010


Seconding studying something that will pay better but has equal (greater?) intellectual value. I'd suggest Physics, Math, or Neuroscience. These are all like philosophy with content (my bias), because they will show you how to understand deep truths about the world and what it is to be human, with the added bonus that you actually know how to build/analyze solutions to high $$ problems. I remember many discussions with philosophy majors in college (due to a discussion group with free food) and when the conversation invariably turned to cosmology, metaphysics, or the nature of the mind, the philosophy majors generally lacked the hard science background needed to make arguments that fit with current data. Also, nowadays it's the science nerds who are getting rich. You have to follow your interests, so you can get top grades without hating your life, though.

Also seconding taking classes outside your major, and making sure you can change your major in the first 1-2 years of the program.

Again, seconding "college is what you make of it". Study your ass off (get straight A's) using efficient study methods and normal work hours, and do crazy adventures the rest of the time (weekends, evenings).

My bias: I'm currently an engineer who went to a liberal arts college that also had a good engineering school. I am happy with my major, will go to grad school next year, and wish I studied more as an undergrad.
posted by sninctown at 4:32 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Okay, so I just did a little stalking and judging by the Trotsky picture on your FB page...go to A&M. There are some great profs there doing research in topics that you're definitely be interested in. If you need some ivy, go to Boston on spring break or something.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:33 PM on March 13, 2010


I was just like you. I sooo wanted to go to small liberal arts college (most of my peers were). My family couldn't afford it, and, frankly, it didn't occur to me to go into tremendous debt to pay for it.

I went to large, in-state school. I didn't really want to go. I didn't have a great visit.

But I LOVED it. So much that I'm still totally nuts about the school and the program. I loved being able to take tons of classes in different areas. I loved that there were so many people I could find my niche. I loved the big campus with the huge quad. I could wax nostalgic about my school all day.

So, yeah, give A&M a shot. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:36 PM on March 13, 2010


I'm a big fan of small liberal arts colleges (I transferred out of a state school to go to one), less so of philosophy degrees and not a fan at all of grad school in phil.

I'm not a fan of student debt either, but I think it has its place, within limits. Debt limits your options for exploration after graduating, and if you are contemplating grad school in phil, you could probably do with some room for exploration after graduating. Your expected indebtedness upon graduation from A&M sounds like it would leave you with a ~$300/month repayment. That's pretty manageable with a lot of entry-level jobs that require a college degree (assuming you can get one), but gets more significant if you are only working part time so you can have time to do your own thing (whatever that is). Add another $20K in debt and your monthly payment looms much larger.

If I were you, I'd start by trying to strike up a dialog with the financial aid office in the small schools you've applied to to see if there are other options for non-loan aid. Maybe they can work with you a bit more on grants, or point you to scholarships, or help you find work study. Actually, I'd do the same for A&M, or whatever other in-state school you contemplate.

Then I'd consider deferring your admission for a year (or two), working full time over next summer to save some money, then moving the hell out of TX. Live cheaply, work a couple jobs, meet people, hang out, shoot the shit, read books, make art, play music, climb rocks, run for office, or whatever, but get out there and live. After a year or two, go to school. You'll probably have a better idea of what you want to do that's worth taking on debt for. Even if you don't figure it out, its going to try than it is after graduating with $27-47K in debt. Also, you might qualify for better aid if you've supported yourself for a while.
posted by Good Brain at 4:38 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


MadamM: The schools I'm largely looking at now that I applied to are: College of Wooster, Goucher College, Hampshire College, Earlham College, Seattle University, and Texas A&M.

One of the biggest constrictions I'm taking, which is counter to what a few of you have said, is judging a school by their philosophy program. Continental philosophy is a field of philosophy rare to find at a lot of colleges, many top colleges only have one continental faculty member or a single course (which typically only covers existentialism). The ones I listed above are some of the few exceptions.

I'm definitely going to wait until the last financial aid decisions come in after I file all the appeals before I make my decision, but I guess I will definitely go to A&M if my prospects don't improve.

I'm thankful for all the advice! Even though I've talked with my teachers about this, I lacked advice from others with personal experience.
posted by SollosQ at 4:47 PM on March 13, 2010


Have a look at the new income based repayment plan. At most, you pay what the gov't figures is 15% of your disposable income for 25 (or even just 10) years and then you're done, no matter what you actually have left over. If you go deep in debt but don't have a huge income, this can help you out.

As I recall the formula is to take your income, subtract 150% the poverty rate (~22000 for a family of four), multiply the result time .15, and then divide by 12. That's your payment. Mine went from $1200 to ~$350, assuming the multiple online calculators aren't lying... After 25 years, you're done paying, no matter how much of your loan is actually paid off. It's just ten years if you're a government employee (at any level) or work for certain classes of non-profits.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 4:49 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


@sninctown: I completely agree. :-)

I've been expecting to double major in philosophy and anthropology. Though I may try neuroscience if the school offers it and I do well in it and enjoy it.
posted by SollosQ at 4:50 PM on March 13, 2010


Oh, man. If you're seriously considering Goucher, feel free to MeMail me. I studied Poltical Science / Philosophy there and graduated in 12/2008.
posted by youcancallmeal at 4:52 PM on March 13, 2010


One of the biggest constrictions I'm taking, which is counter to what a few of you have said, is judging a school by their philosophy program. Continental philosophy is a field of philosophy rare to find at a lot of colleges, many top colleges only have one continental faculty member or a single course (which typically only covers existentialism). The ones I listed above are some of the few exceptions.

It's an undergrad degree -- I don't think that a program specifically in your sub-specialty is nearly as important as it is for graduate school. Go to the school that you like the best with the best professors in philosophy.
posted by desuetude at 4:53 PM on March 13, 2010


My previous comment was a little flippant, so let me elaborate. Like you, I was completely positive that I would go to grad school for philosophy. I majored in it, did very well, graduated with departmental honors, worked as a TA for the department, etc. I too picked my undergrad school partially on the strength of its philosophy program (NYU). I had one of my favorite professors tell me I had to go to grad school because "philosophy needs more people like you."

And I still didn't go to grad school. Why? Because I spent most of my junior and senior years talking to all the grad students I knew about what life was like for them. One of my closest friends, who was just months away from finishing his PhD, told me this: "If there is anything else in the world you like and are good at, try that first."

I'm 29 now, about 6 years out of undergrad, and I'm very glad I chose not to pursue my PhD. I have a fulfilling career as a programmer. I recently got a promotion and a hefty raise, even in the middle of a recession. I have a nice fat IRA and I love the work I do. Most of my grad student friends are subsisting on ramen and hating their lives, which breaks my heart because they are so smart and interesting.

This isn't to say that you shouldn't pursue your dreams. I think you absolutely should study philosophy at the undergrad level, and maybe even go for a PhD if you can't see yourself doing anything else. I loved reading the books and writing my thesis, and I still keep up with current philosophical thinking on my own time. But just keep in mind that grad school may not be the intellectual heaven you imagine, and that it's also possible to have a fully satisfying life outside academia. I think this is doubly true if you aren't interested in analytic philosophy, which is overwhelmingly what you'll find at departments in this country.

Everything, though, gets harder if you're saddled with a huge amount of debt. Those first few years out of school were brutal! I can't imagine doing it with five times the debt I actually had, which is what you're talking about. Of course, you should do what you think will make you happy, but my advice is just try to keep things a little more open and consider that there may be more than one path to contentment for you.
posted by miskatonic at 5:09 PM on March 13, 2010


Even $27K in debt is an awful lot for college.

I'm in my thirties, still paying off student loans. It's not fun. I seem all shiny with degrees that sound awesome, but my job is sucky and doesn't let me move on with my life.
posted by anniecat at 5:11 PM on March 13, 2010


"I will be studying philosophy, and I will pursue my doctorate degree after graduating."

Why?

What's your end goal?
Is the goal to get the degree? If yes, you are making a mistake.
Is the goal to get a specific job that requires a doctorate in philosophy? If yes...
...is the pay from said job high enough to enable you to pay off the debt you'll owe?
...what are the odds of you being able to acquire that job, even with the degrees?
...what are your odds of not being able to complete the advanced degree, thus saddling yourself with a mountain of debt and a useless undergrad? I've met lots of people with degrees in philosophy. They've been some of the best baristas I've ever come across.

Choose your path wisely.
Best of luck.
posted by 2oh1 at 5:23 PM on March 13, 2010


fwiw. I borrowed a great deal of money to attend a fancy school and I got a BA in philosophy. I regret it. a lot. it wasn't worth it. it's not worth it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:37 PM on March 13, 2010


College of Wooster, Goucher College, Hampshire College, Earlham College, Seattle University, and Texas A&M

I still don't think you should make choices based on a firm plan of going to grad school in philosophy -- because so much can change -- but if you want to feel better about A&M, keep in mind that the name recognition of your undergrad institution matters to some degree in getting into grad school. In general, Texas A&M will have better name recognition than the other schools you're looking at. (I say "in general" because sometimes a particular undergrad school will have a strong connection to a particular grad program, maybe because a faculty member at the grad program is an alum of the undergrad program.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 5:54 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I would just add that you should keep in mind that there is a lot of time for memories of a small, tight-knit intellectual experience from your grad school years. I liked my grad work a lot more than my undergrad, and looking back on it, I wish I had gotten the best BA I could get cheaply, and saved all my money for the real fun of graduate school.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 6:13 PM on March 13, 2010


College of Wooster, Goucher College, Hampshire College, Earlham College, Seattle University

I don't mean to be rude or snobby, but none of these schools are known as super prestigious nor do they have an exceptionally high caliber of students. Don't get me wrong; they are good liberal arts schools, but they aren't worth debt. I would have advised against taking out $47K to attend Amherst or Williams or Brown, even, and these schools aren't going to give you a leg up either employment-wise or grad program-wise (in my humble and possibly ignorant opinion since I don't know anything about philosophy grad program admissions -- I attended a "little Ivy" college and a prestigious British university for my master's that was not philosophy).
posted by anniecat at 6:23 PM on March 13, 2010


Go for it.

Go for it.

Go for it.

I'll take a contrary position. I went to an Ivy League school and wish I'd gone to a small, residential liberal arts college instead. If you were talking an extra $100,000 in debt I'd say go with Texas A&M. But for $20,000 (if it really is $20,000) follow your dreams. It's not that much money. You're young. You'll only be an undergraduate once.

Go for it.
posted by alms at 6:37 PM on March 13, 2010


1. The SLACs you name don't have the rep of A&M.
2. If you want to go to grad school, you're going to have much greater opportunity to do high level research at A&M than any of those other places.
3. The profs and program at A&M will carry much greater weight in your grad school apps. The profs will be much better known and networked.
4. RESOURCES. A&M's library, study abroad program, etc. Are going to be much better.
5. If you end up not digging phil, chances are that A&M's other departments will be good.

The answer, to me, is obvious.
posted by k8t at 6:49 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Although you do also discuss more practical things, I feel like the real underlying question here is, "is $47,000+ too much to pay to have higher self esteem after I graduate." I'm not saying that to be harsh on you, especially because I don't think you'd totally disagree with me.

I think $47,000 is waaaaaaaay too much to spend for that. There are many other ways to gain pride/self esteem. I think that getting in the habit of gaining pride by obtaining or doing that cost a lot of money, is a path that leads to a lot of misery.

And expensive or not, I think people have a happier life over all when their pride doesn't come from external things, period. If it does, it's impossible to be satisfied. Say you went to the little liberal arts college you imagine. How would you feel when you were at parties with people from Harvard or Yale? If you were at Harvard or Yale, how would you feel when classmates reminisced about their time together at old money prep schools beforehand?

If you wanted to go to the liberal arts school for academic opportunities you wouldn't have at A&M, I think that would be more legit. But not the pride stuff ... I think it would be better to work on that in a different way.

---

I do think it's reasonable to worry about fitting in where you go to college, and to want to be around people you find interesting and w/ whom you get along. But I think that's actually a strength of big universities. They're large enough that, if you put in the time and effort, you'll be able to find plenty of like-minded people and form your own social universe, no matter what you're like. I started college at one of the biggest rah-rah football/fraternity/getting wasted schools in the country and I wasn't into any of that stuff at all. I ended up seeking out and being friends with tons of poetry students, international exchange students, photographers, hippies, engineers, etc. It was great. And in class, because I was in a difficult major, I was around smart, serious people most of the time. If the philosophy department at A&M is really good as you say, you may end up with the same experience.

---

I can't tell if you have actually done all the calculations you need to do to see the money angle properly . For example-- have you factored in how much interest will end up costing you? If you take out $47,000, that will probably actually be thousands less than what you end up paying back, as interest accumulates and is added to the principal (so you end up paying interest on the interest).

So- I think you need to calculate the total you'd end up paying back, with interest, if it took you 5, 10, 20 years to pay back your loans.

Second: have you looked up the typical starting salary for someone who graduated with a BA in philosophy? (In case you change your mind in the next 4 years about whether you want to end up going for a PhD, or in case life just happens and you end up having to work).

Have you looked at the typical jobs philosophy grads get just out of college, and figured out whether you'd be qualified for the higher paying ones (lots of humanities grads in general end up taking jobs unrelated to their major if they have better-paying skills in something else - I know quite a few self-taught programmers with philosophy degrees who just ended up getting tech jobs after college) and whether the lower-paying ones would enable you to pay back the loans you're thinking of taking out?

Third: say you are accepted to a PhD program. Do you know how many new philosophy PhDs get hired as professors ever year, total, compared to the number of graduates? Do you know what the average starting salary is for an associate professor of philosophy?

---

Last thought. This might be the most important.

It sounds like you really want to have the best life experience for the next 4 years as you possibly can. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

BUT, are these next four years really more important than any of the other years of the rest of your life?

I think it would be a good idea to really think about that, because this money isn't being taken from the bank. It's being taken from your future self. You're robbing Peter to pay Paul. So-

You're going to be probably 21 or 22 when you graduate. You will basically have your entire 20s ahead of you. So- is it important to you to have your 20s be a great time in your life?

What about the time in your life when you'd like to get married? Have a car or a house, or a child? What about providing for that child?

I would ask you to think about this:

Is it worth it to take out this money, to bring your college years from great to "perfect" ... when that might mean bringing your 20s from great to really crappy, and your married/parent/adult years from great to a really impoverished tough struggle.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:53 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I, too, fell for the marketing of small liberal arts colleges. It is very, very effective marketing, so don't feel bad. I had to have my arm twisted to even apply to any public schools at all. I am SO GLAD that a state school offered me a huge amount of money to pick them instead. It changed my life in so many positive ways to be a small fish in a big pond for the first time in my life. I thought I wanted individual attention, small classes, professors who knew my name, random privilege classmates, the whole Hogwarts-y small liberal arts college warm glow. But it turned out what I needed was not to be a special snowflake in a graduating class of 60.

The school I ended up going to had much better programs in my field than the schools I really wanted to go to. It really did open doors for me, not due to some clubby, sleazy alumni network situation where you get a job because some recruiter happened to have a cousin who went to Goucher, but due to the solid reputation of a great public school. I am proud of where I went to school, and wow, how dare you imply that you'd go through your whole life being ashamed or indifferent about being an alumnus of Texas A&M? Not only that - two years after graduation I could already afford to say yes when the alumni affairs office called asking for donations. It felt great.

Please don't mortgage $20000 of your future plus interest for a chance to be one of the smiling rich kids on Hampshire's brochures. I have too many friends in too much debt. Some of them regret their choice and some of them don't, but none of them are buying property or settling down. Being in large amounts of debt constricts your future in a way you can't imagine now. Heck, it'll make it a lot more difficult for you to make the choice to continue with your PhD down the line if you owe almost $50000 before you even start. I don't know anyone who went to a large public school and seriously thinks, "Man, I wish I had paid twice as much to go to a school that was smaller and less well known." You'll get an education no matter where you go. In your case, you'll almost certainly get a better education at a lower cost.

I'm hoping you take the advice of the people in this thread seriously. I felt disappointed and honestly a little embarrassed to be accepting this offer from a public school when so many of my friends were going on to the schools they'd dreamed of. I know it's hard and if you're anything like me you've spent considerable time spouting off to your peers about how soulless public school is and how people there don't have enough passion for learning to really make the sacrifices required for a world class education. This is utter classist hogwash, and it'll be hard to take back and hard to live with, but adults sometimes make these kinds of hard choices about the future and in your case I think it's pretty obvious what the sensible choice is. Please don't make the romantic one. If you really hate A&M, you can transfer and you'll have one cheaper year of college under your belt.
posted by little light-giver at 7:20 PM on March 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


First, let me echo all the others who are saying that you should not be planning college around philosophy departments. College is, for many people, life-changing, and quite a few people emerge with a BA in something that would have shocked their high-school-senior self.

Second, I agree that unless you've spent a summer program at A&M, you don't know what it will be like. I've never set foot in College Station, but the thing about a school as big as A&M is that it contains multitudes. You will, no doubt, find some number of stereotypical Aggies. You'll also find people who are the polar opposite.

I could imagine taking on an extra $20K in loans to get out of the state and experience something different and all that jazz. I can't readily imagine taking on that extra debt to go live in Baltimore for four years, or to go live in rural Ohio instead of rural Texas.

Meaning no disrespect, but working full time to avoid college debt is a terrible idea. For every person like zombieApoc and his wife who seem to have done okay, I see a whole bunch of other students stumbling through their classes half-asleep, frantic all the time, getting nothing out of their university but a C- average and a diploma, and I also see a few students fail out. When you're in university, that's your job. You should expect to spend 40-70 hours a week on it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:28 PM on March 13, 2010


I don't know anyone who went to a large public school and seriously thinks, "Man, I wish I had paid twice as much to go to a school that was smaller and less well known."

I sure do. I have a lot of friends who went to large state schools and resented how little exposure and access they had to their professors.

My "big" freshman required classes were 30 people. I had 5-15 people in my 300 and 400 level classes. The expectations by my professors for class participation and discussion were high, and there was no getting lost in the crowd and slacking off. Personally, I needed and wanted that kind of atmosphere, where dialogue was kept at the forefront.
posted by desuetude at 7:41 PM on March 13, 2010


Just a note regarding desuetude's comment: I never had a class bigger than 30 students, and I went to a state school. This will probably not be the case at Texas A&M, but private liberal arts schools are not your only option for small class sizes.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:46 PM on March 13, 2010


Sorry, i don't mean to insinuate that academic dialogue is absent at big schools. I mean that it wouldn't have been a good place for me to thrive and find the kind of academic dialogue i needed. I had the opposite experience as little light-giver -- I went to a large, well-regarded public high school where I was a decent-but-not outstanding or remotely noticeable fish in a giant, giant pond.
posted by desuetude at 7:47 PM on March 13, 2010


Nthing A&M. I'm at a big state school as a grad and have a full scholarship, but am still taking on loans. Go for the lower amount; think about where you might like to be when school is over. Do you want a family? A house? The less money you owe, the more you can provide for the future, and whoever shows up in it. You will still get a great education at a state school. You are vastly underestimating what state schools can offer. I should know; I went to Ohio State for undergrad. The resources were phenomenal. I am at Illinois State now and it is less than half the size of Ohio State, and it makes a huge difference, as they have less money to give, even though they are a state school. You will still get a great education at A&M, I promise.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:59 PM on March 13, 2010


Full disclosure: I spent my education (BA, MS, PhD) at large state universities, and now teach at a small liberal arts school.

First off, people are right that philosophy PhD != rich and famous, and that the academic job market is terrible and not going to change any time soon, and that you should think long and hard about a philosophy PhD.
But you don't need to worry about that right now. You just need to decide where to go to undergrad. By the time you're done with that, you may want to do something completely different with your life.

Student loan debt is a real thing, and something to consider, and others are right to point out that you also need to consider the cost of housing, food, and living expenses. (this is true at either school) It sucks to have a lot of loans, and it can be hard to deal with down the road.

You should also think about the sort of experience you really want. While it's true that opportunities are there at any school, and college is what you make of it, I tend to think that's a little misleading.

The advantages of an A&M style school are: a huge variety of things going on, lots of "traditional" college experiences, lots of breadth in terms of what is available academically. The disadvantages: it can be easy to feel like a number and slip through the cracks, you probably will not have a lot of access to professors, as a freshman and sophomore you will be in large (200-300) classes. The school's bread and butter is research, and undergraduate teaching is often seen as a necessary evil. If you are a self-starter and good at making your own opportunities and dealing with large populations of new people, you can succeed here.

The advantages of a liberal arts school are: small classes, professors will know who you are and be available to you, since the school is tuition-driven teaching is taken more seriously.
disadvantages: departments are small, so there will not be the same breadth as a state school, there won't be things like football games or D-I basketball, and you may run into a "rich kid/trust fund" culture. If you want a more "personalized" touch and a feeling of community, you might find this setting better.

As for grad school, I would worry less about the reputation of the school you go to and more about excelling and being the sort of student who can get good letters of recommendation - that's probably the most important thing for applying to grad school. That means demonstrating the ability to think independently, formulate questions, and do research. You can do this at any university.
posted by chbrooks at 9:08 PM on March 13, 2010


My small liberal arts school was totally overrated, and I am very glad I did not go into significant debt for it. The people weren't all that smart or mature, the smallness was stifling, the course selection was limited, the culture was meh, and the professors were not very rigorous or cutting edge. At a big school, you're going to have a much bigger pool to draw on - and, most importantly, a bigger total number of brilliant and interesting people to find. All my friends who teach college have observed the same thing - you find kids just as smart and motivated at big public schools as you do at small liberal arts places.

My view might be different if you were thinking of a super elite (eg amherst or swarthmore) or super unique place (eg st johns). But Earlham? No.
posted by yarly at 10:36 PM on March 13, 2010


as a freshman and sophomore you will be in large (200-300) classes.

I hear this scary number thrown about a lot and it sounded like the worst thing ever. Personally, it doesn't back up my experiences. (I'm not accusing you of lying, chbrooks - I assume we just have different experiences.)

I go to Ohio State, aka the biggest school in the country. I've had large classes for intro physics and intro math. All of my other classes have been, at the biggest, 40 people. Discussion in these goes just fine. The average is 15-30 people. Especially if you're in the humanities, I wouldn't worry about being in classes of 200 people.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 11:05 PM on March 13, 2010


You've said you've talked with teachers, and that's good. But who is really advising you? I'm concerned! Have you visited these schools to which you apply? I'm glad you're going to file appeals to the financial aid offers, but I also encourage you to talk to these offices at each of the various schools early and often. This is what they do all day. Treat the financial aid officers, in a sense, like employees you're considering hiring. Who is making the most attractive offer to you? Who is meeting you more than halfway? Who is providing service? When you are accepted anywhere, they want you. Also, at the schools to which you're accepted, talk with the faculty with whom you're interested in studying. Try these schools on for size before you sign up to live there for four years! This decision about where you will go to school is not about some giant institution deigning to acknowledge you. YOU are a business choosing a vendor to hire, to take it to a barely-logical conclusion.

And overall I just don't think you're getting real talk from people with experience on finances regarding college. It sounds to me like you shouldn't have to take on so much debt, if your parents are unable to help. (Unable? Unwilling? Underwater? I can't tell.) You need someone to be helping you through this process! What someone said--"the small liberal arts colleges ended up costing much less than the state school because of the phenomenal financial aid I was offered"--is often true. Are you a catch? You seem like one.

Private loans are a killer. Debt is crippling, horrifying and bad-feeling--and, as pointed out very well above, sometimes necessary.

I would say do not, do not, do not "settle" in choosing a college. Undergrad is not just about getting the best education (oddly!); it's about growing up and seeing new things and being on your own. Getting out of Texas could be crucial for your development--or it might not be! But more importantly, this choice is very much about the best way you learn: individually, in groups, in teams, etc.

You can get a BA that puts you on a course to make a choice later for real life or for a PhD program equally well through any of these routes, including A&M. It just need not sink you financially on the way.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 8:01 AM on March 14, 2010


I hear this scary number thrown about a lot and it sounded like the worst thing ever. Personally, it doesn't back up my experiences. (I'm not accusing you of lying, chbrooks - I assume we just have different experiences.)


I definitely had a lot of large classes as an undergrad - both intro courses like Chemistry I and Intro to Statistics, and even some upper-level English and Journalism courses. Even some classes early in grad school had 80 or 90 students. I doubt that an upper-division philosophy course would be that big, though.

But more to the point, I think that the point several people have brought up is correct, that the OP should actually visit the places he is considering, both to talk to the financial aid folks there and to tour the campus and see what classes look like at those specific schools. This will help a lot in figuring out the right fit.
posted by chbrooks at 8:53 AM on March 14, 2010


I was also going to recommend UT-Austin. UT--like many other large state schools, FWIW, but none that I know of where you could get in-state tuition at this time--has an Honors College whose sole purpose is the create a small, liberal arts college enclave within the larger university. This might be just the right combination for you.
I would add to the student debt sucks chorus. I'm 10 years out of school and still solidly in debt (that has something to do with career choice, but I digress). I hasten to add, though, that my own expensive, liberal arts undergrad education left me with far less debt (not to mention self-loathing) than my state-school graduate program. It might not be a terrible idea to see what some of the more expensive, small, private schools can do for you, aid-wise before making a decision. A lot of them have large endowments and can help you out; that's the kind of thing you can research and target schools that are likely to give you good aid. Mind you, if you're a senior right now and you have not applied to these schools yet, you're probably looking at taking a gap year or a year at a JC or state school, then a transfer.
Finally, one of my chief regrets from my higher education days is not having pursued private scholarships. They're out there, there's a ton of them, they're not that hard to get. If you organize a little system of applying for a new one every few days, reuse some essays, etc., you can pile up quite a bit of money for college with not that much effort.
posted by willpie at 9:07 AM on March 14, 2010


"... Finally, one of my chief regrets from my higher education days is not having pursued private scholarships. They're out there, there's a ton of them, they're not that hard to get. If you organize a little system of applying for a new one every few days, reuse some essays, etc., you can pile up quite a bit of money for college with not that much effort."
posted by willpie at 12:07 PM on March 14

This. Possibly, the best advice in the thread.
posted by paulsc at 10:18 AM on March 14, 2010


Here's a question for you - when you're calculating the loans you'll have to take out, are you multiplying your first year's debt by four, or are you getting honest projections out of the aid office? Because I think it's common practice to give more aid in the early years, and less once people are already committed to the school.

Anyway, since you mention it specifically - I went to Hampshire and I loved it. It may not be an exceptionally prestigious school but it's a unique place, with a ton of access to the resources of a big state school (UMass-Amherst) and some big-name schools (Amherst, Smith, Mt. Holyoke). I took over 10 classes off campus, including three at Amherst. And Hampshire alums tend to be pretty successful at getting into grad school.

That said, is it worth the extra debt? I don't know. I tend to think that people's happiness at a place has to do with the people - the friendliness and support of the academic faculty and staff, and the blind good luck of meeting awesome friends early on. I knew happy people and unhappy people at Hampshire, but I think the same is true of everywhere.
posted by shaun uh at 9:06 PM on March 14, 2010


I went to a small liberal arts college. Small classes, teachers who knew my name, me being a special snowflake, the whole deal.

Ten years later I'm about to make my last student loan payment. I spent my entire twenties being literally *owned* by a creditor, and I can tell you I never, ever want to feel that way again. And I wasn't in philosophy - I went into business and made pretty competitive wages throughout my early career.

Some above are indicating that $20,000 is a pittance, compared to larger amounts. I'd argue that its a massive amount, especially considering today's economy.

Here's the thing about college: most people still don't know what they want to do with their life while they are in college - many graduate still pretty much unaware of that fact. And that's fine. College is more about getting that stupid little piece of paper that proves not that you have deep experiential knowledge of a field of study, but rather that you a) have a cursory understanding of a particular field based solely on textbook study and perhaps a couple lab experiences to boot, and perhaps more importantly b) have proven that you can stick with something for ~4 years and see it through to completion.

In retrospect - where you do that and how much you pay is rather secondary. 10 years later no one looks at or really cares about the "Education" section on my CV - its an afterthought. The point is that its there, I graduated from *any* college. The only thing that is focused on is what I did after that.

Which was work damn long and damn hard to pay off $50,000 in loans.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:34 PM on March 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


A totally different perspective:

If you're fascinated by Continental philosophy, perhaps you could spend some time on, um, the Continent, taking classes in Germany or France or wherever (depending on which philosophers are of interest). Look into taking classes in the relevant language and then studying at universities in Europe. This would be a much more broadening experience, and also probably much cheaper (since universities in Europe are really cheap -- not sure how it works out for foreigners, but probably cheaper than American tuition no matter what). If you go this route, enroll directly; study abroad programs are a rip-off unless included in (subsidized) American tuition.

Something to investigate...
posted by metametababe at 1:53 AM on March 15, 2010


Along the same line metametababe mentions, a good friend of mine had a great college experience in Canada at a fraction of the cost--even at elevated international student tuition rates--of attending school in the US.
posted by willpie at 9:39 AM on March 16, 2010


For what its worth, I called a moving company when I needed to leave my apartment in Boston. The two guys they sent had philosophy Masters degrees from Harvard. I paid the moving company $70 an hour for the pair, and they got $12 an hour each.

Do what you love, but don't pay too much for it.
posted by letahl at 12:19 PM on March 16, 2010


I went to a small liberal arts school where I studied Continental Philosophy. It may have been at one of the schools you've listed as among the ones you are looking at, but I was too busy playing Ultimate Frisbee to truly remember those years.

1) There are ways to combine the best of both worlds. For instance, you can go to someplace like UMass-Amherst, and take classes at the other four colleges in the Consortium to which UMass belongs. One of those colleges is Hampshire.

2) If you think you want to study Continental Philosophy as a graduate student, it is much more important to spend your undergrad years reading Plato, Hume, Kant, and Hegel than it is to spend them reading Foucault, Derrida, Agamben, and Deleuze. This expand your choice of undergraduate school to anywhere with a decent philosophy department.

3) You may or may not find that your interest in philosophy carries through your undergraduate studies.
posted by OmieWise at 6:20 AM on March 17, 2010


Final update from the OP:
Hi, I wanted to thank everyone for all your responses and provide an update since I feel like there are many graduating High School seniors who will be in my position in the future, although I doubt many if any of them will come across this post.

I graduated from Texas A&M this May, and have zero regrets about my decision. I don't know how I calculated the debt I would accrue here, but was able to slash it basically in half from what I estimated up above (partly by graduating in three years).

I found that the size of A&M provided for a much better social experience than a SLAC could have offered because it was so large and had many more opportunities and types of people. Of course, I never attended a SLAC, but I did spend a month at one with some students and got an impression for how the social experience there operated in comparison.

More important than the money and the social experience however, was the academics. A&M has a large department and a recognized MA program. I had a larger offer of undergraduate and graduate courses than a SLAC would offer (which would not have had any graduate courses), I had graduate students and a larger pool of undergraduates to meet, as well as, frankly, professors who were better recognized, published, and integrated in the field. I also changed interests from continental philosophy to mainstream, contemporary academic philosophy. Had I been constrained to a SLAC where professors tend to be continental, I may have fallen out of love with philosophy given there would not have had any alternatives. At A&M, I was exposed to the other side and was able to transition. I think this change in interest also facilitated my admission to a highly ranked graduate program.

There is a lot more explanation I could give why I have no zero-regrets, but I think this covers it generally enough. Feel free to contact me if you're in the same position I was. I won't tell you that going to a state school is a better decision than a SLAC, but I can tell you that I feel I made the right decision for me, and can tell you more about what it was like attending a state school as a person who was attracted to the SLAC's.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:57 PM on June 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


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