Immediate Decision: Sarah Lawrence or CUNY Baruch College?
August 23, 2010 3:52 PM   Subscribe

Undergrad student who wants to transfer from Baruch to Sarah Lawrence here. This morning, I learned that my application for a $10,000 loan from NYHelps (a loan program from the state) was turned down. I need that money to attend Sarah Lawrence. Should I suck it up and take a private loan from Chase (variable interest rate starting at 8.75%) or return to Baruch College, where I would pay nothing?

After a summer of financial aid drama, I was finally offered more money from Sarah Lawrence College--enough, I thought, to make it viable. I would have to take out loans but if I structured them in a smart and well-informed way, I thought I could make it happen.

Basically, the numbers broke down so I would need to come up with $10,000 (after exhausting Federal Direct Loans). NYHelps was a highly recommended loan program because it goes through the state and has a fixed interest rate of 7.55%--better than I was going to get anywhere else. Unfortunately, I found out today that I was turned down because my cosigners (my parents) apparently pay too much rent in comparison to their income.

This leaves me $10,000 short a few days before move-in day. Here are my options:
1. Take a private student loan from Chase, where my rate would be variable (i.e., could change without warning) and would start at 8.75%. I imagine that if I go this route, I'll have to do this for the next three years* (as I said, I'm a transfer student) and would incur at least $30,000--let's say $35,000--in private loan debt by graduation. This loan is already secured and all I would have to do is send in a signature confirming my acceptance of their terms. I would also have around $15,000 in debt from the federal direct loan program.
2. Go back to Baruch College, where the tuition is $2,500 per year. My parents are willing to cover that.
3. Write to Oprah Winfrey, Rahm Emanuel, and Yoko Ono! (The last two went to SLC.)

*I believe I would have to take private loans for the next three years because if my parents were turned down from NYHelps because of an unacceptable rent-to-income ratio, they would either have to move or I would have to find another cosigner. I do not have any other family members in the United States, and we don't have close friends that would be able to step in as cosigners.

Some final relevant notes:
-I've sent out emails to try to renegotiate more financial aid with Sarah Lawrence.
-If I do go this year, I will of course be looking for scholarships and grants for the following two years--but I imagine it will be difficult to secure those.
-Sarah Lawrence costs about $56,000 per year. They're giving me around $32,000 and the government around $3,000. My parents are willing to pay about $6,000, I'd be taking out $5,000 from the federal direct loans program, and that's how I'm left with a $10,000 gap to fill.
-I'm an upper-level sophomore, which means I'm transferring in as a second semester sophomore.
-At Baruch, I would be able to finish in two years if I took summer courses--at SLC, it would take three years unless I'm able to work out something clever with class scheduling.
-Sarah Lawrence was the only school I applied to, and I really, really, really want to go.
-I've been unhappy at Baruch College and at home, which is where I'll be living if I stay at Baruch.
-I've been working over the summer and have about $2,000 saved up. I intended on using it to start paying off my loans immediately instead of deferring repayment till after graduation, as that would lower my fixed interest rate from 8.55% to 7.55%.
-If Sarah Lawrence doesn't work out and I need to go to Baruch, I need to make my payment by Wednesday, August 25th. That means I have less than 48 hours to make my decision.

How would you guys make this decision? What do you think I should do? And can any of you think up other ways to get $10,000 per year?
posted by melancholyplay to Education (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Unless you have some guarantee of making a large salary after you graduate, and you're also guaranteed that you're going to make a lot more money if you go to Sarah Lawrence than Baruch, or somebody is going to die soon and leave you an inheritance, DON'T GET INTO STUDENT LOAN DEBT.
posted by brain at 4:08 PM on August 23, 2010 [13 favorites]

I personally would stay at Baruch College, but no one can make this decision for you, obviously.

What are your reasons for wanting to go to Sarah Lawrence? What's your major, and will you be looking for a career in a high-paying field with plenty of job prospects, or will it be a huge struggle to pay off your debt in a timely manner? I think student debt is a burden that should be avoided if possible, but it really depends on many, many things.
posted by OLechat at 4:09 PM on August 23, 2010

Can you just move into your own place and keep going to Baruch? Is that a big part of the appeal of transferring? Why not explain that to your parents (a few uncomfortable family discussions seem worth the cost difference). If your parents can pay $6k to SLC and Baruch only costs $2.5k, would they help you out with your rent if you stayed local?

Brain is right, unless there's something special about the program you're going into at SLC, it's not a sound financial decision. Your intelligence and drive is actually much more important to future success and earnings than what school you went to.
posted by parkerjackson at 4:12 PM on August 23, 2010

I like to listen to Clark Howard and find what he has to say about student loan debt to be very wise. Unless its a Federal student loan, either Stafford or Plus, do not go into debt for school. He always, alway, always says private loans are a huge mistake for students. With the state of our economy, currently and in the foreseeable future, you do not want to be mortgaging your future financial stability with private student loan debt, especially considering you can get a degree for free with your parents help. Unless you're looking at getting a highly specialized degree that only SLC can provide that guarantees a great income afterward, I'd stick with Baruch. No debt upon graduation and the freedom that comes with that is worth way, way, way more than the reverse.
posted by hazel bites at 4:14 PM on August 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I would not get a variable-rate loan. Ever, but especially not in this economy. That $35,000 could easily turn into 100K, and student loans take a long time to pay off.

Have you investigated unsubsidized Stafford loans? They're not income-based (which means your parents' on-paper income shouldn't be a problem), they have a fixed 6.8% rate, and the financial aid people at Sarah Lawrence should be able to help you apply.

Given the amount of time you have left, though, I think your best course of action is simple: go to Baruch this year, and work on getting your financial-aid ducks in a row so you can transfer next year. It's only 12 months, and you'll be in a much better position afterward -- trying to rush all this through in two days is a bad idea.

This, of course, assumes that you're not going to listen to brain, who has the best answer. I think the very best idea for you would be to take your $2000 savings and use it to move out of your parents' house. I suspect that Baruch will look a lot better to you once you're not "unhappy at home"... and hey, you already have a Direct Loan you can use to cover tuition and books if your parents withdraw support.

IMHO, independence is worth far, far more to your development as a person than what school you're in.
posted by vorfeed at 4:19 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Return to Baruch. Sarah Lawrence is not worth the money. If you go, you'll be so deep in debt that you'll have no choice but to live with your parents for the next however many years it takes to get out of debt. You won't have a chance to be independent and save up the money needed to live independently. Go to Baruch, make tons of friends, and save up cash.
posted by anniecat at 4:30 PM on August 23, 2010

Echoing everyone who says to avoid taking out student loans if at all possible. Graduating debt-free is the best gift you could give yourself.
posted by Aleen at 4:38 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Interesting--I wonder if there will be any Sarah Lawrence supporters!

While I don't expect Sarah Lawrence to land me an extremely well-paying job right out of college, it does have a program I am really in love with. Some things I absolutely love about Sarah Lawrence:

1. They use the Oxford "don" system, which means students get to individualize their course of study with a lot of professor contact. We even interview our professors before registration to see if it's a good fit.

2. The people. I've had a lot of trouble finding people I like at Baruch, and class discussions--if we have class discussions--are terrible. I thrive in small, discussion-based classes and when I sat in on one at Sarah Lawrence, I was blown away. The students were incredibly bright, interested, and passionate about what they were talking about. I haven't met people who were that "turned on" at Baruch as of yet.

3. The humanities-geared interdisciplinary curriculum. I want to study a mixture of literature, anthropology and politics. I also want to take sculpture, but that'll be more of a hobby and maybe not something I study in school--but at Sarah Lawrence, I have the opportunity. Baruch does not have sculpture classes. Baruch is also very business-oriented, though it does have a liberal arts school. It's also unlikely that I'll be able to do an interdisciplinary major at Baruch.

4. To be completely honest, the name! Does the name of a college really matter? People reacted differently when I told them I was attending Sarah Lawrence versus Baruch. Perhaps it's because I live in New York, but some people are certainly snobby about college degrees. That said, I realize it's not the same as going to Harvard--but Sarah Lawrence holds something for me that I think Harvard does not.

I also want to go to grad school. I'm not sure for what, but I think that I have to have some specialty to make myself competitive on the job market. I realize Baruch will leave me more money for grad school, but Sarah Lawrence may help me get into a better program. I'm thinking of either being a lawyer--in which case I believe I have to attend an absolutely top-tier school to distinguish myself--or getting a master's in international relations. Or an MBA, if I can find a program within it that really grabs me.

For law school, I realize LSAT scores are the most important thing. However, competition is so tight at top-tier law schools that I believe most applicants are going to have incredible LSAT scores and fantastic GPAs. What will distinguish me in that case? Probably the school... right?
posted by melancholyplay at 5:03 PM on August 23, 2010

Not knowing anything about either of these schools, I can tell you that going to a cheap, large university and graduating debt-free was the best decision I ever made. Especially if you're planning on grad school, I'd save all the pennies you can right now if I were in your shoes.
posted by something something at 5:05 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I graduated from Hunter with zero debt. It was the best decision I ever made. Stick with Baruch, graduate at the top of your class, pratically debt free, and go to a big name grad school. I can't tell you how many people I know that got suckered by big name schools for their undergraduate degree that are still drowning in debt ten years later. (If you want more liberal arts, try hunter. They let you transfer up to 90 credits.)
posted by milarepa at 5:17 PM on August 23, 2010

Well, I'm an SLC supporter.
But that is because my daughter is a sophomore and I am mortgaging my house and retirement to send here there. So I'd better like it. (And she loves it.)

Even so, she will graduate 30-35K in debt with subsidized and unsubsidized government loans, and likely will need to work at low paying jobs for several years as she gets into her field.

My husband and I earn more than decent money and are confident that we will be able to pay off our share of the debt quickly once she is out of school. But we are paying about 4% interest. The idea of taking a variable rate loan that start at 8.75% is pretty scary. And then you would start grad school? I have to counsel you to think long and hard about this.

Best of luck to you, whatever your decision.
posted by SLC Mom at 5:18 PM on August 23, 2010

There is one reason I'd say to go to Sarah Lawrence - in my experience CUNY schools aren't great on helping you graduate within a reasonable timeframe. On the other hand, also in my experience, private liberal arts schools tend to be structured with the idea that, barring extenuating circumstances, the vast majority of their students are going to graduate within four years. The counseling and tutoring options are better, as is the administration.

Remembering all my fights with CUNY administration over stupid crap like actually posting my tuition check, in hindsight it might be worth ten grand to not ever have to deal with that crap and only have classes to concentrate on. I know CUNY students who didn't graduate because they couldn't get into some stupid Gen Ed requirement, and the administration was basically, "Meh. Who are you, again?" My understanding of liberal arts schools is that it does not work this way.

I'm also wondering, due to the fact that you're at Baruch now - are you planning to eventually be somewhere business/finance/corporate, careerwise? To me, Baruch = finance = eventual $$$$$$$, so if I'm right the debt might not be as heinous as one would think. Then again maybe you want to transfer to Sarah Lawrence so that you can pursue your dream in some totally non-lucrative career.

That said, I like vorfeed's advice a lot, too.
posted by Sara C. at 5:19 PM on August 23, 2010

Does the name of a college really matter?

It _can_... depends on the field, job market, etc. Can going to a known-and-respected college help you get a job, especially your first job? Yes. But it's not at all a guarantee. I do still get recruiters contacting me partially due to my school, but after a job or two it will be more about past work experience. Alumni/connections can help too, but again these are just "extras" in getting a job, not guarantees. On the other hand, having a lot of variable-interest-rate debt can be dangerous.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:20 PM on August 23, 2010

After posting all that above, I will also ditto Milarepa and say that, as a Hunter grad, while I look back on my education and think of what might have been, on the other hand, I Have No Debt. Which is freeing in a way that makes all those fights with the bursar's office seem totally worthwhile in the long run.

Wow, my advice is totally worthless.
posted by Sara C. at 5:22 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, somehow I glossed over the grad school. In that case I agree with the others --- all that matters is what will be better to get into grad school, once you're done with that no one cares where you did undergrad (I mean if it's particularly well known maybe it helps the tiniest bit, but not much). I know nothing about grad school admissions so I'll let others advise how much your choice of undergrad school matters for that.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:22 PM on August 23, 2010

Ooof, never mind. Just read your reply.

Transfer to Hunter.

You will gripe a lot, but you will also have virtually no debt and ultimately be better off. And you can take sculpture courses. And you will definitely find students who are passionate and engaged. Classes are big and small discussion sections are few and far between, but it might be a good compromise between your two options.
posted by Sara C. at 5:25 PM on August 23, 2010

In this economy, please, please, please do not take on debt so early in life. There is no guarantee that you will find a job that will allow you to pay that debt back quickly, AND you want to go to graduate school - nothing about this is a good idea.

I know this is not the answer you want. But I will tell you that in 10 years, the fact that you went to Sarah Lawrence or Baruch will not matter. In 20 years, even less so. In 30 years? It will be negligible.

What will matter is what you do with your life and what you learn while you have a chance to do so. If you have a chance to study for free, my goodness but you should take it. I know Sarah Lawrence seems like an oasis of education right now, and I'm not saying that it probably isn't wonderful - I'm sure it is - but a FREE higher education is something that needs to be cherished carefully.

Can you work something out with your parents so that you can move out and start finding some independence? That might help your feeling, a lot.

A private, variable rate loan is just not a good idea, at all. It's not that Sarah Lawrence isn't a good idea, or the education isn't worth the money, it's just that you don't have the money, and any way you have to get the money will enslave you for years to come.
posted by micawber at 5:34 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Can you do one more year at Baruch and transfer in next fall semester instead of this one? That'd remove a chunk of possible debt, and give you a year to come up with better financing options - and you'd end up happy at Sarah Lawrence in the end anyway.
posted by kpht at 5:35 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Damn, I really hate to join in the chorus that's been raining on your parade, but one of the best things that ever happened to me was flunking out of more expensive schools and finishing up at a CUNY school. It happened so long ago, but the financial effects are still being felt now. I got my BA with zero debt - and because of it, my financial position now is much stronger than I ever thought it would be. I know people with high paying Wall Street jobs who just finished retiring their student debt this year (I am 39 to give you an idea of the time frame involved).

I'm only going to address what I think you should consider should you decide against Sarah Lawrence, since ultimately only you can decide whether SLC is worth the debt or not. Baruch is pretty much a business only school - while it regularly tops the rankings of the CUNY system, it is probably one of the worst senior CUNY colleges for a traditionally aged student to get a liberal arts education at - just about everybody there is looking for a sheepskin so they can get a finance job, and the students tend to trend older even for CUNY. Of course there's going to be nobody you can relate to. Hunter, Brooklyn, and Queens really are the liberal arts colleges, and I think Hunter would probably be the best fit for you. Even if you go to Hunter though, remember these are *commuter* colleges (yes I know about the dorms at Hunter and Queens, but they're very limited) - you damn well have to go the extra mile to find your social circle - but it's not impossible. Find those people, and remember you're in New York - don't just socialize with them on campus - there's a ton of stuff going on just a few blocks away from school.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 5:55 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

zero debt = close to zero debt
posted by Calloused_Foot at 5:57 PM on August 23, 2010

I really don't think it's a good idea to get that far into private loan debt for your undergrad education. I'm sure you'd love Sarah Lawrence, but would you love it enough that you wouldn't resent paying hundreds of dollars a month for the next 20-30 years? I know those are really hard things to weigh against each other. But consider: you may need to work at jobs you don't want, for YEARS, to pay for Sarah Lawrence. That is a big deal. If you defer your loans while you're in grad school you could accumulate another $7,000-$10,000+ in interest. Compare it to graduating from Baruch debt-free, able to take any job that pays the rent and supplies health insurance.

Also FWIW on "the name", I'm aware of some snobbery against Sarah Lawrence as well - blah blah it's a school for coddled rich kids blah blah everyone's too busy finding themselves to do real work. I'm not claiming that that is true (it's not even my opinion), just saying attending a high-end private liberal arts school can win you enemies as well as friends.
posted by mskyle at 5:58 PM on August 23, 2010

Debt sucks. Student loan debt sucks more (you can't even get out of them with bankruptcy). Adjustable rate loans of any type suck most (they can and do adjust UP!).
Graduate from college debt free if at all possible. Your older self will thank you profusely.
posted by MsKim at 6:00 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not transfer into another CUNY? Hunter is a big name school now (especially in anthropology and the humanities), they have top grad programs.
There's also the CUNY BA program where you design your own course of study and mix classes from different CUNY colleges. And if living at home is an issue, City College and Queens College both have dorms on campus.
If you don't have student loan debt, you give yourself more freedom to take unpaid internships and volunteer work that can really boost your resume.
posted by blueskiesinside at 6:03 PM on August 23, 2010

If it's any help as a comparison, this is your older self speaking. I borrowed $19,000 at about the same interest rate for my undergraduate studies, and I'm now almost 40, with $6,000 still to pay off. I've paid more in interest than the principal - a total of around $40,000 all up. I only manage because my grad school was all paid for (tuition waivers & teaching stipend).

So - do you want to be paying off debt well into your middle age?
posted by media_itoku at 6:51 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Media_Itoku, was it worth it?
posted by melancholyplay at 7:00 PM on August 23, 2010

Response by poster: Funny, I always had an aversion to Hunter College though it probably makes the most sense. This is going to sound awful but I went to Hunter College High School and I always heard people making fun of the people who went to Hunter College--they were the kids who had the worst grades and nowhere else to go. Part of the reason why I want to go to Sarah Lawrence is probably ingrained in that: the desire to impress my peers, who have long since moved on! I know I need to get over it... but in the real world, does it really not matter?
posted by melancholyplay at 7:07 PM on August 23, 2010

If they were federal loans I'd say do it. You can work for any government and have them wiped out in 10 years. You won't be turning 24 soon, will you?

Unfortunately, I cannot possibly counsel any young person to go into private student loan debt. There is always a better way. This Hunter place sounds good, from what everyone here says. I promise the freedom in ten years will matter more to you than the very expensive past conversations you will have plenty of free shots at for the rest of your life.
posted by SMPA at 7:11 PM on August 23, 2010

but in the real world, does it really not matter?

in the real world, people who still judge others based on college "prestige" look like total asses.

I still remember when the publisher of a mag I edited made it a point to mention -- more than once -- that his college was ranked about five above mine. he was 36 years old.
posted by changeling at 7:16 PM on August 23, 2010

Re Hunter and its reputation - I felt that way, too. Then I dated a Harvard alum. Maybe he was just being nice, but anytime I snarked on my alma mater, he'd say, "Actually, Hunter is a really good school. You should be proud to have gone there." Also, his student loan debt was staggering. Mine? Nonexistent. Which means that I get to play in the film industry and with my writing and being periodically "funemployed". He has to worry that he might get laid off.
posted by Sara C. at 7:25 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know I need to get over it... but in the real world, does it really not matter?

I'm barely four years out of school. A lot of my coworkers went to Ivy-league and comparable schools. A lot went to public universities. A lot of my friends went to Temple (huge, local public school) and most of the rest went to Penn (Ivy). Nobody, at all, cares at all. One bit. For one minute. I know it seems like all the world when you're in there - god knows I felt incredibly insecure being a CS major next door to CMU - but once you're out into the real world, in no time flat, it's irrelevant.

Also, while I don't have zero debt, what I have is very modest - on par with a car insurance payment. Not being meaningfully affected by debt, not being limited by it, is really freaking great and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:59 PM on August 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

If these were government-subsidized loans of any stripe, I'd be a lot more encouraging. Since the loan you are considering is a variable-rate, private loan, I cannot strongly enough say: stay away! Hunter or Baruch or some other solution, but do not do this to yourself.
posted by asciident at 8:12 PM on August 23, 2010

Everyone giving advice about the debt is spot on. Here are some other, more comforting facts about getting a less-expensive education:

1.) No matter where you end up, you will find people who are like you, who you like to be around, and will be good friends with you.

2.) On a related point: lower cost institutions attract students from a greater spectrum of life. You will meet more people with more diverse backgrounds than you ever would at a high end Liberal Arts school like Sarah Lawrence.

3.) If you don't feel there are the right kinds of activities there for you, then you are going to have to make them for yourself. Create a club. Open a gallery. You really won't have any more limitations based on your college.

Honestly, the pressure to find the "right school" is equivalent to the bullshit people say about finding your "one true love". You have a lot of say in whatever experience you have at college, so don't go into it thinking that SL is the only one for you, and anything else is a compromise.

You'll thank us later.
posted by Think_Long at 8:17 PM on August 23, 2010

There are so many awesome SUNY and CUNY schools that you can go to for cheap. Surely there's one that you might like better than the school you're already attending?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:39 PM on August 23, 2010

Do not take on debt for your undergraduate education. You are far better off staying where you are, working your tail off, and having the grades to show for it than transferring to a more expensive school. Especially for a liberal arts education. A personal example:

I went to Big State University for free, after turning down a half-ride from a well-known private school. Now I have a ton of debt from medical school. I will have to pay it back after graduation (after deferment and but I will eventually pay it back. I'm already in medical school. You want to be a lawyer, but you aren't in law school yet, and saddling yourself with debt for a "maybe" when you can go to college for free seems a little silly. If you take hard classes and do well in them, if you volunteer and participate in solid extracurriculars with leadership experience, if you focus your energies on rocking out on your LSATs, then it won't matter nearly as much where you went to undergrad.

Another point that is worth mentioning: I've found that one of the only benefits of going to a "name" school - be it Big State University or Ivy League, is the networking opportunities. People who didn't go to your school might not be impressed that you graduated from a "name" school. People that you meet who *did* go to school might not be impressed either, but you automatically have something to talk about.
posted by honeybee413 at 8:41 PM on August 23, 2010

To be completely honest, the name! Does the name of a college really matter? People reacted differently when I told them I was attending Sarah Lawrence versus Baruch.

Well, thanks for the update. First of all, I'm glad that things worked out better for you and are no longer staring down $60,000 of loans on graduate. Here's the thing: on one hand, $25,0000 in loans is about average for a graduate of a private university. With your debt load of $30k, expect to pay $350/month for the next 10 years. On the other hand, Hunter College is a better school than Sarah Lawrence. I really think you're overrating the value of a Sarah Lawrence degree vs. Baruch or Hunter. If you were talking Amherst or Swarthmore or Wellesley, I'd say sure, go for it, but the advantage of Sarah Lawrence when you're talking specifically about reputation, is not so clear.

Let me give you some advice from a fancy schmancy private school grad: you know how you kind of look down on Hunter College because that's where people towards the bottom of the class at Hunter High School went? Well, that's how Sarah Lawrence was looked upon at my high school.

Now, you're an authentic New Yorker, as opposed to me being a generation removed from NYC and know the landscape better, but Hunter College, at least among my parents' generation, is still regarded as a great school.

For law school, I realize LSAT scores are the most important thing. However, competition is so tight at top-tier law schools that I believe most applicants are going to have incredible LSAT scores and fantastic GPAs. What will distinguish me in that case? Probably the school... right?

Which is going to be more distinguishing? An applicant from a wealthy family who went to a not-really-big-name liberal arts college, or an applicant from a working class family in NYC who rose up to be a top-achiever at a local CUNY with high LSATs?

Look, I know the Sarah Lawrence is your dream, and with the amount of aid you have, it might be worth trying out for a semester or two to see if it really turns out to be everything you've wanted in life, but you speak of the school in awed terms that, quite honestly, the rest of the world doesn't view it in. And 5 years from now, that name won't really matter.
posted by deanc at 8:53 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Normally, as a very rational person when it comes to financial matters and a product of public universities, I always encourage people to go to a cheaper school.

However, in this case I'm not so certain that's the right decision. I was struck by how you described how unhappy you were at the current college because of the atmosphere and living at home.

I started my undergrad career at a branch campus that was in my hometown (very small) of a larger university. I lived at home, and I was miserable and depressed. I hated the atmosphere of the campus (a bunch of frat boys and sorority girls not interested in learning), I hated living at home, and I hated staying in my hometown. After a year, I decided to go to the main campus, in another, larger city. To do so, I had to pay for housing and I lost a scholarship that wouldn't transfer. I went from getting extra money for books from my scholarship to being $15,000 in debt, having to work two jobs, and living on ramen.

My parents told me it was a mistake, but frankly it was the best thing I ever did. Moving really opened up my horizons in ways I could never imagine. In my head I knew it didn't add up, but it was one of those things where I just felt that it was right, and I felt that I should go with my heart instead of my head. That's a fine judgment that takes time to develop, though.

However, there are two very important differences between you and me. I only incurred $15K of debt, not $45K. And all of my debt came from federal loans. Not a penny from a private company.

So I would encourage you to try to make Sarah Lawrence happen. Talk to the financial aid office again. Don't just email. Call, be forceful. The school may have their own loan system. There may be other government sources of aid out there. (Are your parents willing to take out a PLUS loan?) Implore relatives for some help. And if none of that works...could you give it a try for a year? Work your butt off for scholarships during that year, try to get a job during that year, and if that doesn't work, come back to the old college?

Good luck.
posted by unannihilated at 8:55 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sorry to double post, but my realistic side can't let this slide...

I want to study a mixture of literature, anthropology and politics.
I also want to go to grad school. I'm not sure for what, but I think that I have to have some specialty to make myself competitive on the job market.

And what on earth are you going to do with that degree if you can't go to grad school? If you are going to be going 45K into debt to get an undergrad degree, then you should be using that undergrad program to get a specialty to make yourself competitive on the job market.

I'm one of the lone people coming out in favor of risk in this post, but you need to risk smart. Do your part of the equation - you will have to sacrifice something in this situation.
posted by unannihilated at 10:01 PM on August 23, 2010

Between the two loans, $35,000 and $15,000 you will have $50,000 in debt. At a starting rate of 8.75% it will cost you $625 per month for the next 10 years. Think about that for a minute. You will have to come up with $625 per month no matter what, before you even think about rent, food, utilities, clothes, etc. That's $625 per month you can't spend on other things you might enjoy, like travel or entertainment. Also note that student loan debt follows you forever. You cannot get out of it by filing bankruptcy.

If you go to grad school and have to defer your loan, it will grow so that instead of $625 per month you must come up with over $800 per month for the next 10 years. Consider this carefully.
posted by JackFlash at 10:59 PM on August 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Actually - your best bet is to go to the cheapest school possible but get fantastic grades - that's how you get into a good Grad school - the grades - the grades - the grades - And I'll nth that no one cares - In all job interviews education hardly cones up at all - and for grad schools it's the grades - Apologies ny keyboard is broken :-)
posted by xammerboy at 11:03 PM on August 23, 2010

If you are really serious about going into a prestigious graduate/professional program going to a more prestigious college could help. SLC alumni might be a real resource, however I don't really know either way what SLC alumni network is like. I do think your happiness and the quality of education matters. I have been asked plenty of times in interviews where I went to college, but really in a more chit chatty way (I didn't go anywhere particularly prestigous I don't feel it hurt me, but who knows). Would it be possible to transfer in a year? So you'd only have two years at SLC, but still get the diploma?

Having this kind of debt will significantly affect your life once you graduate. As in you may have to move home for a couple years because the money you'd be spending on rent are instead going to your loan payments. If you can't immediately get a job in your chosen field you might have to work multiple fast food type jobs while living at home in order to pay your loans. Obviously this is worse case scenario, but when I graduated from college the economy was down (but not this bad) I made between 24k - 27k the first year and 33k the second (with benefits! I was thrilled). I could not have afforded any loan payment, the first year I could barely make ends meet as it was. Sit down and think hard about whether you can afford this, maybe you can, but it's a lot of money.
posted by whoaali at 11:19 PM on August 23, 2010

I think you should stick at Baruch, for all the reasons outlined above. Also, keep in mind that student loan debt is nondischargeable through bankruptcy except in extreme circumstances, like permanent disability. Basically, this means that you will have this debt for life, even if other circumstance, like illness or the loss of a job, forced you into bankruptcy to get rid of your other debt.

Your undergrad degree doesn't matter that much anyway since everyone and his mom is going to grad school these days.
posted by Aizkolari at 3:13 AM on August 24, 2010

Even if you don't end up going to grad school, a CUNY diploma is nothing to laugh at. As a Hunter grad, I generally get positive comments during any "where'd you go to school?" chit-chat. I may have come across a few snobs who got a look on their face that said, "omg but Hunter is a Poor Person school!" - but those people are jerks. And few and far between.

Beyond the social stuff, I found a pretty amazing full time job before graduation. My friends from CUNY, who by and large are still my core social circle to this day, also have worked in their fields since day one. Which is saying a lot considering that most of my friends' degrees are in the arts and humanities.
posted by Sara C. at 5:42 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did my undergrad at Wesleyan, and did post-bacc coursework at Northeastern, UMass Boston, and Harvard Extension. I'm now at a large public university getting a PhD in the sciences.

My own undergrad experience was miserable and regrettable; in hindsight, I should have transferred early in my career. If you are very unhappy at Baruch, then you should stop going to Baruch. I understand from your comments that it's very cheap for you, but please factor in the opportunity cost. I, um, failed to graduate into a rotten economy myself, and found temp secretarial work which paid well enough.

I had a lot of pressure put on me to stick it out and finish my BA. The consequence -- because my undergrad grades were terrible, and my degree wasn't very related to my interests, because I was too miserable to explore them and trying to find the fastest route to graduation -- was that I essentially completed an entire second baccalaureate after the first. The price tag of "sticking it out" was huge, though I am insanely grateful that most of it was absorbed by the last of some old family money.

Some other random points:

I have had people specifically tell me that my alma mater was a factor in getting interviews, etc. The prestige effect is real and pervasive -- in some fields and in some areas and in some circumstances.

On the other hand, the north-eastern* liberal arts college community is actually very small; the subtleties of Sarah Lawrence v. Wesleyan v. Williams v. whatever are completely lost on 99.99% percent of the human race. People the world over would care if you went to Harvard, maybe Yale, but that's about it.

In my field, a minority of my peers went to SLACs. They mostly went to large universities with strong programs in our field -- public and private, prestigious and not-so-much.

I would really, really suggest considering taking time OFF from school, figuring out what you want to pursue, and seeking a path to do it. If you want to go to grad school in a specific field, finding a program strong in that field, which will get you research experience, is absolutely the most important thing.
posted by endless_forms at 7:43 AM on August 24, 2010

For law school, I realize LSAT scores are the most important thing. However, competition is so tight at top-tier law schools that I believe most applicants are going to have incredible LSAT scores and fantastic GPAs. What will distinguish me in that case? Probably the school... right?

But you ONLY applied to Sarah Lawrence. I don't know who was counseling you when you were applying to colleges, and maybe you thought it was a slam dunk, but you at a very young age received poor advice which is going to present you with sizeable debt that you will be shackled to for the next 10 years. You won't be able to seize opportunities or drop everything and travel, because you'll have to be responsible for $600-800 A MONTh just to pay off your educational loans.

Your attitude towards CUNY is kind of odd given that you're from New York. Many, many very smart people made fantastic opportunities for themselves in the CUNY system. Someone who is motivated and had strong extracurriculars and internships and excellent grades is going to rate well anywhere. It's not some kind of magic ticket.

And right now you don't even know that you want to go to law school.

The worst part of this is, you're ignoring all entreaties to think about your future because you just want people to tell you that Sarah Lawrence is where you should go.
posted by micawber at 12:55 PM on August 24, 2010

I want to point to another thing from a thread on student loans a few months ago. PhoBWanKenobi made an interesting comment about how people are being "sold" on this idea that they should go into a lot of debt for an education that isn't actually that great. Specifically, this line was really jarring:
the private schools really effectively know how to sell themselves as offering intellectual liberation from one's blue-collar suburban background
I guess what I'm trying to say here is that you might be having something marketed to you that isn't worth as much as you think. There are a lot of other threads on AskMeFi about people struggling with their debt loads, and we don't want to see you end up in the same boat.

If you're concerned about going to a "name" school, take another year and apply to schools that are actually "name" schools (and because of their big names, are very wealthy and can offer more financial aid). Or if you have a career game plan that will make paying off that amount of debt straightforward (various high-paying professions). A happy, worthwhile, enriching college experience is extremely valuable, but don't sacrifice the rest of your economic life for it, and definitely see if there are alternatives which are less expensive but will give you the same things.
posted by deanc at 3:58 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Actually, Micawber, I've decided to go to Baruch for the next year.
posted by melancholyplay at 4:15 PM on August 24, 2010

Response by poster: Deanc, I really appreciate your final remark. I've decided against Sarah Lawrence in part because of the response here. I think I've had a hard time letting it go because since high school, it's become something of a beacon to me. At this age, I don't think I realize the full impact of $40-50K of debt but I do know that it's a good chunk of change... and something I don't want to tie myself down with, particularly not through a variable interest rate loan.

The plan is to look for other schools to transfer into, though to be honest my heart isn't into the search anymore (perhaps I just need to grieve Sarah Lawrence first). If I can't get myself into it, I'm going to look to graduate Baruch as fast as possible. Thanks to all of you for your advice, particularly those who were helpful, constructive and kind.
posted by melancholyplay at 4:27 PM on August 24, 2010

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