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Debt vs. Longer time to get degree

  1. Mar 18, 2012 #1
    When I first went to college out of high school, I didn't really know about the admissions process and my (sort of controlling) mom pushed me to go to this Christian college so not really knowing better on top of without having any friends to ask for help and my guidance counselor not being very helpful, I attended this school.

    I really hated it, and most of my classes consisted of modules such as the foundations of being a Christian, how to be a better Christian, learning about the school's denomination of Christianity in general, their interpretation of the Bible, etc.; basically the core classes required of the school's definition of a Christian faith. Aside from that, there were lots of restrictions; you couldn't listen to certain music, watch certain films, wear certain styles of clothing, etc. You also had to go to chapel every day or you'd get fined some money every time you didn't attend, and if you missed a certain amount you'd get kicked out of school.

    Anyway, the environment + my non-belief in this type of Christianity made me fail every single one of my classes, mostly because I disagreed and refused to accept certain "truths" they introduced. I have nothing against religion in general and I believe religion can encourage and help an individual with their life with positive morals so I don't refute religion, but some of the things they taught were pretty ridiculous in my opinion.

    I dropped out my first semester, and I went travelling around the U.S. for a while (mostly to get away from my mom). I worked/hung out in several different states, and my mom was causing a ton of trouble back home in regards to my person so I had to go back to make her stop. I didn't want to make a bad name for myself so I stayed at home for a bit and just worked for her friends to make whatever money I could.

    Somehow she convinced me go back to a different Christian college, one that was heavily sponsored by the church she was attending at the time and I didn't want to be embarrassed by her since this was a pretty big church (a couple thousand members?) and she went around running her mouth about how I needed God's help, etc. Anyway, I reasoned with myself that it wouldn't be so bad this time and it was another chance to get away. So, I went again...

    It was EXACTLY the same type of environment and I hate myself for ruining my academic record. I failed all my classes again, dropped out, and I left home for good.

    So now I have been working and I just got accepted into a CUNY community college. I think I am scheduled for a meeting with an advisor there some time this summer, but I wanted to gather some intel beforehand and prepare to make some decisions.

    The way I see it, I can take one of two paths:

    1) Spend 2 years at community college, then transfer to another school with Physics Engineering as a major, then get my PhD in the same field. I'll probably rack up something like $50,000 in debt in the end, since there are no nearby schools that offer Physics Engineering which means I will have to dorm at a school farther away.

    2) Spend 2 years at community college, transfer to a nearby school (walking distance from my current residence) that only offers Physics as a major, but is much, much cheaper (if I maintain a ~3.0 @ CC I can probably get a full ride, if not then it's still only like less than $1,000 per year with financial aid/Pell/TAP which I can pay off almost immediately with part-time jobs). I can get a degree in Physics there, then apply to work on another degree related to Physics since I've already taken some classes in my previous degree, which will bring up my GPA to counteract the massive cumulative 0.0 GPAs I had gotten during my Christian college run. Then transfer to a Physics Engineering program at a higher-ranked school than in the aforementioned 'path 1' which requires a minimum of 3.3 GPA, but is also free tuition/board/rooming since I make pretty much poverty-line income. This will probably allow me to gain better research experience with higher-powered professors in the field than in 'path 1' and thus result in acceptance to a better PhD program for my line of studies, which means access to better lab equipment, and possibly a brand name degree which will probably help me in future career prospectives.

    So 'path 2' will probably take about 3-4 more years longer, but I will not be in any debt, with the perks of having a title in a higher ranked program (such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Caltech, Berkeley, etc.).

    Would the latter option be worth the wait, considering the pros and cons of both?
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 18, 2012 #2


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    Since both paths begin with two years at a community college, you don't have to decide right away. More importantly, since where you go after community college depends somewhat on GPA, I think you should take a few classes first to see how that shakes out.

    We occasionally get posts here from people with a nice plan worked out, except that one of the steps might be something like, "I plan to be accepted to (high status university), where I'll get a GPA of 3.8 or above, then I'll...". Lots of plans sound nice on paper, but executing them can be...difficult.

    What physics/math/engineering classes have you taken so far?

    I'm not saying you shouldn't aim high or have a notion of where you're headed - I'm just saying, concentrate on taking a few steps down the path that is right in front of you, before deciding on the path you will take years from now.
  4. Mar 18, 2012 #3


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    Like lisab said, you've got a while to make up your mind. Your GPA starts over at community college, and then again after you transfer, so you'll just need to explain the situation at the religious schools to future colleges, and it shouldn't hurt you very much. However, top grad schools get more than 10 times as many applicants as they can admit, and those applicants are all very qualified to get in. You cannot assume you'll get into a famous graduate program, or that one of those famous colleges would even offer what you plan to study.
  5. Mar 18, 2012 #4
    Never do debt. Think about this: you are accepted into some Physics Ph.D. program while being saddled with $50k+ in debt. I know people do it, but it seems like it would be rather difficult to really concentrate on physics WHILE being in that much debt. And then when you get out of school, what do you plan to do? It will take a looong time to pay this off.

    I am a senior and am graduating in May. I'm a Math major and I will start grad school in the fall. I'm guessing you are about 20-21 years old (just from the story's timeline). Am I correct? I started college when I was 20 (turned 21 during my first semester). I started at a community college while I was working full time. I am still working full time. I started college in Jan. of 2007 meaning it will take me 5.5 years to obtain a BS ("Lots of people take 7 years to finish college" "I know, they're called Doctors". - Tommy Boy). This is anything but ideal, but I have ZERO debt.

    Whatever you do, DON'T DO DEBT. You will want to put as much concentration into your studies as you possibly can.
  6. Mar 18, 2012 #5
    I definitely feel like too many students and young people are taking on debt without a very clear idea of ROI (e.g. they are financing a Classics or Gender Studies degree or something) or a good appreciation of the hole they are putting themselves in.

    However, in some cases it wouldn't make sense to extend your degree by 2 years just to avoid 50k debt. For example, if your starting salary will reliably be in the triple digits you're probably better off to take on the debt and rush your degree in order to start earning that salary 2 years earlier.
  7. Mar 18, 2012 #6
    I am extremely anti-debt in virtually all situations. I probably (maybe? possibly...?) could have gotten admitted to a more "prestigious" school than I ultimately went to simply to avoid having a take on a significant level of debt. The "less prestigious" school I went to ended-up having an extremely-small, completely student-centered physics program that has been more amazing than I could ever have imagined.

    I also take issue with some people who have said you will "only" take on 50k of debt or so. That is (presumably) just the principle. What really kills you on large loans like that is the insane level of interest you will end up paying over the lifetime of the loan. That is the fundamental underpinning of large loans that I feel like everyone misses: if the loan provider was not planning to extract way more than the principle of the loan from you over the duration of the repayment period, they would never have offered you the loan in the first place.

    End conclusion: I strongly recommend avoiding debt whenever possible, and that is precisely the advice I give to you.
  8. Mar 18, 2012 #7
    Try to stay out of debt the best you can!! Seriously, the less debt you got, the better it will be.

    Furthermore, undergrad education is very similar in most ways. If you don't got to a top 10 uni, then you can still get a very good education. It is for grad schools that the name of the school matters more.

    Also, you can self-learn whatever you want. Don't only learn what they cover in classes, but try to do as much as you can on your own.
  9. Mar 18, 2012 #8
    This is absurdity. If the difference between doing what you want and not doing what you want is debt, then incur the bloody debt.

    Obviously, the less debt you have the better. But judging by the fact that you want to go into engineering physics, I'm guessing that you are at least open to the possibility of doing engineering itself. Industry jobs in engineering are a) fairly stable, b) fairly assured to anyone whose idea of marketing their skills doesn't involve throwing feces at the interviewer, and c) extremely lucrative right out of the door. Consider engineering school as a third option. What's more, you don't need to do a Ph.D, and a lot of people will tell you that even a Masters degree isn't necessary depending on the type of job you want. Indeed, some employers will finance an engineer's grad school if they believe you could use the extra training or if they need someone with a greater level of knowledge in a certain field and believe you could be that someone with a little investment.

    Just something to think about.
  10. Mar 18, 2012 #9
    And this is immaturity and lack of imagination combined with laziness.

    First of all, it is not very responsible to use the But-I-Really-Want-It excuse to go into debt. It doesn't matter what the "It" is, be it something frivolous like a gas-powered sweater or something "noble" like an education.

    Second of all, people always think that things are going to work out in the most ideal way possible. So, what happens if he gets in, and realizes that what he "really" wants has nothing to do with Physics? Then he has a bunch of debt for nothing. What if he just can't cut it? What if for some other reason he has to quit school? No one ever factors in the MASSIVE risk in something like this.

    Third, as I mentioned, I have worked very, very hard over the past 5.5 year to avoid debt. Yes, this puts me 1.5 year behind the "normal" deal (well, at my school, only like a year or so). BUT, when I get out, I will be DEBT-FREE! Now, just in terms of income, I am in a MUCH better position than I would be in had I incurred $50K in debt. No doubt.

    The problem is that most people don't want to put in the hard work that it takes to do "what you really want" AND avoid debt. If it is TRULY something that you REALLY want to do, then you should be able to do the work required to avoid debt. If you can't manage to do that, then perhaps you don't WANT it enough.

    There is an idiotic belief in US culture that there is "good debt" and "bad debt" and most people think that student loans are "good debt" because it goes to paying for an education at a university (which also, has very sillily been taken as an Absolute Good by our culture in the US). If you go into debt to fund an education, you have made a mistake.
  11. Mar 18, 2012 #10
    This seems ridiculous. So if someone does something and goes into debt, they dont really want it? You really have no basis to claim that those who go into debt are, in any form, lazy. Did you even want YOUR education that bad if you could just keep extending it to avoid debt?
  12. Mar 18, 2012 #11
    Good for you. No, really - I mean it. Good for you. But you know what? I'll be out of school in three years, incurring about twenty grand in debt, and I'll be able to pay it off in two to three. And my GPA will probably be higher than if I'd decided to work full time. And I'll have had a social life. And probably had greater opportunities at internships and research positions in the fields I desired. And probably enjoyed my time as a college student rather than cringing like a sufferer of PTSD at the sound of "d'ya want fries with that sir".

    Don't tell other people how to live their life. Some people don't place as great a value on money as you do, and some people couldn't do what you wanted even if they tried. I would not have a chance in hell of being able to work and go to school. To say that my education is a 'mistake' is itself a mistake.
  13. Mar 18, 2012 #12
    I 100% agree that it is very common/easy to underestimate the full weight of the interest you'll incur - I meant my example to be someone who is paying off his full student debt with the first 6 months of his job.

    Again, 100% agree that many people underestimate the risk they are assuming in holding debt.

    However, I think your conclusion is too broad here. Consider a healthy, young person with a low-risk lifestyle financing an MBA at Harvard. High probability of successful completion of program with no complications, high probability of very lucrative job upon graduating (one program where name recognition and connections DO matter). Probably a good bet for them.
  14. Mar 18, 2012 #13
  15. Mar 18, 2012 #14
    Diminishing Returns, Robert. I agree it's best to avoid debt, but to become an anti-debt nazi will simply end up hurting you more than it will help you. It's okay to take some debt, just aim to minimize it and think of the future.
  16. Mar 18, 2012 #15
    I don't know what field of study you're in, but one wonders just how much money you would have made working a real job during the extra year and a half you'll spend at school. That's money you'll never get back. In my case, it'd total about ninety thousand dollars worth of gross income (assumptions: job upon graduation, average starting salary of 60k/year) - lost forever because of being, as Bearded Man aptly put it above, an anti-debt nazi.
  17. Mar 18, 2012 #16
    That is not the same as being lazy.

    That's not what I was saying. I was saying I would consider you more lazy than those who choose to go into debt. Not that I consider you lazy, but if I had to pick.

    I know for me, I can steadily pay off some of my student loans while in graduate school as they will not accumulate interest while I am still doing grad school. Then, I'll get out and even if I dont pay off anything during grad school, Ill have to deal with about 15k in debt. Not that bad really.
  18. Mar 18, 2012 #17
    Thank you

    If everything goes as you expect it. IF you graduate in 2-3 years and IF you make enough to pay it off and IF you don't get more debt to make it impossible to pay of this debt and IF IF IF...

    But, let's look at this. Let's say we start school at the same time, for even numbers, let's say Jan. 2010. You'll be done in Dec. 2013. Then you'll have 2.5 years (average of 2 and 3) til you're done paying off debt, which puts yourself at July of 2015 when you are done paying off debt.

    I'll be done in May of 2015 with NO debt.

    Now, of course, you might have yours paid off earlier, but you might have to take even longer to pay it off. And you might not be able to get whatever job you want that will let you pay off that debt.

    Perhaps. But mine is pretty good. I'll be graduating With Highest Honor. Again, it was hard word.

    There we have it. Thanks, but I'm not going in debt to hang out with my friends.

    Probably. But from my conversations with prospective employers, it is very desirable to have worked full-time during your education.

    Well you are going to have trouble if you think I mean you should work fast food. You'll need a better job.

    He asked for advice and I gave it. I didn't start this thread.

    I was wondering when someone was going to say something like this. So, I am suggesting that people do not behave like mindless consumers and I am somehow the guy who places a really high value on money. No, I place a value on the peace that comes from not being in debt. From not having to worry whether your bills will be paid. From not having to be afraid when the phone rings because it is a debt collector. I place a high value on my future success and am willing to sacrifice to get there.

    Exactly why are you in school? To learn, right? But you are going to try to get a good job when you get finished, right? One with a big paycheck?

    See, it is not that I place a higher value on money than you do, it is that I place a higher value on my future than you place on yours. You place a higher value on the "here-and-now" I place a higher value on the future. Read The Millionaire Next Door. The successful people sacrifice today for a better future.

    Then you take two classes at a time instead of 5. Or take three or whatever you have to do. Take the time you would be "having a social life" and WORK. Don't have a TV. And, whatever you do, don't waste time on internet forums (OK, that last one was a joke :) )
  19. Mar 18, 2012 #18
    IF you get a $60k job. And, my job pays me more than school costs, so one would have to consider that, as well. Let me ask you, on your $20k debt, how much will you end up paying back?
  20. Mar 18, 2012 #19
    You're really being quite presumptuous of other peoples values. I place a high value on the future, it's why I chose to go into debt.
  21. Mar 18, 2012 #20
    Umm, ok. care to explain why? I mean, if you aren't willing to work hard and sacrifice to avoid debt, you are lazy.

    What the hell? How would you consider me more lazy? Have you inverted the definition of laziness? How is it that someone who works 40+ hours a week and carries a full-time load lazy? This is just idiotic.

    So will you have a job in grad school? I guess like a stipend, right? Will you really be able to pay them all off and have money to survive? I hope so; that'd be pretty sweet, right? But, when I get out of grad school, I will have no debt to pay, and I will have no debt to pay during grad school? Even sweeter.
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