Don’t Get Crushed by Undergrad Debt, Save for Grad School
By Barry Eitel
There is no argument that the cost of a college education has exploded in the past few years. While the class of 1978 might have been able to work during the summer to pay for a bachelor’s degree, that is nearly impossible in 2016. Four years of study at a flagship state university normally runs $112,000 for in-state students, and the overall bill for private colleges can easily reach $152,000.
For many careers, in order to join the industry, these four years aren’t even enough – you need at least a graduate degree. The cost of the grad degree can average anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000, all on top of what a student pays for an undergrad degree.
Young students staring up at this mountain of debt have to ask themselves a very important question: What’s more important, an undergraduate degree or a master’s?
While it requires some forethought in your teenage years, most employers would agree that the last school you attend is by far the most important – a good-name school for a master’s is almost always better than a sparkly undergrad program.
To get the most bang for your buck, therefore, save your money in undergrad in order to bank these savings for a great graduate program.
After four years at Western State Colorado University, for example, most students leave paying just $247 a month for their loans. The savings they amass can then go toward a great grad school program, which will be impressed by Western’s high-quality undergraduate degrees.
“Performing at a high level in a good-quality but not highly prestigious college may give a student a better chance of getting into graduate or professional school than being lost in the middle of the pack in a highly selective institution,” David W. Breneman, an expert in the economics of education and the former president of Kalamazoo College in Michigan, wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times. “The quality of graduate or professional school will matter more in the long run to a student’s success in life than the ranking of the undergraduate college.”
The dollar amounts might not make a whole lot of sense when you’re 18, but the harsh realities of these numbers come into sharp focus after you graduate. Even allowing for scholarships and family contributions, students will pay an estimated $658 per month for at least 10 years soon after leaving that flagship public university.
“A student laboring under an enormous debt burden for a prestigious college may find some of life’s choices limited by debt,” Breneman continues. “One may have greater freedom if one graduates from college relatively debt free, and better able to incur debt for further schooling, if necessary.”
The magazine rankings are an easily digestible method to decide on a school, but are far from perfect. A bevy of variables go into choosing what college to attend—location, class size and dorm amenities, for example. Your future, however, should be the most important deciding factor.
Overspending on an undergraduate degree at a big-name university can become an anchor that drags down your career if it means you can’t afford or get into a high-quality grad program. Spend less now on four years of college at Western and invest instead in your future.