The Great Education Debate: Your Passion Or Your Money

When it comes to higher education there are generally two sides of the story. Which side you tend to find yourself often correlates with your experience. I know when I was younger all I wanted to do was go to a flashy school. Flashy when I was in high school was the local expensive private college that everyone raved about. Still do. Now that college and graduate school are behind me, I see the world through a different filter. I’m no longer enamored by a price tag or olympic-sized swimming pools. I’ve also been in the corporate world long enough to know that it just doesn’t matter. Go ahead and read that last sentence again, because it’s true. That brings us to the time-honored classic Great Debate – Your Passion Or Your Money.

Experience & Case Studies

I remember starting school at the local community college at the tender age of 19 and not having any idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I was accepted to college. Woohoo! Open admissions policy what? I didn’t know about that back then. Haha. After graduating with my associates degree in general studies, I transferred to a local private school that gave me an awesome financial package. Once there, I flipped a coin and picked a major. I’m almost not even kidding. I gave that little thought to picking a major. Thankfully, I graduated with an undergrad degree and started working in a great field – the field in which I still work till this day. I also got my graduate degree for exactly $0 out of my own pocket.

Looking back, I would’ve given significant consideration to the course of my adult career life. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to change careers after meandering too far down a rabbit hole. I now realize this.

I can’t tell you how many people I have worked with, side-by-side, who went to impressive schools and were paying back impressive debt. Did I mention we were working side-by-side? After you graduate and start working in the real world with real people, you realize that it really does not matter where you went to school. This can hit you like a ton of bricks if you’re one of those people who paid an arm and/or a leg for your education.

Advice I’d Give To Anyone (Including My Own Child)

Harvard

Pic I Snapped At Harvard

Advice I have and will continue to give to anyone willing to listen (or read) is to avoid debt – at least massive debt – for higher education. I know the media loves to tell us how impossible it is to obtain a college degree these days without incurring debt, debt that we’ll be paying off until we start collecting social security, but I tend to vehemently disagree.

I would tell anyone to skip the brand name and go for the decent school at a reasonable price.

We are saving each month to send Mini Monster to college and, when the time comes, I’m going to encourage her to save as much of her money as she possibly can. I would rather see her attend a community college for the first two years than go into any kind of debt.

I would also tell someone in the process of applying to schools to ignore the sticker price. The sticker price is often an allure used by colleges and universities. After all, the more expensive something is, the better it is, and the more coveted it is. Right? Right. Except when it’s wrong. Unless it’s Ivy League, this is a ploy to inflate reputations. Aspiring students should apply to every single one of their DREAM schools. You never know what they will offer as a financial package based on what the student can bring to the table – grades, athletic abilities, diversity. The sticker price is just that. It can always be, and often is, marked down for a plethora of reasons.

In sum, FOLLOW YOUR PASSION! Do it while you’re young and have the ability to move around and switch careers without having to consider other people or children or a giving up a high salary. However, follow your passion AND use your brain. Avoid debt. Period. And if you are considering debt, make sure your future salary can easily support you and your debt.

These are projected college costs through the year 2033…

saving-for-college

Projected Future College Costs per savingforcollege.com

This is an aside and I would love to hear what everyone else thinks on the subject. Is it really feasible that tuition costs will continue to skyrocket at this alarming rate? Is that actually going to happen? Or is it more possible that higher education will become more affordable via more options? Think: more online classes, MOOCs, and real-life experience counting for college credit. Also, won’t a large amount of schools go out of business if the sticker price ticks up too high? In my humble opinion, I think the higher ed landscape will be vastly different when my tot is ready to navigate the college application process. But what do I know? Does anyone else have an actual professional opinion on the matter?

 

 

When Would I Take On Debt

I would take on debt if I were accepted to an Ivy League school and was planning to study something that had a high probability of a high salary upon graduation. What do you get at Ivy League schools that you don’t get at other schools? Connections. These connections can get you into graduate schools, professional schools, and jobs at top-notch companies. It’s not fair. But it is the way it is. And if you haven’t noticed yet, life tends to not be fair 🙂

I would also take on reasonable debt for a professional degree that would guarantee a high salary. Other than those situations, I wouldn’t do it. Ever.

What I Would Do If I Were 18 Again

back-to-the-future

Cheesy Back To The Future Reference

First of all, let me say that I think everyone should follow their passion, within reason. I also think it’s imperative to be smart with your money, especially your future money. The first thing I would do if I were on the cusp of entering college again, would be to explore salaries in my fields of interest. Based on the cold hard money facts, I would determine what amount of debt would be acceptable for each specific degree.

For example, I would not drop $100k on a degree in Social Work. I think it is an honorable field and feel grateful that we have people who are passionate about it, however, the potential salaries do not warrant the guaranteed debt. On the other hand, if I was reasonably certain I had the smarts and the endurance to snag myself a medical degree with an orthopedic specialty, I’d be more willing to take on large debt – but I would still be smart about it and try to avoid it as much as possible. Maybe I would look at undergrad programs at universities also offering medical degrees. I would consider the armed forces and their “free ride” to medical school in exchange for a few years of service.

Your Passion Or Your Money

That brings us to the Great Debate. When do you put your passion ahead of your money? For me, I would be okay putting my passion ahead of my money if I had a lifetime ahead of me to make enough money to pay back what I borrowed for that passion.

For example, I always wanted to go to medical school. But because it took me so long to get my undergraduate degree, I decided to start working because I needed a break from school. After working in my field of study for years and making a life outside of school (relationships, a daughter, etc.), my medical school dream reared its head again a few years ago. The passion for that path was still with me. I talked seriously about my options. I ran the numbers. I tried to figure out how I could do it and still be a good wife and mother. Turns out, for me, it was impossible. I would be taking myself out of the workforce for the next 10 years, not contributing to retirement accounts or saving in any way. The amount of debt I would incur did not make it worth it for me. In fact, I would come out ahead, financially, if I just stayed in my industry and continued to work and invest. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have enough quality spare time to spend with my daughter. I would be an absentee mother even if I was living in the same house. I decided to NOT follow my passion. I chose money and my time.

But, if I had time on my side and no familial obligations – I would’ve gone for it! But I still would’ve tried to incur as little debt as possible.

No matter what we’re told to believe, it is possible to obtain a higher education without committing to gobs of debt. We did it. And we would do it again. So what would I do differently if I could turn back the clock? I might’ve picked a different major, but I would’ve done about the same thing as far as choice of school and lack of debt. Now, if only I would’ve had this financial advice upon graduation.

I’d love to hear from you! What did you do? What do you wish you had done? If you could go back in time in a DeLorean, of course, 😉 what would you tell your younger self? So let’s go, lay it on me!

mox

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  • Piggy of Bitches Get Riches Mar 16, 2017, 10:24 am

    I wish I’d read advice like this when I was 16, and took it to heart. I don’t regret my college experience (it got me a job in my dream industry!), but I really wish I’d figured out a way to avoid student loan debt before I started applying to schools.

  • SeekingTheDividends Feb 18, 2017, 12:32 pm

    I’m someone that went for the big Ivy league name for engineering, incurred a lot of debt over the 4 years, but was fortunate to get a 2yr grad school scholarship. In the end I ended up a with a job that paid well enough for me to handle that debt, as I would often pay more than the payment to get rid of it sooner. I realize had I gone into a different field, that might have been a lot harder. I was also fortunate in that my passion for math and science pays well. So in a way, I didn’t have to make as hard a choice as some had to.

    Later on in life I made my share of dumb money mistakes, putting myself back into debt, but am grateful for being in the field I’m in, which did help me cushion the blow and recover, but again I know that others would have had a much harder time coming out of that hole.

    • Mad Money Monster Feb 19, 2017, 8:11 am

      I can completely understand why someone would go for a big name school. When you’re young, you’re not thinking about loan terms and interest rates. You’re thinking of the prestige. Congrats on being accepted and getting that degree! That is truly an accomplishment. And you’re right, thankfully you have that high income to lessen the financial burden.

      I have been in the same boat. I didn’t go to the big ticket school, but I made plenty of other financial no-no’s, and was only able to recover because of my high salary. Cheers to learning our lessons! 🙂

  • Just Us Jan 17, 2017, 2:33 pm

    I was the child of divorcing parents, who never was encouraged to take a SAT, much less to pursue higher education… even though our grandparents had set aside college money for us grandkids – of which we were unaware. (Our parents are educated; I am not sure how that ball got dropped. I guess they were distracted trying to rebuild their own lives.)
    I lucked out and made it into the IT field as it was first developing, which gave me a wonderful career and income to raise my kids successfully. With the recent downturn in our economy, I now find, as a 50-year old WITHOUT any degree but WITH 35 years of experience, that I am no longer suitable for any type of employment beyond cleaning people’s houses or dog walking services or maybe a not-so-cheery WalMart Greeter. LOL! (So there’s the opposite side of that coin. Without a degree, employment can become brutal.)

    I truly think that higher education is a _scam_ that has evolved even further, in our greedy, consumerism-driven economy of late. My children have both attended (or currently attendING) college – although they work to pay their tuition and have held off on the huge debt.

    My son did the community college route, and my daughter is attending Oklahoma State University, awarded some reductions in tuition due to her outstanding academic performance. Its a balancing act – like everything else in our frugal lives! 😀

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 17, 2017, 6:13 pm

      First of all, thank you for sharing so much! I’m shocked that your years of experience are worth so little. I ran into something similar in my field when I first started. There was a manager who had worked his way up the ladder and held the position successfully for many years. One day, a new director took seat and didn’t like the fact that he didn’t have a degree. He got the boot, even though he knew so much more than the formally educated people he managed. So ridiculous. It’s good to hear your children are doing higher ed the “smart way”. 🙂

  • Smart Provisions Jan 17, 2017, 1:27 pm

    I went to a decent school for an Engineering major and it was covered mainly due to financial aid and scholarships. If I could do it all over again, I would probably change my major for a higher paying major like Computer Science and take advantage of the Silicon Valley bubble.

    It probably would have made FI faster too!

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 17, 2017, 2:59 pm

      Yeah…I’ve noticed computer science is a trend within the FI community. I missed that boat, too 🙂

      • Smart Provisions Jan 17, 2017, 3:12 pm

        Luckily, I’m slowly moving myself towards IT and Software Development. Hopefully in a few years, I’ll be able to transition fully and still be able to reap some benefits before I FIRE.

  • Financial Panther Jan 17, 2017, 10:00 am

    Malcolm Gladwell had a great talk he gave once (and probably wrote about it in a New Yorker article) about a study involving students who got into both Penn and Penn State, but opted for Penn State. These economists found no statistical difference in their future salaries and the rationale is that those who are good enough to get into a top school can make it no matter where they go. I always think about that study whenever I think about school costs.

    For myself, I actually had the chance to transfer from my law school to a Top-5 law school on the east coast. It would have for sure cost me at least an extra $120,000 to do that. I don’t regret not transferring because it would have forced me into career paths I would’ve hated.

    • Full Time Finance Jan 17, 2017, 10:49 am

      I believe its a matter of degree. Penn State and Penn are likely not that different. Neither is where I attended and MIT despite the state school is half as much. But at the same time going to local U for engineering is probably going to be harder to get your career going then going to say RPI or Georgia Tech. IE there are good middle paths, but just like in a neighborhood you don’t want to go to the bottom of the barrel.

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 17, 2017, 11:51 am

      Wow! That is a great story! Thanks for sharing. I especially love the study you noted about there being no statistical difference. We really should teach this stuff in high school. ugh.

  • Ernie Jan 17, 2017, 7:59 am

    Went to a great state school, obtained a very broad major, and took on a ton of debt that I’m still paying off. If I could do it all over again I convince my 14yo self to save, save, save. And then I would have picked up a trade like carpentry at a tech school. Oh, and if coach woulda put me in 4th quarter we’d probably be state champs, and I would have gone pro. I can still throw a football over them mountains!

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 17, 2017, 8:14 am

      Damn, that coach! Yeah, hindsight can be a bitch sometimes. At least you have it figured out now. That’s more than a lot of people can say at your age 🙂

  • freedom40guy Jan 17, 2017, 7:10 am

    Absolutely agree! I went to a mediocre state school but I’ve done just fine. Many of the people I work with spend gobs of money on fancy private educations at famous schools – but guess what? We’re both in the same job, and in many cases, I’m their boss.

    • Mad Money Monster Jan 17, 2017, 7:23 am

      Yep! It’s amazing, isn’t it? When you’re young and starry-eyed it’s hard to see through that filter and make a choice based on a reasonable price tag. Kudos for doing just that!

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