Think critically about college loans

“Dream big,” Maureen O’Brien told her daughter, urging her not to settle for a low-cost state college. O’Brien borrowed $54,000 to help pay for the first two years at the University of Vermont, which costs more than $49,000 a year for out-of-state students, reports NPR. But the mother, still paying for her undergraduate degree in 1996 and $60,000 for professional training, couldn’t afford it.

Daughter Emily has transferred to Northern Arizona, where in-state tuition is low. Her brother will start at Arizona State.  The family expects to borrow another $70,000 to pay for the daughter’s last two years and the son’s four years of higher education. O’Brien now earns $93,000 as a physician’s assistant, but spends more than a third of her take-home pay on student loan payments. She has no savings and may take a second job to pay off the debts.

For a woman who says she learned critical thinking as a French and international studies major, O’Brien didn’t think critically about paying for college, writes Grace at Cost of College. and she sees troubles ahead for Emily, who’s majoring in environmental studies.

“I can’t afford to go to college, but I’m taking out loans, I’m putting my foot forward and making sure I get an education so that I can get a really good job in the long run,” Emily says.

Grace suspects environmental studies won’t lead to a “really good job.” Environmental science would  be a better bet, but it would  require more math and science courses.

Even affluent parents are becoming more pragmatic about college choices, reports the Chicago Tribune. The  story features a young woman who wanted to major in equestrian therapy because she loves horses. Ally Lincoln’s mother told her to choose nursing.

“My mother told me not to confuse a hobby with an occupation,” she said. “I was upset.”

During a college trip to Bradley University in Peoria, her mom “made” her look at the nursing school, where a tour guide rattled off a barrage of statistics, including that the median salary for a nurse is $60,000 and unemployment rate is 2 percent.

A nurse at 24, Lincoln has “a robust paycheck, benefits and a well-marked path for career advancement.” And jealous friends. She is house hunting with her fiance. Going into nursing “was one of the smartest things I ever did,” she told the Trib.

About Joanne


  1. “Equestrian therapy” ? Geez, where do get a couch big enough?

  2. The University of Vermont (UVM) has been either the most expensive state college (for in-state and out-of-state), or very close to it, for at least 40 years. Incoming freshman classes have been at least 2/3 out-staters for years, if not decades and over half for longer than that. It is, essentially, a private school, in terms of cost – particularly for out-staters. It has been a favorite of affluent NYC and Boston families for decades. Particularly in a soft field like enviro studies (does that belong on the worthless-degrees list?), how does that make good economic sense?

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      Yep. UVM is the college of choice for well-to-do kids from the Northeast who can’t get into more prestigous second tier colleges but don’t want to attend SUNY or Rutgers.

      It’s insane for a middle-class parent to choose this school.

      • Unless things have changed, I might exempt programs in the various health-care fields, which have had very strong reputations; helpful for getting into top grad programs. In the past, anyway, it’s been easier to get into med school from the undergrad program (particularly for out-staters) and the med school grads I’ve known were admitted to top residency programs – Johns Hopkins, Duke and others at that level.

        As a number of his colleagues told an affluent local professional; sending his daughter to Notre Dame was a waste of money, since she was in el ed and is now teaching kindergarten in an inner-city Chicago or Detroit school. They said he could have saved himself lots of money by sending her to the state university and she could have had the exact same job. That was not well-received, but he could afford to do that and the family connections to ND were extensive.

  3. Geez,

    How many students (and their parental units) would actually save a fortune by getting their first two years done at a community/junior college, possibly earning an associate’s degree, and a transfer agreement to a four year school to pursue a complimentary major in their associate field.

    I’d estimate that you’d save a fortune, given that most community colleges would cost less than 10K for that two year degree, and probably a lot less than that.

    Shelling out 40K a year for a college degree which has little chance of return on investment seems quite silly to me. Now if you’re made out of money (most of the population in the US isn’t), go for it.

    • I think this is a good option for average students, who intend to transfer to state schools (perhaps not the flagship campus) or the equivalent, but is it a desirable option for kids at the upper end of the spectrum, who would like the flagship campus to be their safest/least competitive choice for their bachelor’s degrees? These students would be likely to look at very competitive grad programs in law, medicine, sciences etc, and (eventual) MBAs (top-10 programs typically expect at least 3 yrs experience)

      I’m not intending to disparage CCs, but the local one wasn’t even seen as a serious option for dual enrollment among my kids’ HS friends who were on the AP track at top suburban schools. They felt that it was an issue of the student population. Were they mistaken? One of my younger kids took German at a CC in a different state and all the classes were excellent.

      • Genevieve says:

        I think it really depends on the community college as well as the area being studied.

        I have taken a number of classes at our local community college and attended the local state university (we don’t really have a flagship school). The classes are definitely comparable in the sciences and math for non-honors students. Any class that is predominantly taught be a TA at the state school (Freshman English for example) is probably better at the community college.

        The upper level courses I have taken that are requirements for vocational tech programs, including nurses, are probably slightly easier at the community college. I was able to get very high grades doing what I would consider B level work because of an easier curve.

        However, for the vast majority of students (including students attending 2nd tier schools not majoring in the sciences) they are probably better taking basic classes at this community college.

  4. How could there even be an entire Bachelor’s degree program for something called ‘Equestrian Therapy’? I can see it as a single class that exists as an elective for veterinary majors… But an entire program? What do they do those four years??

    • lightly seasoned says:

      It’s a physical therapy career. Horses are used to treat people with certain disabilities. The motion of the horse is helpful in developing core strength, coordination, etc. Insurance pays for it in some cases. It works really well as a therapy for autism, stroke, etc. The equine therapist leads the patient through exercises on horseback. Nothing to do with veterinarians.

      There are equine massage therapists and chiropractors. They do quite well, especially in regions with a high concentration of competition horses (ie. Ocala, FL). I’m sure Rafalca, the Romneys’ mare, has regular massage and chiropractic work done. Around here, it costs about $75 a visit — more in affluent areas, I’m sure. They may or may not be vets.

      The more you know.