Ask Stacy: Should I Borrow $80,000 or Forget Art School?


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This high-school senior is confronted with a choice: lose out on the opportunity to attend a prestigious college, or borrow 80 grand. But are those really the only options?

Here’s a question from a young reader…

I am a 17-year-old senior in high school and will hopefully be attending my school of choice this fall. I have a dilemma that does burden many families: Do I really want to take out an $80,000 loan for a very reputable art school? Or should I skip it all and go to community college for 2 years (which is seven blocks from my high school) and really forget about getting into one of the most selective art programs in the country? Is the loan worth it?
– Seema

Excellent question, Seema:  This cost/benefit dilemma is one many students and their families are facing these days.

While I can tell you really want to go to that art school immediately, I think waiting could be in your best interests as well as save you a lot of loan interest. You lose nothing and save a lot by spending two years at a local community college.

As I wrote last summer in 6 Tips to Pay Less for a College Degree

Consider a community college or other less expensive option for the first two years, then transfer to the university whose name you’d like to see on your degree. This is probably the single biggest way to save on a college education. Not only do you save on tuition costs, attending a community college might also allow you to stay under your parents’ roof and save housing expenses as well.

If you go that route, however, make sure the courses you’re taking at your less expensive school will transfer. Look for an articulation agreement from the school where you intend to graduate to see which schools they accept credits from, as well as the grades they expect you to maintain in order to transfer.

That being said, I’m a little concerned about this statement: “Or should I skip it all and go to community college for 2 years (which is seven blocks from my high school) and really forget about getting into one of the most selective art programs in the country?”

Are these things mutually exclusive? If you don’t borrow $80,000 right now, you’ll never go to that art school? I hope that’s not what you’re implying.  If you’ve been accepted at this school now, there’s no reason they won’t accept you two years from now. Perhaps by that time, you will have established yourself as both an artist and student to the extent that you’ll qualify for a scholarship or other financial assistance.

So if you’re asking me whether you should either borrow $80,000 or go to a community college seven blocks from your high school and never attend the college of your dreams, I’d say you’re an artist who’s not seeing the whole picture. There are myriad options between these two extremes. As I mentioned above, you could go to a community college for two years, then transfer. (And, by the way, there’s no law that says you have to go to a community college seven blocks from your high school – they’re all over the country.) You could work part-time and take some classes at the art school. You could work full-time for a year, then go to school. You could apply for any number of scholarships or otherwise beat the bushes for financial aid.

This is an opportunity to learn a lesson that will serve you well in life: When the going gets tough, the tough use imagination in place of money. I want you to have the best possible education so you can follow your dreams. But if possible, I want you to figure out a way to do that without starting life $80,000 in debt. Make sense?

Check out some of these stories – they might help.

Good luck, Seema!

Stacy Johnson

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