This is Part 2 of a multi-part post series called My Story. This series is about how I got to where I am today through the lens of finances. In this post, I will be telling the story of why I chose to attend an expensive private college. To start from the beginning of this series, please click here.
HIGH SCHOOL AS COLLEGE PREP
The first year of my high school curriculum consisted of courses I had to take. My days consisted of algebra, learning the periodic table, analyzing classic literature, and occasionally being forced to play basketball in gym class. I didn’t hate school, but it was not something I looked forward to every day.
School was something I had to do in order to get into a good college, to get a good job, and to eventually have a good life. There was no magic moment where I realized I loved some derivative of a career. There was no moment of inspiration where I had suddenly found a calling.
My report cards were all A’s and strong B’s. History was the only subject I struggled in. And that was just because I found the subject matter boring. If history was less about memorizing random dates, I might have enjoyed it more. I excelled at comprehending assigned readings, math was easy enough, and teachers complimented me on my analytical skills on science reports.
Students are usually pushed into a profession because they displayed talent in one class or another. I felt like I was doing something wrong. Counselors were asking me what I wanted to do.
CHOOSING A COLLEGE MAJOR
At first I wanted to be an artist. The basement of the high school was where the art department lived, and it was a second home to me. I took extra art classes against the advice of my counselors. I won competitions, and people complimented me on my work often. Making art did not feel like work.
My high school also participated in a new, nationwide program that introduced students to the engineering profession. The Introduction to Engineering course I took in Freshman year was easy. Everything about engineering, the combination of math, science, and creativity, came naturally to me.
I considered engineering another form of an art class. I was honestly confused when people said it was a difficult profession. Assignments were like fun puzzles to me. At least one new engineering course appeared in my schedule every semester.
I had to make a decision when the time came to apply for college. I knew engineering would get me more money, but I loved making art. If I wanted to become an artist, I had a few marketable options. If I was going to do something in engineering, I decided I wanted to be an architectural engineer. Architectural engineering was the most creative profession in engineering to me.
APPLYING FOR COLLEGE
I planned to stay local, so I found four colleges to apply for. The first college was the art institute. The application required a portfolio of art. A state school was second, which had a mix of engineering and art programs. It was also the cheapest school to attend. The third was a private institute. The curriculum consisted entirely of engineering courses. It was also the only school to offer an architectural engineer degree. The fourth school was the most prestigious and most expensive private university.
The private university did not offer an architectural engineer degree. They had a structural engineer degree. The structural engineering degree was more analytical than I wanted, but it was related to architectural engineering. The private university also offered a program that would allow me to take courses for a minor in art at the art institute.
Before applying anywhere, I attended open houses. I listened to every marketing ploy, and bookmarked curriculum and program web pages. I even earned a week long summer scholarship program to the third private institute. (Ironically, that week long stay at the institute nearly made me eliminate the school from my list of applications.) I also examined tuition and fees.
My family was kind enough to pay for my education up to the end of high school, but any education beyond would be solely my financial burden. I did not have a job. My savings were meager. Scholarships, grants, and loans would be the only way I could attend college.
My decision was utilitarian. I decided to go to the most expensive private university for a degree in structural engineering.
WHY I CHOSE GO TO THE EXPENSIVE PRIVATE COLLEGE
Going to the expensive private college made more sense. Going into the male dominated and high demand major of structural engineering as a woman and child of a single mother got me more. I earned more scholarships, and qualified for more grants.
The university also provided more degree program options. They had a four year graduation guarantee, a five year co-op program, a five year combined bachelors and masters program, and the art minor program. I later found out that the art program was not accessible to me. It angered me greatly as it was part of the reason I applied. However, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had participated in it.
My analysis also revealed that it would have cost me more to go to the state school than the private university. The reasons: the requirement to live on campus and the extended graduation timeline at the state school.
I had talked with several students of the state university. Each of them said that they could not graduate in four years with a bachelors. Classes were commonly overbooked or scheduled over other required classes. It took most people 5 to 7 years to complete all the required courses for graduation.
I also wanted to live at home to save money. My mother and I had discussed a deal. If I continued to keep my grades up, I could stay at home rent free. The state school required all freshmen to live on campus for the first year if they were outside a certain radius. I was just outside that radius. I couldn’t afford tuition, housing, and all the other costs associated with living away from home. Especially since the state school gave me fewer scholarships.
Marketability after graduation was also very important to me. The expensive private university was the most desirable school in the region. Having a degree in a high demand field from this university practically guaranteed I would never be unemployed.
While I wanted to be an architectural engineer, I also had to consider my future earning potential and the job market. Architectural engineers are limited to projects with elements of aesthetics. What are the first jobs that go in a recession? Answer: non-essential, aesthetic based jobs.
Being a structural engineer allowed for a lot more flexibility and opportunities. I could work on residential, commercial, and industrial projects. The basics of structural engineering can be applied to multiple engineering challenges.
THE AFTERMATH OF PAYING FOR A COLLEGE EDUCATION
I don’t regret my decision to go to the expensive school. I graduated with a bachelors and masters in five and a half years. Others in my field have taken longer to graduate with just a bachelors going to another school.
I was also hired into a near dream job. The combination of having great academics, work experience, and a degree from a top school made me the object of a bidding war.
There are times when I see the bills, even after earning all those scholarships, and feel my stomach drop. Sometimes I feel like I have ruined my financial future because of this decision. However, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for my decisions.
TO BE CONTINUED…
In Part 3, I start to get serious about my personal finance. I finally figure out how much debt I accumulated in The Great Audit.
Why did you decide to get a degree? Why did you chose to go to the college you went to? Do you regret your decisions? Let me know in the comments!