Public School Free Ride vs. Private School Prestige

Evenin’, everyone. A little change of pace on the menu today. If you’ve been following the site for the last couple of weeks, you’ll notice that I’ve been doing “Monday Mailbag” on Mondays, where I answer reader mail alongside a picture of a freaky-looking Photoshopped mailman.

Well, I’m actually getting LOTS more mail than I can cover in one weekly mailbag. A lot more. I could easily do a post every weekday covering nothing but your questions. And come to think of it, that seems like the best way to serve you guys. If you’ve got questions, those should be my first priority.

Johns Hopkins dreams about being with you forever, Nancy.

So going forward, starting today, 90% of what you read on this blog will be my responses to your direct questions and comments. I hope that encourages you to ask them if you’ve got them!

And I must admit, it makes things really easy for me when it comes to writing every day. I don’t even have to think of a topic. I just grab your questions and go.

So here we go. Thus begins the era of 24/7 question-answering here on Outlaw Student. Take it away, Edgardo!

Hi! My name is Edgardo and I just want to say I really like your stories. …I am a student at a community college and I hope to transfer soon to a California State University. I am majoring in Aerospace Engineering. The weird thing about me though is that besides majoring in engineering, I also want to do music on the side. I want to ask, should i include my creative side in my essay whenever I apply for scholarships? I have seen how professional people are in the engineering field but I feel I should do something that makes me stand out. I do not want to be tossed away or not be taken seriously.

That’s a pretty good question. It boils down to: Should I just try to fit in with everyone else, or should I highlight what makes me different?

The answer is, as usual, “it depends,” and what it depends on here is Edgardo’s essay criteria.

If the question is an open-ended, tell-us-all-about-yourself kind of thing, then I wholly support Edgardo going nuts about both his science and engineering ability as well as his musical aspirations. A well-rounded picture of yourself is a great thing, and you’re right — whatever you can do to distinguish yourself from the other engineers is great.

However, if the question is specifically geared toward one’s science and engineering skill, then I wouldn’t pollute the essay with irrelevant information about non-scientific study. Talking about your guitar or saxophone or glockenspiel or whatever it is you play (I don’t think you mentioned it) when you’re supposed to be proving to the committee that you’re a sharp and capable future engineer is ill-advised, I think.

Now, I definitely want to point out that, if Edgardo asked about mentioning his interest in music on a resume, my answer would have been much more clear-cut. I would’ve told him to leave his personal aspirations and hobbies OUT of the job-application process. But colleges (specifically admissions folks) and scholarship committees aren’t looking for exactly the same thing employers are looking for.

The last two days’ worth of posts about Elizabeth’s Dilemma sure did give rise to several stories of other Elizabeths out there in the world.

Here’s one from Kandice:

Hi Josh,

I am in a pretty similar situation as Elizabeth. I will be graduating from my undergrad in May and have been accepted to DU to their Master’s in Real Estate and Construction Management program. It will cost me around $50,000 give or take any scholarship money I may receive. My dilemma is I got my undergrad with a concentration in real estate and finance and throughout my undergrad got more and more interested in the construction side of real estate. This program at DU would give me the experience I need to do what I really love, build homes, but it will cost me around $50,000 and I don’t know if I will even end up making that a year unless I become a big time builder. What should I do? Thanks so much for your time!

Hey, Kandice — you’re welcome. The advice I’m going to give here comes with the disclosure that I know nothing about the DU master’s program you refer to (what “DU” are we referring to here, anyway?), so I can’t speak to its specific merits or demerits.

However, this question falls into my general basket of advice concerning education vs. experience. Generally speaking, if there are two ways to learn the same thing, I like experience better than education. Education, you have to pay for. A lot. Experience pays you — not necessarily a lot, mind you, but even if you get paid minimum wage, at least you’re on the “income” side of the ledger there, and most importantly, your “expenses” side doesn’t have an entry for “Pay DU $50,000”.

This may sound crazy, but hear me out. You have a degree in real estate finance, but want to learn more about the construction side of the business, right? There’s a better place to learn about the construction side of the business than inside classrooms at DU: it’s “inside the construction side of the business.”

Here’s what I mean: Go find a builder. Ask around about reputable builders if you don’t know some already. Then, go to their offices and tell them you’re a new grad in real estate finance and you want to learn the construction side of the business.

Offer to work for minimum wage for one year, doing whatever they need you to do, within your capacity as a new grad with a degree in real-estate finance. The wage is ridiculously low, of course — both parties know that. In return, tell ’em you want to learn the construction side inside and out, and will do every task they need to have done in order to learn it.

In essence, you agree to work for pauper’s wages for a year, in return for the opportunity to be exposed to the entirety of goings-on inside the construction business. Once they realize you’re serious, someone will take you up on it. And you’ll learn an incredible amount of stuff that will stay with you your entire career.

Does that sound crazy? It’s less crazy when you boil it down to dollars and cents for the knowledge you gain. At DU, you’re going to pay $50,000 to take classes that teach you about the construction business. As a low-wage slave minion, you’ll pay nothing, you’ll EARN about $20,000 in wages, and you’ll learn triple what you’d learn in the classroom (trust me, even if the DU program is world-class, it’s still going to pale in comparison to what you’ll learn on the job).

How crazy does it sound now?

And finally, here’s Nancy.

Before I begin, I’d like to say just how amazing I think your website is. Not only do you have the wit I so very much like, you give honest, straight-forward advice that I don’t seem to have at the moment. Kudos.

I like Nancy already.

So here’s my situation. About a month ago I won a full scholarship to the University of Maryland College Park.


My sister went there, brother goes there, and just about everyone in my class is going there. Of course, they didn’t get the same scholarship I did. Which basically covers every little expense I can think up for four full years. I was super excited about it and ready to give up my dreams of a private college education, when Johns Hopkins and Duke University come knocking on my door.

Johns Hopkins University and Duke University basically BOTH offered me $53,000 of the $55,000 it costs to attend these prestigous schools.

I’m gonna point out something you forgot to add here, which is the “PER YEAR” that comes after that $55,000 part. That’s important to note for all who are reading this.

Now, I have absolutely no idea what to do.

I do! Keep reading! πŸ™‚

What I didn’t mention before is that Johns Hopkins University has been my DREAM school since the day I step foot in high school and decided I wanted to be a neurologist someday. I should also mention that the University of Maryland is basically five minutes away from my parent’s house, and although I’d be living on campus, the change of environment would be just about zip, zero, nada.

My family thinks that I should never give up the certainty that UMD has provided me for the next four years. No matter what happens, the scholarship will keep me financially secured for the next four years. However, Johns Hopkins is offering me a financial aid package that is very much likely to change as my parent’s salary does and as my brother graduates from UMD within the next year or two. My question is: should I give up financial security for my dream? For a school that’s not only known for its prestige in medicine but that I’ve longed for since forever?

I’m stumped, and my family’s advice only seems to steer me away from Johns Hopkins, while those of my peers draw me toward it.

The worst part is that all of the scholarships I’ve applied to that I could put toward a JH education don’t respond until after the May 1st deadline. The deadline in which I have to enroll at UMD if I accept the scholarship, and the deadline that JH sets on their students as well.

Please help. I’m in desperate need of blunt, neutral, good ol’ fashioned Josh Barsch advice.

Well, thanks for asking. I have a quick verdict and a long explanation. I am 100% on Team Jacob Maryland. Jacob Maryland wants you, Bella Nancy, has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to you, and it will treat you right (as your siblings will attest. Maryland is a great school. Not your run-of-the-mill, average public college.). Edward Johns Hopkins, while gorgeous and prestigious and lovely, comes with a price that’s hard, if not absolutely impossible, to justify. And while seemingly making your dreams come true, Edward Johns Hopkins will also be slowly sucking you dry all the while. Plus, you can’t have kids with Johns Hopkins (ok, that’s just Edward).

Here’s something that’s going to happen, regardless of whether you attend Maryland, Duke or Johns Hopkins: you’re going to do very well in your pre-med program and have your choice of med schools (if you still want to be a neurologist at that point). That’s exactly what you want.

And this is the most important part — the common denominator which makes this successful outcome a virtual certainty is not Duke University or JH or any other school — it’s YOU. All three schools know this, and this is why they all want you. The only one who (before this post anyway!) was not certain about this, ironically enough, is you! You’re still carrying the idea that your outcome is determined by whether you choose UMD or JH. Stop! That’s wrong! Accept right now that you’re obviously a top student and a hard worker and will control your own destiny.

Now, take a deep breath. Do you want to be sitting at that med school crossroads with $50 or $60k worth of debt? (Because you know as well as I do that JH is probably going to un-sweeten the deal as the years go on. If not — wouldn’t they have offered you the same deal as UM?). Or do you want to be completely free of that kind of burden? I know it’s hard to imagine what that burden feels like unless you’ve been there, but my God, just ask around. It SUCKS. If you can avoid it, for the love of God, please do so. Remember from my Elizabeth posts — $60k becomes $80k when interest is factored in, and then you’re talking about $700-$800 per month for 10 YEARS.

And listen — this is just undergrad school we’re talking about. Med school is a whole separate, phenomenally expensive endeavor that you’re going to have to pay for down the road. And it’s going to be a lot harder to get that one 100% paid for. Yes, if you’re a doctor, you might have the means to dig out of that kind of debt a little easier than, say, an art-history major — but believe me, even with a doctor’s salary, it won’t be easy or quick. I know doctors (really, I do) who absolutely SCRAPE by because they have over $200k in loans (combined undergrad and med school) to pay back.

My question is: should I give up financial security for my dream? For a school that’s not only known for its prestige in medicine but that I’ve longed for since forever?

I don’t want you to think I’m not sensitive to the part of this equation where JH is your dream school, you’ve longed for it forever, etc. Dreams are important, and I’m all for following them in a good LOT of circumstances. But there’s something worth noting here, and it also explains why your classmates are pushing you toward JH and your family’s not.

Your family is older and more experienced in the matter; your friends are high school seniors who, like you, lend a LOT more importance to the mystique and allure of a prestigious private education. I’m not criticizing you for this; I did the exact same thing as you when I was a high school senior (and that’s why I recognize the same tendency in you). I had full-ride offers all over the place from state schools, but I grew up working class (read: broke) and I had an offer from Boston University that was much like yours in terms of cost coverage, and I was determined to go and grab some of that prestige. I went to BU.

I later learned, though (and this is what your family is trying to impress upon you, but I know it’s hard to hear) — people stop caring about what school you went to REALLY fast. In fact, by the time you’re halfway through at Johns Hopkins, you and your friends will be surrounded by people who think JH sucks and is wildly overrated. Don’t believe me? Remember — there are gonna be people at JH who are pissed to be there, because they really had their hearts set on Yale or Princeton and got rejected.

In sum, what I’m trying to say is — the mystique disappears REALLY fast. And that in itself can be a let-down, but man, let me tell you — it’s downright SOUL-CRUSHING when you realize the mystique is gone AND you’re now in the hole tens of thousands because of that evaporated prestige. And that you might have to live in a shitty apartment or drive a 13-year-old car for four extra years after you graduate because the loan payments suck every last bit of your will to live cash out of your bank account.

If you want to boil it down to the simplest possible terms, look at it this way. I think that if you go to UMD and excel, you’ll never say to yourself, “Man, I shoulda gone to Johns Hopkins.” But, if you go to Johns Hopkins, I can almost guarantee you that, many times in your life, you’ll tell yourself, “Man, I should’ve just taken the free ride to UMD. I’d know every single thing that I know now — and I’d have no worries about debt.”

Not to belabor this (he says, right before he begins to belabor it) — big-time debt is no joke. We all laugh about it in school, how much student loan debt we’re racking up while we throw a $70 liquor tab on a credit card (ok, maybe that was just me). But debt will kick your ASS, at any age, and at virtually any income level. Avoid it if you can.

PLUS, remember — Johns Hopkins will always be there for med school, if you’re still enamored with it in four years. And it’s a hell of a lot more prestigious to go there as a med student than as an undergrad. Right? πŸ™‚

Plus, it’s a lot more fun to cheer for basketball and football than it is to cheer for lacrosse. πŸ™‚

Thanks to all three of today’s participants for writing in and letting me run off at the lip about their situations. If you’re reading this, you’re welcome to throw your hat in the ring anytime. Just drop me a line or comment on any of the posts here, and I’ll get you in line for the next post.

That’s all for today. My fingers are starting to hurt from typing so damn much, and I have to go play with my kids before they abandon me tomorrow for a fun weekend with Grandma and Grandpa. Plus, my wife’s going to Vegas, so I’m guessing she’d like some attention as well. I may just sleep all weekend long.

Good night!

86 thoughts on “Public School Free Ride vs. Private School Prestige”

  1. Full Ride! People underestimate public schools. A great public school can be just as good as a great private school; it’s all about what you make of your experience. Hopkins for Masters!

  2. I am a Maryland resident. I would NOT send my children to U of MD. Period. Did Nancy look into issues regarding housing at Maryland? There is NO GUARANTEED HOUSING after the freshman year. SO unless you get into a special house (language majors, for instance) you are stuck looking for an apartment in the College Park slums. Or – join a sorority or fraternity and pay more bucks.

    There is also the issue of how difficult it is to get into Johns Hopkins. U MD lets in many people who barely graduated from my kids’ high school. Johns Hopkins is very particular. When you are preparing for graduate school, they will look at the kind of undergrad situation you were in. The rigor of the two schools does not compare.

    It’s not just dollars. It’s investing in a future. We will have loans etc to pay off but we have considered it our investment and our privilege.

    Just my 2 cents.

    1. that is not true if she received the banneker/key scholarship from UMD, which covers all the expenses then she is guaranteed housing on camous for all four years. also umd is highly selective only about 39% of applicants were admitted this year, that is the same if not more selective than some private institutions. jhu is not known for its undergrad program, undergrad there is more of an after thought, going to umd she may have a few ta’s that teach classes but she will get the same thing at hopkins, only difference being it doesn’t cost $50,000 a year at umd.

  3. If you’re sure it’s your dream school, give it a shot. We don’t get many chances to get what we want (or what we think we want) and you’ll find other options to help you shoulder the bill as you go along. Just make sure you are being realistic in defining the “dream school”: your college experience is what you want it to be and what you make it to be. No college will make your life perfect. At the end of the day it’s still just a school. πŸ™‚

  4. Nancy, I’m a premed at Hopkins, and I can pretty much tell you that the advice being given here is spot on. It’s much better to go to a secure, academically solid public school for undergrad than it is to come here and spend the rest of your college career squirreled away in the library being bitter and depressed and worrying about financial aid (and I have friends here who have had tons of fun dealing with that). Maybe it’s just sophomore slump speaking here, but even if you disregard the money issue, Hopkins kind of gets to you. It has a tendency to make people cynics really, really fast. And that’s not really the attitude a doctor needs.

    …besides, Hopkins is known for its med school, not its undergrad program. Tell you the truth, we don’t usually feel the love so much. Go to UMD. Your GPA will thank you.

    (Although I do have to protest about basketball being better than LAX. Now /that’s/ a matter of debate.)


    If a tremendous work load would stress you out, then take the full-ride! The college experience is very valuable and I wouldnt want to use up the potential best four years of my life stressing over deadlines. Prestige is a superficial term to me. I have a 2070 SAT score and I am going to the University of Montana (im from VA). the average SAT score there is about 1500, but I value my happiness much more than my perceived prestige. I plan on going to a more prestigious grad school, btw.

    However, if you like the stress and the prestige THAT much, money should not change your mind. Wherever you think that you would realistically be happiest is where you should go.


  6. It depends on Nancys life plans…If Johns Hopkins has the specific program she needs, great! but if its school vs school, then UM is a great school with a great reputation and lack of college loans is a huge plus starting your career

  7. I agree with Sita. Do undergrad at UMD and graduate study at JH. The “prestigious” title you’re dreaming of won’t come from your undergraduate degree–it’s the grad school that will matter. Take the full ride and start saving your money to attend JH afterward. Good luck! πŸ™‚

  8. That advice seems extremely counter-intuitive. First of all, med school is extremely competitive, so if you are really committed to becoming a doctor, it will add to your value to do well at the best school you can attend. Furthermore, Johns Hopkins is one of the premiere medical schools on the country, and attending undergrad will only increase your chances of being admitted.
    Secondly, if you are able to take out subsidized Stafford loans and obtain Perkins grants, your debt will not accrue as rapidly as has been portrayed. Have you completed a FAFSA? Subsidized Stafford loan interest does not accrue while you are still in school, and will be deferred if you return to/continue with a post-graduate degree.
    Finally, you should not let money dictate your destiny, because you can finance it. I was in a similar situation where I gave up a free ride to attend an Ivy-League school with a partial scholarship, and I am extremely happy that I made that choice. To be fair, I would not have made the same choice had I needed to plunk down the entire $150k. But you are talking about $50-$60k. It seems outrageous, but just wait until you get the tuition bills from medical school! Excelling at a competitive and prestigious undergraduate institution will make it far more likely that you will be offered a scholarship to medical school. In addition, you cannot discount the value of learning to live on your own, negotiate a lease, decide which one of your roommates has to clean the bathroom. This process has become an important part of growing up, and learning to identify yourself independently from your family, and has an economic value to it.
    Last thought: Have you considered working the system? You mentioned that your family’s financial situation will change in the near future, but there are a number of ways that you can be counted as an independent student, free from their financial support. Review the FAFSA guidelines to consider your options

  9. Just an FYI, Hopkins only guarantees its undergrads on-campus housing for the first two years–after that you’ve got to fight tooth and nail if overpriced, mediocre campus housing is your idea of a good time. So it’s really only a difference of one year of housing, if you’re honestly taking that into consideration.

    I’m not gonna say I regret going to Hopkins, because overall it’s been a fun ride, but there are days when I wish I’d gone to my state college and those days seem to ve happening more and more often. Truth be told, I’d rather excel at a public school than be sort of average in a prestigious private school.

  10. I would decide to go to public before going to a private school. Pretty much because both courses are always going to be there, but at a public school you pay less than that of a private school. Yes you might be able to go to your dream school, but you will have to spend much more for the degree you want instead of paying less at a public school. I’m a pilot and I always dreamed of going to ERAU, which is a Aeronautical University at Daytona Beach, but tuition is $45,000 a year.

    I’m actually at PBSC which is a public college and I’ve actually had free-rides for my first 2 years of college. I’ve been given plenty of advice, that if I had gone to ERAU, I would have to pay $900 for a class where as at PBSC, I only had to pay $250. Luckily, FAFSA has paved the road for me to start on. I’m already a Junior and I now only have to pay for my flight classes which go around $3000 a pop at PBSC, whereas at ERAU I would have had to paid at least double the amount.

    I was given a chance to go to ERAU, but turned it down because I knew that when I wanted to go to my dream school, I would actually be ready and wouldn’t have to had pay double the amount for 6 years of college at a private school instead of only $2,000 a year at a public school.

    Hope this helps!

  11. Wait. Nancy is considering a full ride at a good public, vs. $2,000 at Johns Hopkins? That’s NOTHING! Okay, even factoring in living expenses – let’s add on another thousand. 3000, and it’ll double her last 2-3 years because her brother’s graduating. Which ends up at about $20,000, maybe more depending on parents’ income. For her DREAM SCHOOL. A school with great internships and opportunities – I think it’s fairly likely she’ll make up that money in getting a better job earlier. At least this was my reasoning, financially, when I chose UChicago over UVA for roughly the same difference in price. (Not full ride vs. cheap, but the difference would be about 20,000)

    Ultimately, though, her mental health is what to truly consider. I know I would be so much happier at UChicago. I wouldn’t have any regrets at UVA, certainly, but when the difference is as small as a few thousand dollars a year, you have to go where you’re going to be happiest, most motivated, and will morph you as a person in the best way possible. And for me that’s Chicago. Nancy has a few more considerations, what with potential med school and all. I’d like to caution, above all, that you need to be happy where you are: no regrets, whether you choose JHU or UMD. You can transfer if you’re seriously unhappy, but you’ll have the most dissatisfaction when you keep wondering “What would have happened if…?”

  12. Hi,

    I would recommend researching the percentage of graduates that receive job offers and yearly pay rate between the two schools. If JH has a higher percentage of graduate students getting a career than UMD and the pay rate is higher or just as high go to JH. Its all a matter of afterwards, if you end up paying more to go to JH and find out that after all that time and money you are searching for a career for another year or so was it worth it? College is what you make of it, seriously. Its the after the fact that should be studied more closely. Also, I’d recommend moving away from home (not 20 minutes away but miles away) you will be able to become your own person, mature and learn to support yourself. I moved away and it was the best decision of my life, I have gained so much experience that I wouldn’t have if I stayed home (Arizona) and attended ASU (which was paying me 4k+ a year to go to school)



  13. I agree with Josh’s comments about costs. It makes a lot more sense to rack up the debt in med school than it does for an undergrad degree. Prestige is about where you got that MD, not where you got your BS. You can still have your dream, maybe you’ll find yourself at JH, just at a later date. Don’t do anything because your family pressured you into it, but try to take a step back and imagine your life 10 years from now. What would be most important to you then? Probably different factors than what are most important to you now. Congrats on the scholarships.

  14. In response to Nancy and also to “Deb” who is a Maryland Resident:

    I would definitely take the money and go to the GREAT research institution, UMCP. I, too, received the full-ride scholarship to UMCP, and unlike what Deb is saying (unless things have changed since I entered as a freshman), the Banneker Key scholarship guarantees its recipients FOUR YEARS of resident housing. So I don’t know what Deb means when she says housing isn’t guaranteed after freshman year. Perhaps for other students, but not Banneker Key kids.

    Please take the money. I know JH is your dream school, but if I may ask, why is it your dream school. If it has anything to do with its prestige, you’ll find that there is really minimal consideration regarding your undergrad institution when it comes to entrance into med schools. They want to see a high GPA and good scores on those big scary exams. They don’t even care what your major is, as long as you complete the required courses.

    So, again, TAKE THE MONEY and enjoy the satisfaction of being able to kick up your heels and enjoy the benefits of your hard work!!! (well maybe the kick up your heels part is a bit much, considering you’re going into neurology….good luck with that!!!)

    Welcome fellow TERP! πŸ˜‰

  15. I chose the in-town private school over the in-town public school, and I will say I don’t regret it. I will also say I accepted it due to a financial aid misunderstanding that didn’t work in my favor, and that I worry about money more than I’d like, but I also know I really, really love the culture and environment here. School atmosphere is important in these cases: be sure you’re getting the most you can get for what you paid for.

    Note, while yes, med schools love it when people go to hard undergrads, frankly they will look at GPA waaay before they look at the name of the school. The 3.9 at Maryland would be worth more than the 3.4 at Hopkins, I will tell you that. Also, not all graduate schools like accepting undergrads from the same institution, while some love it; I would look into that if you wanted to get into Hopkins for med school. That’s, of course, assuming that you continue to want to be a doctor after a year or two in undergrad. (I totally dropped the premed thing in one semester.)

    Does Maryland have an honors college? That could be the way to go if you decided to go the Maryland route and were afraid of it not being challenging enough. And think carefully about what Agnodike said at the end of their comment: some people want to be the best, while some people just want to be challenged. If you want to be the absolute best, it will be harder at Hopkins, but if you want to be challenged, it’s more likely that will happen at Hopkins.

    As for housing, people need to realize a lot of schools don’t guarantee housing, as I’m sure you’ve noticed from reading above. This isn’t always bad, and often can be cheaper, so don’t take this as necessarily a bad thing. If you want to get away from your family, well, then, one will obviously do a better job of that than the other.

    Hehe, if you want to try and play the system, it’s possible to casually mention to Hopkins your situation, and if there was anything they could provide to make your decision easier. While this has the potential to backfire, I also know people who have managed to get more money this way. It’s a risky game, but one people play.

    Yea, this wasn’t blunt, but no one can just bluntly tell you what to do. You do what YOU want to do. This is my experience, and a few things you should consider. I and others I know went with the private school; I know people who went with the public school, and I know people who went with the private school, ran out of money after one year, and ended up at the community college. Really think about why you want to go to Hopkins. REALLY think. Because that’s going to be where your answer comes from.

    Best of luck! <3

  16. I would definitely recommend going to your dream school! This isn’t even a case of choosing your dream school and paying for it all yourself vs. getting a full-ride at a safety school — John-Hopkins is only asking $2,000 tuition/year from you, if I understand the letter correctly. And while that will indeed add up over time, you can think of it as an investment into your future. While great public schools can be just as good as great private school, John-Hopkins isn’t just a great private school, it’s an AMAZING one. Yes, although the financial aid package can change and you may find yourself with more debt, you can also apply for more continuing student scholarships, receive stipends for doing research, find a part-time job/internship, and finally taking out loans. It’ll be hard, but it’s doable.

    No offense, but the BU comparison doesn’t even really apply here — if you look at the US News rankings (which granted, aren’t the be-all and end-all of standards, but they’re A set of standards we can go by), UMD is a better school than BU, and JHU is a more phenomenal school by far. So while public schools can provide just as good of an education as private schools (and UMD does provide an education that’s just as good as BU), please point me towards a public school that provides an education along the lines of John Hopkins.

    What the letter-answerer does say right is this — think about it to yourself. Four years from now, are you going to be upset that you missed the opportunity for a stellar education at your dream school? Or are you going to be upset that you are $60k in debt? Both paths have serious pitfalls, and which one you choose will really depend on your personality, and what you can afford to do right now.

    What I’m trying to say is that this decision isn’t easy. Josh Barsch is right in that John Hopkins will always be there for med school, and prestigious med schools matter more than prestigious undergraduate education. What you decide is going to be based on what your family can afford, on your financial situation, and on your personality. Are you going to spend every year at UMD wondering what it would have been like at John Hopkins? Are you going to spend every year at John Hopkins pinching pennies and hating it?

    I don’t agree that UMD is the obvious choice, because I honestly don’t think it will provide the same kind of education as John Hopkins. I DO believe that a good student like yourself can get as much out of your education at UMD as you would have gotten out of an education at John Hopkins. I can tell you that independence and experience of living in a school that’s not just 5 minutes from home is amazing but it’s also an expensive one in comparison.

    Maybe my advice is simply canceling out his advice and making the decision just as difficult again, but I really wanted you to know that that even though the prestige and mystique of being at John Hopkins may disappear for you halfway through your education, it will always be there for other people. People will always say, “Oooh, you go to John Hopkins? You must be smart!” Doors will open up for you that they won’t at UMD because OTHER people believe in that prestige and mystique.

    You just have to decide how much that mystique is worth to you. And like John Barsch said, I’m sure that whatever you decide, you’ll succeed at! It’s not the end of the world! This shouldn’t be a stressful decision but an exciting one! Schools are LITERALLY fighting over you. So many other students would kill to be in your position. (No, really, I know a few students who probably wouldn’t mind committing murder if they had the opportunities you have before you … :P)

    Finally, congratulations and good luck. The world is your oyster.

    1. Hopkins undergrad program is not what it is known for, that’s their graduate school and especially medical department. Also baltimore city is definitely a worse neighborhood than college park. As for prestige and mystique,an undergrad degree from hopkins does not carry the same weight that it used to. go to umd for undergrad it’s free i mean what is better than that, and besides people don’t really care where you go for undergrad anymore.

  17. I am a senior at a private university. I love my under grad education and, i as well received a great scholarship, but as I have recently heard, it is your Grad school that matters. If you take the best classes you can that will challenge you through your undergrad, and do extracurricular activities/ internships will have Hopkins knocking on your door with fellowships for grad school. Its important to show versatility in your education and attending undergrad and grad school at the same institution only reflects one philosophy and community and is not recommended. Go to Maryland. Then apply to Hopkins for grad school .
    Good Luck

  18. I’m curious Josh.
    How would you evaluate an engineering student who was accepted to say,
    a public school, full-ride for the 1st year only, and cwho hose to attend,
    a top-10 private engineering university, and was given 63% Fin Aid,
    = eventually $23k in Unsub+private loans the first year?
    (Years 2-4 would be touch-and-go for both schools.)

  19. Think about why John Hopkins is your dream school. What does it have to offer you that Maryland can’t? If you can find a legitimate reason, over than it renowned, then do what have to do to go there. But, if Maryland will give just as good an education, and it’s giving you a free ride you would be crazy not to take that. What you need to do is forget about the names, call them choice a and b, and just break it down to what is the better school for you.

  20. What I don’t quite understand is how you get to 60k debt after 4 years if Nancy is only paying 2k (not even–that 2k is really only indirect expenses, easily covered by a campus job, if 55k is the Cost of Attendance) for the first year. Even after her brother gets out of college, her family contribution would only double to 4k–let’s say 5k for the sake of round numbers. If her parents refuse to contribute a dime AND she doesn’t work at all for four years, that’s still only 20k debt, all in subsidized Stafford loans (the government pays interest while Nancy is in school). 20k is a reasonable amount to pay for a world-class private-school education that offers -some- value over UMD. And if Nancy works a part-time job during school and summers, she should be able to reduce that amount by half. If her parents can contribute a few thousand a year, she won’t be in debt at all.

    Somehow I think there’s more to the story. Is JHU actually offering 53k a year in grants? I.e. not counting loans? If Nancy’s story is true, I see no reason for her to sacrifice a dream that is luckily attainable AND AFFORDABLE due to JHU’s generosity.


  21. I’m from maryland and got a full tuition scholarship to maryland. I got into ivy schools and johns hopkins as well with no scholarship $$. I decided to come to maryland i love it. i live about 40 minutes away. living on campus is way different than you think it’s gonna be. you kind of feel like you’re in a strange college-y bubble so even though you live 5 minutes away, it’s for sure going to feel different. through leadership experience that i received at maryland and various research/internships that i’ve had in the area (the DC area is absolutely number 1 to find internships and i’ve already interned at a government agency and at a national engineering firm), i’ve been able to get scholarships that pay for my room and board, books, and more. the workload here probably isn’t as rigorous as other schools, but it is a blessing in disguise. it gives you more time to check out the awesome clubs here, gain leadership and work experience, and just ENJOY yourself. seriously consider coming here. you won’t regret it. and i’m so glad that neither me nor my parents will have a dollar of debt when i graduate.

    i’d like to comment on deb’s comment:
    “I am a Maryland resident. I would NOT send my children to U of MD. Period. Did Nancy look into issues regarding housing at Maryland? There is NO GUARANTEED HOUSING after the freshman year.”

    RESPONSE: with a full scholarship (B/K) they are guaranteed housing ( second off, most of my friends are still on campus for all four years and many of them are not in any programs! you have to do some research, not miss the deadlines, and you’re basically in for all four years (live in South Campus Commons or Courtyards for your junior and senior year). most people who move off of campus do it because they want to or because they’re looking for cheaper housing. and the jhu area isn’t exactly your finest cup of tea either in terms of crime.

    “There is also the issue of how difficult it is to get into Johns Hopkins. U MD lets in many people who barely graduated from my kids’ high school. Johns Hopkins is very particular. When you are preparing for graduate school, they will look at the kind of undergrad situation you were in. The rigor of the two schools does not compare.”

    RESPONSE: maryland is more selective than I think you may think and is getting more and more selective every year. so not true about graduate school. graduate schools look at your coursework, research experience, and letter of recommendations, among other things. just because you didn’t go to an ivy doesn’t mean that you won’t get into grad school. in fact, going to a public school may be better in the long run because as i mentioned before, you probably have more time to focus on research and gain experience that grad schools DO care about.

    “It’s not just dollars. It’s investing in a future. We will have loans etc to pay off but we have considered it our investment and our privilege.”

    RESPONSE: investing in a future does not necessarily mean having a degree from a great school. there’s lots of opportunities anywhere you go and it’s up to you to make the most of them. i have several personal friends who won udall, truman, and goldwater scholarships AND they went to maryland. many of my friends are heading to the most prestigious grad and law schools. i personally am seeking grad schools and compared to some people (that are applying to the same programs) that i’ve met at more higher ranked schools, i have a huge leg up because i sought the opportunities at maryland that make ME stand out, and i haven’t been doing academic work 24/7.

    college comes once so make the best of it and enjoy your undergrad experience!

  22. Take the full ride. It is much better to be a big fish in a small pond at MD. Med schools are becoming increasingly competitive, and you have a much better shot if you are highly ranked in your class, piled on the academic honors etc. as an undergrad. This is much more likely to happen at MD than at JH, where you will be one of a million overachievers who equally want to go to med school. Furthermore, very few people care about the “prestige” of your undergrad institution, and there is a lot to be said for having more financial security, ESPECIALLY when you may have significant graduate school loans.

    For what it’s worth, I took a bigger scholarship at a less prestigious undergrad institution, got out in 3 years with no loans, and graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa to boot. People are much more impress with that than if I had gone to the “better school” and graduated in the middle of my class….

  23. Hi,
    I’m a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill and I had the exact same situation as you do. I got into UNC and Duke with Duke being my dream school and UNC giving me a full scholarship. If I went to Duke I would have to pay about $3000 a year with half of that covered by work study. I’m not going to lie, sometimes I wonder what it would have been like if I had gone to Duke especially because I worked so hard to get into Duke but it is nice to not have to worry about money. With my scholarships, I was able to go on two fully funded study abroad trips. I have a lot of friends at Duke and one who has a similar financial situations as I do (working class) and she is actually receiving a refund check now because she gets more aid than she needs. There are outside scholarships you can continue to apply for as well as finding jobs on campus. If you become a residential adviser (RA) you can get most of the cost for room and board covered (which should more than make up for the difference in financial aid). My financial aid actually did not change that much when my older sister graduated from UNC (my scholarship was merit and financial aid based).

    Basically, what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t make money an issue because it seems like at most you’ll have about $8000 that you will have to pay individually which can be covered by on campus jobs. If you don’t want to work then that’s another story. As far as the teachers and atmosphere, you’ll have to take the advice from students who go there. I had many reasons for choosing UNC, but ultimately it was because when I visited Duke, I didn’t like the attitude that many of the undergrads there had. I am also planning on going to medical school. Currently, I’m taking a year off and will be applying this summer. I can guarantee that what matters the most is your GPA.

    The only people that care about prestige are the ones that don’t know anything about the world of academics. For example, UNC and Duke have comparable Chemistry departments but if you told the layperson you graduated from Duke with Chemistry, he/she would be more impressed with the fact that you went to Duke. However, if you told someone on an admissions committee that you have a Chemistry degree from UNC, you will still be held at the same standard as a Duke student. But I can’t stress enough how important your GPA is and will be. Since I’m looking into med schools now, I can tell you that your undergraduate institution does not matter that much (it matters if you are going to a lower tiered school). I can’t say anything about JHU because I never went there, visited, or even applied. What you get out of a school is what you put into it. You might make some nice connections at JHU and you might have better resources because it’s a smaller school but you can make opportunities for yourself at UMD. I have found the resources I needed at UNC.

    I know it is a tough decision, but once you make your decision stick with it and excel at whatever school you attend. This has been my experience and I hope it was helpful. Are you smart because of your school or are you smart because of you?

  24. I think eight thousand dollars is nothing compared to what the school actually costs. If you are planning on continuing your hard work and doing good in school then you should go to your dream school, and keep in mind that there are other scholarships you could apply for to cover what isn’t going to be covered. If you decide that you want to slack of and have fun, or if you realize that it is really not that important what school you go to as long as you have your degree then follow your pocket! Good luck with everything and hope you are happy with whatever choice you make.

  25. You are lucky to get either, it is extremely hard to get even a substantial scholarship, so go with your gut and go to your dream school! Most of us have to pay our own money to go to our own dream school so you should go for it!

  26. Hey, thanks again to everyone who’s commented so far! I appreciate it and I’m sure Nancy does, too. Lots of insider knowledge and well-reasoned arguments. Love it.

    Just to clarify: My 50-60k remark on JHU was speculative, for sure. I don’t have all the pieces of info, but I was considering:

    a) That of the $53K that JHU was offering in its aid package, a chunk of that was loans.
    b) That the $2,000 contribution would not hold over four years; that it would increase.
    c) That tuition will steadily rise over the three subsequent years.
    d) That there will be 10 years interest, minimum, paid on whatever loans she takes out.

    Due to all those factors, I think it’s a bad bet to guess that Nancy’s only going to have to come out of pocket $8k for four years.

    Thanks! Keep the comments coming!

  27. This is definitely a tough predicament. Believe it or not, I know very much how you feel. Several months ago, I went to visit a local private college, and I absolutely loved it. I was fascinated with the idea of going to a small, private school where you get more personal attention and flexibility and all that jazz. My parents were very impressed with the place, too, and they really wanted to see me go there. The tuition was pretty expensive, though, and I only had about half of it guaranteed each year, but I was determined that was where I wanted to go, and I figured I could fill in the rest of the gap through outside scholarships.

    A few months later, however, I received a full-ride scholarship from the state college in my hometown. All of a sudden I was torn. Do I accept the full ride and go to my second-choice school, or do I give it up for a private school edcuation? It wasn’t looking like I was receiving any of the outside scholarships I had applied for, and I probably would have had to take out loans in order to pay for the private school. The amount that I still would’ve had to pay to go to the private school would have been about the same as it would have cost to go to the other school (AND live on campus) if I were receiving no financial assistance whatsoever.

    Ultimately, after weighing the pros and cons, I decided to accept the full ride. I had been hoping and praying and busting my rear all through high school in hopes that I wouldn’t have to pay for college (my parents had made it clear they wouldn’t be able to help with my tuition, as we’re not what you would call very financially secure), and it actually happened. It was too sweet of a deal to turn down, even though it was my second-choice school. But while weighing the pros and cons, I realized that even though it wasn’t my first choice, there were actually as many advantages of going to the state school than the private one — and even more now that they were giving me a full ride.

    Ultimately, no one can really tell you what to do. It’s your life, your decision, and you have to make the best choice for you. But here are a couple of things to think about…
    1) My grandma told me that my aunt said, “Second choice is better than debt.” My aunt and uncle are both busting their rears working two jobs — EACH — right now trying to pay off all of their student loans. Especially with the economy not being quite as secure as it has been in the past, it’s probably a good idea to avoid as much debt as possible, and anyone who has ever been in debt will probably tell you the same thing. Seriously, it’s free college!

    2) College is really what you make it. Before I even moved to my current hometown, I was bound and determined that I wasn’t going to go to the college there, but that was the school that just happened to give me a full ride. I’m excited about going there now, but I wasn’t exactly thrilled with it at first. I had to make a decision that I was going to enjoy my college experience no matter where I had it, and if Central was going to be it, then by golly, I’m gonna have a good time at Central. Even though it might not be your dream school, if you end up going to UM and make up your mind that you’re going to have a good time and make the best out of it, you’ll probably have just as great of an experience as you would have at JH.

    With that being said, I would recommend you take the full ride. But again, it’s your life, your decision, and your future. I don’t know you, and for all I know, choosing to go to JH might be the best decision for you. But that’s something you’re going to have to figure out for yourself. Think long and hard about yourself and take into consideration some of the factors that everyone has brought up to you. I’m sure no matter where you choose to go, however, that you will have an amazing and successful college experience. πŸ™‚

  28. I just went back and read some of the previous comments… I wanted to address some of them generally.

    Graduate schools matter more than undergrad unless you are stopping at the Undergraduate level… which you are not. JHU med school actually takes in a lot of their undergrads. This may not be true for other professional schools and is almost definitely not true for other graduate programs (such as Biology, History, etc.).

    If you know what you want to study in undergrad then go to the school that has a better ranking for that department. I was lucky because Chemistry at UNC and Duke are comparable… this is not always the case. If I wanted to do Physics or Math, Duke would be the better choice. If I want to do Business or Journalism, UNC is the far better choice. The people who are deciding your future know about the difficulty of the program at different schools. So yeah, Duke is a great school, but a Journalism degree from UNC is worth much more than a Journalism degree from Duke (and vice versa for each respective degree).

    Even when it comes to deciding what med school you want to go to, what matters isn’t if you go to the most prestigious medical school (unless! you want to become Chief of Surgery or something along those lines), what matters is the caliber of your residency program. You still need to go to a decent med school to get into a good residency program though.

    Finally, I wanted to say kudos to you for taking the initiative to asking help on an open forum. When I started college, I had many questions, but there were a whole lot more questions that I didn’t know I needed to ask. The questions didn’t even exist in my mind until I had experienced something and realized I should have asked about it before but didn’t. Keep asking questions and ask people about their experiences and hopefully this will lead to more questions that they will be able to answer!

  29. As a college student who is about to graduate and didn’t recieve a full scholarship, take the full ride! Believe it or not, college campuses are a world of their own and I’m sure you will feel that you are in different and new surrounding eventhough its in your hometown.

    It is what you make of it, I’m sure you will have great experiences and a quality education at the Univeristy of Maryland. If you really want to be a nuerologist , then study medicine at John’s Hopkins. That is why you want to go there after all. And I’m sure with your track record that you will get in again, and as previously stated its alot more presitgious to be a med student there, than an undergrad. Besides med school is a HUGE expense, that you will have to grapple with later. Why not enter with no debt from undergrad? And if you take that full ride, then more than likey you can use it to study abroad a semester or summer, an opportunity many don’t have due to cost. Live with no regrets, but every decison has a consequence. I’m sure you will do what is best for you. Good luck!

  30. Christian Dove

    I would go for John’s Hopkins. A name says a lot, especially regarding graduate/medical school. If you would like to go to John’s Hopkins for their medical program, then it would certainly be in your favor to attend for undergrad. Their program will be more rigerous, and more adequately prepare you for medical school. You will have the oppertunity to make contacts and meet professors in the medical college as well. They will be much more inclined to accept one of their own undergraduates than a statistic from a large public university (unless you make a significant name for yourself there).

    The best things in life are worth taking risks for. If you dream of going to John’s Hopkins, and it is feasible, then DO IT! Don’t settle for mediocrity when you are worth the best.

  31. To all of you –

    I sincerely appreciate all this advice, and although it somewhat varies, it’s helped clear my mind, and set my priorities straight. I wish all of you the same luck that you’ve bestowed upon me!

    Thanks a bunch,

  32. Nancy,
    When I applied to college 2 years ago UMD was actually one of the schools I considered (I’m from Oregon) because they have a really cool program where as a Sophmore if you have a high enough GPA you can actually get pre-admitted to George Washington med school and not have all of that hassle hanging over your head when you graduate. I also was accepted to some pretty prestigious schools and ultimately I ended up going to Oregon State University because I could go there for free and I really liked the idea of having no debt which I still to this day do not regret it’s so nice to be able to think about starting my life free and never having to make the comments my friends are making about all of the debt they will have when they graduate. It turned out all right in the end because being a Doctor wasn’t my thing and I was able to easily transfer into engineering which is actually what OSU is most known for. Of course I’m not in any way saying that you shouldn’t go for being a doctor I say go for your dreams but the point of all of this is to point out that going to school for free is something that most people would kill for and knowing people who are pre-med majors and med school students I can tell you no matter where you are if you work hard and get a good GPA a med school will accept you.

  33. Nancy-
    Some of the best advice one of my instructors gave me when I was considering transferring to an out of state private university was that it was important to consider my grad and post-grad work. She advised me to spend my money on my upper-level work and stay local at a state university for my undergrad. Even with scholarships, I’m still coming out of my undergrad with some debt, and I still have a Master’s and Doctorate to go. My major (ironically) is art history, so I won’t have the benefit of a doctor’s income to pay off my loans. Enjoy the full-ride, honey. A good friend of mine who is now a doctor accepted a full-ride to a state university and calls it one of her best decisions to this very day. Save money where you can so that you can spend it where you need to.

  34. Team Edward/Johns Hopkins. A) you can have a baby with him. B) When it comes down to a lot of professional programs – medicine, law, business, whatever, it is SUPER important the title, not the degree or the program. You want to be a doctor? You went to Johns Hopkins? Accepted. You want to be a doctor? You went to… the same college with your friends and siblings. TRUST ME. I gave up BC to go to NYU and I regret it most days. JHU ALL THE WAY. You can repay the loans when you’re a super-rich nuerosurgeon.

  35. Hopkins is known for their medical school and I would save worrying about money until that time. If you have to put money out for undergraduate school and medical school, you will be working it off for a long time. Being close to home and your parents is always nice for that moral support, home cooked meal, emergency, etc. Even though JH is not far away, an hour or two can make a difference as an undergraduate student living away from home for the first time. If JH accepted you now, continue to work hard as an undergrad at UMD and JH will probably take you again. Good luck with your decision! Worrying about the money stinks. πŸ™‚

  36. I’ll make this short.

    If you decide to go to Maryland, you can always say “I got into an Ivy league school, but I turned them down and went to Maryland”

  37. I believe you should go to the public school because there is none less education than the private school.

  38. @Ayamuri: DOH! My wife gave me a supposedly thorough briefing on this Twilight business before I made that analogy. She just got an earful. πŸ™‚

  39. Deeinthedesert

    Thanks so much for the clarification,Josh….for me personally, it has been a great help! I, too have been wrestling with the great public school (Cal State) education vs the prestigious private school (Chapman Univ) debate…and feel better reading this blog. I have not been offered scholarships yet, since I am just completing my AA at the local Community college, and as a transferee, I don’t know what my bottom line will be. Being a “non-traditional” student, (57 yrs old), I will be OLD (er) when I finish my masters, competing with younger persons for a job in career counseling at the college level. Your comments solidify what my own life experience has shown…long term debt can be crippling, and students loans take forever to repay.You are right-on, for me, at least. So, I will keep my GPA high at the state university, because that will better my scholarship chances for grad school, and as a last resort, I will take a loan for grad school, (with credit score intact!) and intern someplace that will hire me, hopefully, after I complete grad school, so I can afford the loan payment.
    I don’t have anyone else to help pay the bills, so I have to try to think this through carefully.
    If anyone else has a comment, I’d love to hear it.

  40. You should go to University of Maryland. The smartest thing to do is to spend as little money out of pocket as possible during your undergraduate years. When you advance to graduate or medical school, youre going to need all the money you can get. Its not like UMD is a bad school, its actually a very good school so choose wisely. Good luck with your decision regardless.

  41. As a current 2nd year medical school student who is a product of a public university, I would say go to the public university with the full ride. This will help your parents and you stay debt-free for the next 3-4 years so that you can save for the expenses with attending medical school. There are some benefits of attending a public school rather than go to a prestigious university. Get the high GPA and do well on the MCAT so that you can have your pick of medical schools to attend. Once you get into medical school, there is little difference between my classmates who went to Ivy-League schools and those who didn’t. We all have had similar experiences pertaining to professors and overall college fun, but one thing that is different for me personally is that my undergrad debt is almost null due to scholarships and grants. Another plus of going to a public university is that there is a variety of people there whereas at the private university, many of the people are from the same cloth.

  42. I completely disagree with your advice to Nancy. Her letter basically screamed how badly she wanted a new experience, to go somewhere, do something different, and pursue her passion. Now, how much would this opportunity cost her? $2,000 for the first year and possibly more in the following years, but this may or may not be the case and it probably won’t be that much more. A brilliant and active student like Nancy will probably be able to gather a couple of scholarships and/or part-time work. The very typical $10/hr, 15hr/wk job would earn $7800 in the course of a year, almost four times her tuition.

    Imagine this scenario: she goes to UMD, hates it, and thinks.. “God, I can’t believe I passed up the opportunity to go to my dream school, which wouldn’t have cost me all that much relative to my future salary, and ruined my 4-year experience.” UMD is offering Nancy a full scholarship because she is the sort of student schools like UMD do not get unless they offer to cover all expenses. This means that Nancy is going to this college knowing she’ll probably be one of the best students there, that classes will be designed for a significantly lower common denominator (not that UMD isn’t a good school, but it’s not -that- good), and that she won’t learn as much in her four years as she could have.

    She could spend those four years being intellectually stimulated by brilliant and passionate classmates, being a research assistant for top medical researchers, and come out impeccably prepared and desirable for med school. You say that she’ll regret not taking the free ride, but I think she’ll regret not taking the opportunity to attend her dream school when a part-time school-year or summer job would have covered the costs. In fact, I argue it’s not a free ride: they’re paying because she’s boosting their average statistics and they don’t have that much to offer her academically/socially/career-wise.

  43. It looks like the $ difference between the full ride, and the scholarships at JH is not much. If it is only $2,000 a year, girl, you can be a tutor and pay that off every year. I would be a little agressive here and go to the admission offices; get them spill out the full numbers for the full program… ask them some sort of garantee (they will not sign anything, but look closely in their eyes!)… have them tell me: Well, it looks like UMD is giving you a better offer… go there! If they dare to. Also, it is not all about the money. Have you tried classes? Sit in a classroom, meet the teachers, and the services… the students… check what books they use for similar subjects in both schools. You want to make sure that you are getting the best: RESEARCH! Pick a class… 8 classes, 1 from every year… and seek the syllabus: Which one seems better to you? ask a professional, your physician. See? There is a lot more to know about your DREAM school than just its name and its “prestige”. You, and your performance in any school can bring the prestige to the school you choose, Besos y suerte!

  44. Hey Josh, my guess is DU = University of Denver.
    Where are all of you getting scholarships from???? And to Sarah, care to share how to get around being considered a dependent on the FAFSA? The only way I could figure out to bypass the system would be to get married (and then divorced).

    Our son was debating a partial sports scholarship at a small school vs attending a Big Ten (out of state) school and playing Club. The best advice my husband told our son: For the rest of your life people are going to ask you where you went to college and you have to be proud to say “I graduated from….” He chose the Big Ten school and is very happy. I admit I don’t know anything about UMD (to me that’s the University of Minnesota-Duluth!) but it sure sounds like a great school. I agree with the writer who told you to take Honors classes if you think the undergrad program won’t be challenging enough for you, but just make sure you can still bring your ‘A’ game to those classes too. This will also prepare you for your MCAT, which oddly nobody has addressed as to which medical schools are going to admit you. Will you be adequately prepared for the test with an education at UMD? Probably, since you got a full scholarship and I’m assuming you are a talented and dedicated student.

    Are you 100% sure that neurology is for you? According to Wikipedia “About 80% change their major at least once. On average, college students change their major three times over the course of their college career.” You might change to a different science major but one physics block, for example, might not count for credit in another department and you might have to go an extra semester or two. Now you’ve got more debt. Is studying abroad something you’d want to do? Not sure how it works with a full scholarship at UMD, but would you be able to go afford JH and study abroad too?

    As far as being close to home, it’s going to be whatever you make of it. You’ll probably be involved in campus life, but hey if you get a little homesick its perfect. You can go home for a good meal and just happen to bring your laundry with you πŸ™‚

  45. You only live once, life is singular, there’s no repeats, and there’s no do overs. What happens is happening now, this very second, this very moment that you are reading this… this is all that counts. I don’t know how well off you are, or how optimistic your views are. But in the end, you have to make the choice… and deep down inside, I don’t think any of these answers will help you… because you’ve already made your choice.

  46. If you are looking to have a better worldview of everything and learning about different places to explore in your life, John Hopkins is the place to go. Follow your dreams and don’t settle for something you feel iffy about. Either way you choose you should feel good about your decision and make the most of that experience. You can still follow your dreams going to the other college, and you won’t have to worry about tuition.You will still accomplish what you set out to do.

  47. I was going to say go with your dream. I chose private (my dream) and I do not regret it. The only difference is I chose the private for grad school. Spending that amount on an undergrad program is crazy. I would recommend going to the school that is offering the free ride. That way you could concentrate on your studies and not your finances. That way you will continue to be a terrific student and be accepted to JH for your final degree. If they accepted you once, it is highly likely they will again. Go with your instinct and I’m sure you will make the right choice.

    Good luck and congrats!

  48. Hi, Marryland University?? thats a great oppotunities you should look at cost saving and the future. But if you have the financial muscle strenght then you can go to John Hopkins. But the real fact is cost saving.thanks

  49. Hi Josh,

    I’ve been reading this blog for a couple days now and I find it very helpful. I think my situation is somewhat similar to Nancy’s in that I got accepted to some more prestigious schools like Berkeley, and UCLA, but didn’t receive the promise of a full ride. From another school, UC Davis, I was offered a scholarship, along with financial aid, to help pay for all my tuition and fees. My parents are leaning towards Berkeley because my sister went there, but I’m still iffy. Ironically, Berkeley is my dream school, but what do I take? Thanks~

  50. I had the same dilemma 4 years ago. Iowa State was offering me a full ride while Notre Dame was willing to give me $40k(ish) of the $45k(ish) needed. I visited both schools and loved them both but ultimately I based my decision on the particular program I wanted to study (architecture) and the chance to experience something new. I chose Notre Dame and I haven’t looked back since. For me, going to a private school where I would get a different experience than high school was important and my parents always encouraged me to forget about the money and do something that I wouldn’t regret. I graduate next year and while I’ll have some loans to pay off, the experience was well worth it.

  51. A less-prestigious school is often just that for a reason: it is often flat-out not as good a well-known private (or public) school. Duke and Johns Hopkins have medical education programs, research, and facilities that are completely unparalleled. Also, you’ll be delighted to find that their other programs, such as those within the humanities, feature excellent teaching and research opportunities. These wealthy, private schools have money and grant programs to throw at students to create and pursue extracurricular goals. That high price tag is always tied to a financial aid package that makes it possible, and the schools are simply better than other schools.

    I think that there’s a strong bias against private schools hidden in this article. The issue shouldn’t be whether a school is private or public, but what it’s capacity to serve you is. The way financial aid is done makes them all equivalent financially. The practical difference between Duke and Maryland is far from trivial- the opportunities at Duke, and the chances to explore your academic options, are simply going to be better. If we were discussing William and Mary or UVA, schools that are often out of state (and thus cost the same) but public, would the author be dismissing their incredible value? Just some food for thought.

    My answer: go to Duke or JH. Coming up with 8,000 over four years should not be a problem for your family. It’s an amazing price tag on a vastly better educational option.

  52. Hey Nancy…Elizabeth here. I must say, your dilemna makes me feel a bit better about my own, so thank you for sharing! πŸ™‚ Know that you aren’t alone during this time of ‘tough decisions.’ A few thoughts for you-

    I am guessing that if you want to be a neurologist you will eventually be getting your MD. This means you have A LOT of schooling in front of you. It is more important (as far as hiring credentials) that your final degree is from a prestigious school. And fortunately, getting your undergrad degree at a public university does not mean you can’t go on to get your masters at a private university/college (I can attest to this first hand). If you do well at Maryland, get involved in extracurriculars, and make some great contacts (ie- professors), then getting into a private school for the next leg of your education shouldn’t be tough.

    Also, undergrad isn’t only about the classes you take and the major you choose…its about having FUN. You want to succeed in your program and get those straight As- but you will also want to go out with your friends on thirsty thursdays and fun-day friday. πŸ™‚ This is not a straight up vote for Maryland (because Im sure you can have fun at JH too) but I would take into consideration what school you think you will most enjoy OUTSIDE of the classroom as well as inside.

    Good Luck with your decision…Im sure that no matter what path you choose, you will have a wonderful time getting your undergraduate degree.

  53. Visitor from another star-system

    I would say that it is best to be in a full ride situation as an undergraduate.
    Worry about paying bigger bucks when you go for your Masters or Ph.D

  54. Young people do not seem to take into consideration the cost later on. Somewhat like our government is doing now with the healthcare issue and forcing it on us. But the cost will be very important later on. Ask anyone who has paid and is paying through the nose for school. I agree with Josh, and it is NOT fun! I think the dream needs to be focused on what you want to become, not a brand name.

  55. I wish I was in half your situation! Anyway, there should a lot other things that needs to be considered. The vreason, for one, why one i s doing something or not. I think your problem is not so much what is offered, but more so, what image you have after the decision. Again, I wish I was in half your position.
    Look at the future! Only use tha past to qualify! But you could use an original college, as in that which is different from all before you! It will be more you than, tradition.

  56. Go for what will make you happy. I never got to attend my dream school (NYU) because I was always afraid of the tuition costs and never completely filled out the application (twice). I went to a public school that I knew I didn’t want to be at and tried to make the most of it, but I just wasn’t happy. Later my friends who were studying in Chicago told me about a liberal arts college, Columbia College, and I applied and was accepted and loved every minute of it. Tuition was half of NYU, while still being private, but I was doing what I love and getting the college experience I had dreamed of… even if it wasn’t my dream school. Money did get tight and to avoid taking out another loan I tried transferring back to the cheap, 75% paid for public school. Well not only did they take out my major with budget cuts forcing me to pick a new major, but the classes just didn’t amount to the hands on and small classroom setting that Columbia College offers. You pay for what you get. I am going back to Columbia to finish there cause I miss the one-on-one teacher student relationship where the teachers are there for you, not just the pay check. Sure I’ll have a bigger debt to pay later compared to all of my friends who mostly had a free ride or are just $20g in debt for a 4-year BA. But at the end of the day I look back and I have only good things to say about my school, and the education I received from them will help me earn the money to pay back that debt in no time. Weigh your options, possibly take a summer coarse at the public school and see how you like it, find out if you can defer your acceptance at John Hopkins while you attend the public school, do the research then make the choice.

  57. I think Nancy should go to JH. It’s her dream school! How often do people get into their dream schools on a scholarship or financial aid package as great as hers? Not only that, if Nancy goes to Maryland she’ll always wonder what it would’ve been like to go to JH. The extra money will be worth it.

  58. Go for the full-ride scholarship! Prestige is great but prestige won’t pay your school tuition, nor will it make your student loan payments after you graduate. Go to school without any thoughts of how it will be paid for. College is stressful enough without the stress of finances. Once you graduate, you will actually be able to begin your life without the weight and stress of debt! Take the full-ride!!!!!

  59. Full Ride, no doubt. Maryland is a great school, one of the best in the area. Sure Johns Hopkins is nice, but a full ride is a full ride. In my opinion, it’s foolish to give up a full ride to such a great public university. Maryland almost never awards full ride scholarships to people.

  60. This debate shouldn’t really look at the values of the public or private schools in comparison. it should inturn look at what nancy wants, what she is willing to conquer and what she is willing to forego in lieu of her dreams. I don’t think that money should be near the top of the ladder when it comes to fishing in the sea acceptance and rejection for the post-secondary market, She should look deep into her wants and needs because ultimately she will have to deal with 1) the consequences of choosing the right or wrong school, 2) deal with the bill tagged onto each choice 3) depending on her choice in a career to pursue, which school offers the best results for that specific field. Public versus private debate is overkilled in any instance because both have benefits and caveats.

  61. A lot of people have been making the comment “It’s only a measley $2000 per year at JH, go for your dream school!” I think those guys were missing a key point that Nancy made in her e-mail. It’s only the FIRST year that she’s guaranteed $53,000. That number will probably change once JH knows they’ve reeled her in. It could end up being a LOT more over the years, especially if her GPA suffers. If UM guaranteed her a free ride the whole way, she should go for it. Go to JH as a grad student.

  62. Whitney Gammon

    If she can afford to attend John Hopkins I say totally go for it. The fact that she not only got in, but also can receive a large partial scholarship speaks volumes about her character and what she is capable of. On the other hand if she cannot afford to pay for her education at John Hopkins, then take the full ride and be satisfied wtih the fact of knowing you got in and got a partial scholarship!

  63. Go to the free school. You never know what will happen later on. I chose an expensive private school, and circumstances intervened which kept me from finishing my degree there. Now I am $50k in debt and STILL don’t have a degree. It will be hard to appreciate how good it will feel to graduate college free and clear. University of Maryland is pretty prestigious too. Your parents are steering you there because they know what life is like. High schoolers have no clue. When you factor in the benefit of being debt-free out of college, the big name of John’s Hopkins just doesn’t seem worth it.

  64. When it comes to universities. whether private or public, sometimes the programs are equally as wonderful. I would say look at the programs they have for your area of study and if they sound similar, choose which ever one fits your budget. When you do have a career would you rather have 30,000 in loans or 80,000-100,000? To go to a private school with the same type and style program as a public school, and pay 2 or 3 times more is kinda ridiculous. Also consider the areas they are located. The school may be amazing but the housing within the area may be very expensive, and as a college student you cannot afford to work 20 hours a week with a work load of say 18 units and participate in extracurricular activities all at the same time and do exceptionally well in school and still not stress about having money to pay rent or utilities. I as a college student work, have 5 to 6 classes each semester and am in a sorority yet I still can get good grades but i still struggle financially. So if you want to follow your dream at the expense of having tons of loans at the end go for it, but a degree from University of Maryland is equally as great. My dream was to go to Columbia University in New York, but i knew how expensive it was and how far from home i’d be (i live in CA) so I wasn’t willing to do it, but i’m equally as happy at my current university and i wouldn’t change anything. So it’s up to what you feel is best for you degree wise, family wise, emotionally, mentally, etc.

  65. Hi Josh,
    I have a bit of a problem. I kind of ruined my own future when I tried to go to college the first time. My SAT score was plenty high enough to get into the school I wanted, but loans and grants didn’t cover tuition – in part because I couldn’t get the PLUS loans – and I didn’t get any of the umpteen scholarships I applied for. I let myself get overly stressed due to living conditions, money, and taking too many hours, and I dropped out. However, now that I’ve been working for a while, making near minimum wage, I realized that I was an idiot. I want to go back to school, but because I dropped out, I’m having a hard time finding scholarships that I qualify for, and money is still an issue. Do you have any advice for someone like me who screwed up and wants to rectify the past?

  66. Now I for one am a hardcore Edward fan :0) but lets be real, Jacob is the clear choice here.

    While I do understand the whole “go for your dreams” aspect of JH I really think you should put some serious thought into what it will be like to live with all that debt. Let me paint you a picture. I am about to turn 25. I am currently finishing up my Master’s degree in Spanish Literature and in the fall will be starting a Doctorate in Spanish Culture. I currently am currently $100,000 in debt and to tell you the truth, it’s all I can think about. Unlike you, I wasn’t offered a full ride for my bachelors and because of that I was forced to 1. work while in school and 2. take out loans. Having to work 60 hours a week tends to cut down on the whole education aspect of college and in turn I didn’t get amazing grades (don’t get me wrong I passed and got into a Master’s program but I didn’t get good enough grades to be offered a full scholarship). So now I’m in my Master’s program and I have loans to finance my stay here in Spain. Thankfully, I have been devoting myself fully to school so I will hopefully get a full ride for my doctorate BUT I still have all that past financial baggage floating around. I know you hate hearing this (mainly because I used to despise it so much) but you should take the advice from people who have lived what you are going through and wish they could go back and fix everything.

    Now onto the whole UMD being a public school versus JH being a private school. While getting my bachelors degree at Framingham State College (a very small public college of which almost my entire senior high school class attended) I met one of my now really great friends who is a total over-achiever :0). She finished our Spanish program in three and a half years and got a full scholarship to get her Masters at Boston University (which in case you don’t know is a really amazing private university). Our teachers were amazing and coming into my Master’s degree I was taught things that a lot of other students (who went to fancier private schools) didn’t know.

    To conclude, obviously follow your dreams, but try to do it with a sense of reality (trust me you’ll get farther in life).

  67. I think Nancy should follow her dreams! Go to the school you’ve always dreamed of, isnt it worth the extra change?!

  68. Hi, I’m biased because I went to University of Maryland for a semester and HATED IT. It is WAY OVERRATED. And sorry but this scholarship guy has no idea what he’s talking about. My first semester at UMD, all of my classes were either huge lectures with 500 students and a professor, and TAs who couldn’t speak English and were crazy and mean OR they were just taught by grad students who had no training or experience teaching and not very much expertise in their field. It was an overwhelmingly huge school. It is completely your average run of the mill school. I dropped out, and went to community college and comparatively I LOVED IT. All of my teachers had masters degrees and years of experience teaching. They were willing to talk to me outside of class and weren’t total douchebags. It was awesome. I went there for a year, and then transferred to a much smaller public university University of New Mexico. Which is supposedly a worse school than UMD, but guess what? I never had more than 70 students in my classes even 100 level (yes, there are some with more students that i didn’t take because i went to community college but still.) my professors were very accessible and friendly. UMD blows, sorry. I mean, maybe upper level is better, and if it was totally free, I might not have minded going there. But it’s definitely not worth paying more than community college for a worse education. And you’re getting 53,000 of 55,000 to go to hopkins which is your dream school? to me this decision is blatantly obvious. yeah, that could change over the years but then you could always transfer back to UMD for upper level, which is not as shitty as lower level. my opinion. UMD is shittier than your average run of the mill public school . just because it has prestige, doesn’t mean it’s the right learning environment for everyone. if you can learn in a class of 500 people more power to you… but personally i can’t really. i would never advise anyone to go there.

    1. that is a huge exaggeration, i never had more than 100 people in any of my classes at umd, also the ta’s speak english fine, you must have been in some stupid major that the majority of the university studies. the engineering school has only 2500 kids, so there is no way a class would have 500 or more people in it because only 400 are in the same grade level

  69. totally go with what you want to do. I would follow my gut instinct…maybe go to Maryland and transfer to John? If it was up to me, I would take any debt to be where I really want to be.

  70. Emily L., MIT '13

    Hi Nancy,

    I’m a freshman at MIT, and though I would have had a full ride at multiple colleges, including Ohio State University, a good state school, I will never regret my decision.

    Schools like MIT and Hopkins teach you how to think. They teach you how to function at your limit and learn to unwind when you need to, too. They stretch you to be your best because suddenly, you’re average. I would assume that Hopkins, like MIT, can get you down sometimes. I’ve had a few breakdowns this year where I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. But you know what? I can. I thought I might be premed, and I’ve realized that that isn’t what I want–but what better way to see if you can handle (and be happy in) med school than to push yourself in undergrad?

    You also should consider the people. The people at MIT are different than they are anywhere else. Forget the prestige. Being at a college that is HARD, not just HARD TO GET INTO (like some of the Ivies, where I’m told by students that getting in is the hardest part), means that your peers will have to be the best of the best–not just in academics but in passion and drive. Hopkins, I would imagine, has its own personality that is vastly different from UMD and maybe more stimulating for someone like you.

    As a side note, my boyfriend went to UMBC for undergrad when he was very young, and he found it WAY too easy (of course, it’s a branch and not as hard, so that might be it). He’s now at MIT for grad school and is finally being stretched.


    Why do you want to go to Hopkins? Have you visited and fallen in love with the people? Do you feel you couldn’t be challenged to your full potential anywhere else? Do you long to be average?

    If so, GO TO HOPKINS. It’s worth it.

    If not, UMD is a great school. πŸ™‚

  71. Emily L., MIT '13

    Hi Nancy,

    One more comment: If you do a paid summer internship every year, you can make $2,000 per year. It’s really not that much–you won’t have to take out loans! If your parents’ income increases, THEN you can take out some loans, but not before. πŸ™‚


  72. Nancy, I was in the same situation as you. I chose the public education for the financial security, and I honestly can tell you I regret the decision. I am transferring out for next semester. The school is overcrowded, classes are getting cut, and it’s just not worth it. Scholarships, grants, loans, do ANYTHING except going to the public school.

  73. Take the full ride, unless you have a way to pay for John Hopkins without taking out loans. I’m in my last couple semesters at college, I did community college for two years and went to a Big 10 School for my last 2.5 (I’m graduating in December) and with the financial market the way it is now it’s impossible to get loans.

    Take the full ride, you know you’re able to get into John Hopkins. Go there for med school, or do two years at Maryland and get all of your basic, required classes out of the way. Then transfer to John Hopkins and take your major classes.

    Coming out of college without student loans, or debt is impressive and if you have a way to do it…DO IT!

  74. Go to UMD. Graduate Summa. Any med school in the country will want you and you will go in with ZERO debt. I go to a private school, but I got my two-year degree first at a public school. Yes, private school seems to be harder, but then each professor has about three PhD or so.Also, in my situation, four-year public schools were only offering about $1,000 a year where the private school had smaller classes and was offering a better scholarship (but the cost is over four times as much private versus public). I chose the private school because I am not one of 350 in a lecture hall all day, I am one of 30 in each class, sometimes fewer.

    My dream school? Harvard Business School. Will I apply? Probably, Will I go? Only if they give me a full ride, or close. The drop rate there is nearly 50%, so I will probably get my MBA at my private school, then perhaps apply to HBS later. Education is something they can never take away from you, no matter where you get it.

  75. I got a partital scholarship to go to a private school. and no $$ to go to my dream school. i choose the private school. my advice is go with the full. not having to ever worry about getting a summer job bc you HAVE TO MAKE MOENY otherwise take out a loan. SUCKS! take the scholarship, im sure you will like the school. take a tour, stay overnight. see how you feel there. sometimes your dream school is just that…a dream…not a place where you will be 100% happy.

  76. I strongly believe that you should weigh the options before you and decide what you want. You alone can make that decision. If you want to go ahead to your dream school, know from day 1 that you are making a great commitment which you must live up to. I suggest you take a tour of these schools and listen to the inner voice of reason within you and a great choice that you will never regeret will be made. Take away the pride associated with going to a prestigious school and I think you will have no problem making a choice.
    If i were in your place, I will go to UM and be determined to be the best I can ever be so that I can compete favorably with others from anywhere in the world. To me, that’s what is more important. I wish you the very best.

  77. Hey Josh,
    First I want to say that your blog really helped me. I was debating to attend Arcadia University that would cost me 26,000 a year after the scholorships they gave me. Though after reading Elizabeth and Nacy’s story I can see how the “magic” of being in private school will only last so long. I feared it would affect getting a certain competitive job. Though I still am a little concerned with going to a East Strousburg versus Penn State Berks (the later being a little pricer).
    I’m heading into my sophmore year in college and yet do not know what I want to do as a career. I know that I want stability and travel but still am labeled as an undecided major. I keep thinking, what if I wake up wanting to become a lawyer but am attending ESU? How can I pinpoint what I want to do and make choosing a college easier?

  78. Take the Full Ride. It will be worth not having to pay anything for your undergraduate education. Plus you can go to JH for med. school.
    Please take the Full Ride.

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