Transfer to Public School? Community College or No? Defy My Parents?

Happy Monday to all of you, even though I’ll admit, Monday isn’t usually anything either one of us are probably ever happy about, other than when it’s over. I haven’t got much sleep the last couple of nights, so I’m grouchy (more so than usual, even), and so I’ve picked the perkiest and most positive-sounding emails out of the stack today to try and get me out of this funk.

Lots of people talk trash about community colleges. Stupid people, mostly.

Kicking off today is Alexandra, a girl from my home state of South Dakota.

Hey Josh!

I’m a freshman at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD and lately I’ve been rethinking majors and schools. Coming into college, I had the intention I was going to pursue a Pre-Med degree, majoring in Biology and minor in Theatre (odd, yes I know).

But after really thinking about what I want to do with my life, I’m considering science education. I’ve always loved science, and I come from a large family of teachers – so I feel comfortable and passionate in a classroom. Being a teacher would also allow me to support my music and theatrical interests on the side.

My problem is now that I’m attending a private college ($$) and would be going into a career that, (needless to say) will never pay off my college debt. My question is, should I transfer to a state public school or stay at Augie and pursue a Pre-med or a science education degree? And why are teachers so looked down upon?!

Thanks! 🙂

Well, it depends on whether you’re sure about being a science teacher yet or not. You know, it really boils down to whether the additional expense of attending Augie (as it’s known in these parts) is worth the loan payments you’ll be making, and that’s true regardless of your profession. I don’t know anything about the pre-med program there, but if its graduates have an astronomically high acceptance rate into top-flight med schools — then you probably want to make sure you’re done with those doctor aspirations before transferring out.

One thing is certain: you definitely don’t need an expensive degree to get a teaching job. I know this for certain, and since I’m from South Dakota too, I also know it’s true HERE in our state. Black Hills State University in Spearfish has been churning out teachers for decades, and it’s a very cheap school.

So yeah, if you’re pretty certain that you want to be a teacher, my best advice is to get the hell out of any expensive private school, like, yesterday. My next best advice is, before you leave Sioux Falls, eat at A Taste of India over by the convention center. That place has the best Indian food in the state (which I know isn’t saying a lot, but still…). 🙂

Oh yeah — I don’t think teacher are looked down upon, really. I mean, certainly no one gets more lip service than teachers — not even cops or firefighters or soldiers. But if you mean why are their salaries what they are, it’s because there are lots of applicants for most teaching jobs, and education degrees aren’t extremely difficult to come by (so there will be more entering the work force all the time). Mostly it’s economics; supply exceeds demand.

Next, Joel, a frequent commenter here on GMS:

Hi Josh – I am so grateful for ALL your GREAT tips and advice! It is incredibly helpful. I’m sure I speak for many hopeful scholarship applicants when I say how much I appreciate you taking the time to share from your heart and experience. Seriously – thanks!

I like Joel already. You’re welcome!

Question about “Not sending info you weren’t asked for…” – how do you recommend dealing w/ scholarships which ALLOW you to send extra material, but say it is “OPTIONAL”? This is extremely confusing. For example, the Carpe Diem Scholarship is based upon Community Service. Yet they say if you’d like (optional), you may send dvds w/ drama performances, art portfolios, poetry, etc. I am confused.

That one’s easy enough — if it’s optional, go for it. If they want to let you send supporting materials that, in all likelihood, the other applicants aren’t going to send, then by all means, put the pedal to the metal and mow down your competition. Be sure, though, that they’re actually “supporting materials” and not just extra crap; make sure that anything you include in your packet really has value, is excellent work, and may show the judges something that your other materials won’t.

Ifalana from New York writes:

Hey, I’m from a small quaint town in New York in the lower Hudson Valley called Nyack. There’s a community college near Nyack that is “known” as the “high school failure’s route” by all the kids who attend Nyack High School.

The kids who say that are dumbasses don’t know any better. It’s not their fault, I guess; they’re young and easily convinced by billion-dollar universities that the “true college experience” of a four-year university with a giant university center and three dozen dorms and a Division 1 sports program is superior to any other higher education choice. However, it makes excellent financial sense in a great majority of cases to do your first two years of college at a community college. You get the same basic courses at a tiny fraction of the cost.

This college (RCC) is in fact a very good school though and I know a few people who have gone there and transfered to more “prestigious schools”. My family isn’t very blessed financially and my mother makes just about $38, 000-$40,000 a year, she holds down two jobs and takes care of fours kids. All my older siblings (I am the youngest…) have gone to some kind of college and in turn have MARRED her credit with student loans that have yet to be paid off.


I’m a fairly good student (high B’s) and I’ve recently got accepted into two schools (SUNY Binghamton and SUNY Geneseo). I applied for financial aid and basically it comes down to this, paying roughly $1000 some odd dollars out of pocket for Binghamton (which is a bit bigger than Geneseo and is a bit more recognized than Geneseo) or paying roughly $5000 out of pocket to attend Geneseo (I was accepted into a program at Geneseo that helps high school kids transfer well into college, I was also accepted into their EOP program).

The problem is, I don’t know where to go. I know I’ll need someone to stay atop me and help me keep on track (which Geneseo directly offers with the program I’m in) but I also don’t want to spend too much money on the school because I plan on going (more like “WILL go”) to medschool and become an OB/GYN (something I’ve personally wanted since 7th grade after I met the doctor that delivered me). People say to follow your dreams and I will but shouldn’t I go to a cheap undergrad and spend more on medschool? Which school would be best for me to achieve my goal? Advice would be awesome so please please please…help!

This is very similar to the conversations we had last week with Elizabeth and Nancy. I can’t quite tell if you’re considering the community college in your plans or just the two SUNY schools, but if you want my advice, I’d do the first two years at community college, then transfer into whatever SUNY school has the better pre-med program. Your first two years of college are usually basic courses anyway whose content doesn’t vary a great deal: the “101” versions of psych, sociology, micro and macroeconomics, math, composition, etc. at a large university and a community college cover basically the same material.

I agree that you should save the big loan debts for med school. Also, I’m not sure exactly what you mean when you say that you’ll need someone to stay atop you and help keep you on track, but if that’s the case, better do it quickly, during those early years. Once you get to your junior year of college and beyond, you’ll need to be able to motivate your own self to do the required work. Not to mention med school, which will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not prepared and motivated! Good luck!

Elizabeth from — well, I’m not sure where Elizabeth is from, actually — writes:

Hello Mr. Barsch, my name is Elizabeth and I am currently a high school senior. I am really grateful for all the advice you have been giving for the past several weeks about college and scholarships and I am hoping you can help me in my situation. Over the past few weeks I have been trying to make a decision about where to attend college. I applied to several state schools and got into all of them, but I also applied to several top schools such as Duke University. My dream school is Duke University and fortunately for me I got in.


The problem is that although I got in my parents say I cannot attend Duke because although I received some financial aid from them I didn’t receive enough that would allow me to not have to take out loans and end up in debt. Since they don’t want me to attend Duke I am most likely going to attend a public state university which is much cheaper than Duke.

I’m guessing by your word choice that your parents really aren’t giving “advice” so much as they are “laying down the law” and telling you that you CAN’T go. Just an assumption here, too, but I assume that’s because they’re footing the bill.

The thing is, if I attend a state university I will probably regret not going to Duke for a long time especially since Duke has more programs geared to what I am interested in than the state school. Although some people have given me the advice that I could just go to Duke for grad school, I just don’t feel it would be the same or have the same meaning to me. So in essence I am asking would it better if I went to the state school because it is cheaper or should I try and lobby my parents to allow me to go to Duke because it has what I want despite the debt I may accrue?

Well, a couple things:

1) I don’t know the exact situation here with your parents and how much control they actually have over this process. But let’s say they’re in control (or you’re allowing them to be) — then sure, why not lobby them to let you do what you want? That can’t hurt anything.

2) If they’re in control of the pursestrings and are saying they won’t pay if you don’t go to a state school, then you really have two choices: a) do what they want you to do, or b) go where you want and assume the burden of paying for the education yourself. Which I know will be difficult given the fact that the government isn’t going to waive your EFC just because Mom and Dad withdraw their financial support.

If you want to play basketball, no question Duke is a great choice. Otherwise, always investigate thoroughly before you decide!

3) If you’re asking whether their argument makes sense: Sure it does, it makes great financial sense, but that’s not the only question. If it’s your dream to go there, then, like I said last week, you have to ask yourself a) why is it my dream?, and b) am I willing to pay big bucks for my dream? However you answer those questions will determine what you do.

You know, my most general advice in these situations, when someone has a dream of going to a private and prestigious school, is to try and ignore the “prestige” factor and instead focus on the actual advantage realized from attending such a school. There’s imagined prestige and there’s real prestige. Do you want to impress your old high school classmates over holiday breaks or pick up women at a bar? Or do you want to get into a top-flight graduate school or a significantly more lucrative job? Some schools are good for the former, and some are good for the latter (and also the former at the same time, I’m guessing).

It boils down to this: price and value are not the same thing. Some things cost very little and are worth even less; other things are extremely expensive, but worth every penny. Still other things are very expensive, and turn out to deliver little if any additional value over lower-priced products. And the product here is an education.

Where does Duke fall for you? Only you can determine this, because it’s different for everyone. I would say, though, that the first chunk of “value” to dissintegrate with respect to expensive private colleges is that of perceived social prestige. Just be aware of that.

That’s all for today, people. I’ll be back tomorrow with more questions and answers. I’m in a little bit better mood, but I gotta admit, not much. I still need a nap. See you tomorrow!


Judge Josh

20 thoughts on “Transfer to Public School? Community College or No? Defy My Parents?”

  1. I had a somewhat similar situation to Liz. I got accepted to MIT, Purdue, Vanderbilt, and Georgia Tech. My first choice was MIT. My father wanted me to stay in state, so one Sunday, out of the blue, he said that he would not support me going anywhere but Vanderbilt. I was really upset, but then I thought about it. My family was poor, and I wasn’t going to get much financial support from them anyway. While Vanderbilt is certainly a good school, it seemed stupid to me to pass up a chance to attend one of the premier engineering schools in the world. This was MY life, and I had to live it. I decided to go to MIT. I don’t regret the decision one bit, and my father came around. To be sure, I incurred more debt as a result, but I have also had some fantastic opportunities that probably came from having the MIT degree. There IS some value to name recognition. But for me, that shouldn’t be the main decider. If it is your DREAM to go to Duke, and you get accepted to Duke, you do everything you can to go to Duke. If that means taking a pass on your family’s financial support, and footing most of the way yourself, this isn’t the end of the world. Many people have put themselves through college. And it just may happen that your parents come to realize they made a mistake when they see how much your are flourishing in the pursuit of your dreams. If you make a mistake, and find that uke isn’t right for you, at least it is YOUR mistake, and you can easily correct it by transferring to the state school. I would imagine it might be a little harder transferring INTO Duke from a state school. If you follow your parent’s order and not go to Duke, it may very well be something you forever hold against them. I’d rather take my life into my own hands.

  2. I can add a little personal insight into some of these questions. I attended a private school for my first year of college, and I can’t say that it was in any way useful. I did not know what I wanted to do, and I didn’t really “get” what college was about. I thought it was about learning the right answers and getting a job. Only later did I realize that it’s about learning to think. I transferred to a community college, which turned out to be the best decision I ever made. First of all, I was able to pay out of pocket with money from my part-time job. Second, my photography classes there taught me critical and abstract thinking which I have drawn on ever since. Third, I became a much more independent learner. At a community college, if you want to slack off and do poorly, there’s not much to stop you, but if you can develop the skills to motivate yourself, you’ll do well anywhere. After earning my associate’s degree, I went on to a state school, which has been an equally great and enriching experience. Don’t be afraid of a public school. Think more about the reputation of the program you will be majoring in, as that is pretty much the only thing that might limit you. The rest depends on you.

  3. I have attempted to read and cultivate information from your last few newsletters. Unfortunately, I have only gotten a few paragraphs into it before I am bombarded with vulgar and unprofessional words. Swearing is not polite, and it is very unprofessional. It may be common for college students, but when they go for an interview and pop off a couple 4 letter words, they will probably not be considered for the position. So, why don’t you set a good example for students now by avoiding crude or profane language. I know I for one would really appreciate it.
    Thank you.

  4. I understand… It took me a long time to figure out that the Dream was not the college, but the career. You think in that school you will build social circles as well, but there are 50/50 chances that you will, just because human relationship are impredictable. I graduated from a very expensive High School with a scholarship; they pay for 8 years of my education; All my girlfriends went to expensive Universities, but I couldn’t afford it. In my home country, it didn’t matter how smart I was. About 10 years later, I am stuying in the USA, and that is an achivement in its own for me. It took me long time, tears and tumbles to realize that the Dream School, the social networks and all that, it is only made by yourself. You make the school a dream when you are in. You make your peers the best social network for what you need. You are who must master your environment. There are things you can’t change, but boy! If it is raning, just use an umbrella and dance on the streets. In short, the succes is to do what you can do, and make the BEST out of it. I hope it inspires you guys!

  5. Hey Elizabeth. It’s funny how you are in nearly the exact same situation as I was in two years ago. I was a high school senior, and was accepted to Duke University, which was the primary school of choice, (since my girlfriend at that time was going there), and I had no prior preference for any other colleges. I had also visited Duke multiple times and every time I was impressed by its architecture and environment. When April came around, I was invited to attend one of the Duke Devil Days and the Pre-med seminar that day was pretty interesting, and really gave me a concrete reason to go there (to go after the Pre-Med undergraduate track). However, the price tag was always in the back of my head, and when the financial aid sheet came around, it was a deal breaker. They were going to offer me $14,000 in loans and grants out of the total >$50,000 expense. I looked around everywhere for scholarships, and even my parents were fairly supportive of me making my own decision (they really don’t want me to regret anything for the rest of my life).

    Days before a decision was needed, I decided to choose UNC for my undergraduate education. I had never visited UNC before (only been to Franklin St to eat a lunch or two), so it was kind of like stepping into nothingness (I got lucky).

    I was glad I made my choice. My tuition currently sits at around $5000 (it’s a state school) and the people here are extremely friendly and active. The school has a great chemistry department, and is well recognized. My family is also doing great. We’ve got no debt, and I’m about to start saving up for med/grad school.

    What really got me after school began was the social environment. I never really observed the same level of friendly warmth (it’s hard to describe) at a “prestigious” university. I’m not bogged down with work as much as my Duke friends (don’t get me wrong, I still work my butt off in a competitive environment, just not as much), and so have enough time to develop my social and extracurricular activism, as well as my talents.

    What really got me was how things looked on paper. Sure Duke had a lot of great departments as well as one of the top names in the world, but I was so convinced that I was going to go to a top ranking school that I didn’t stop and look at the state schools in detail. The environment is really something you gotta experience; I didn’t even bother visiting a lot of the state schools I applied to. This is just my story, I hope you can utilize it to make your decisions. Perhaps your priorities are different, but when it comes down to it, there’s bonuses and setbacks to any choice you make, so there’s no point thinking TOO much about it. You’ll do fine in the end.

  6. I had a somewhat similar situation. I had gotten into several journalism schools including the University of Missouri and Northwestern. I decided to go to Mizzou to get away from the Chicagoland area where I had grown up. Now, I realize I had made the right decision. Even out of state, MU was cheaper than NU and I saved 60,000+. Also, I realized that the “prestigious” atmosphere of Northwestern was going to make me happy when I didn’t feel completely comfortable on their campus. Also, as a broadcast major, I made the better choice when it came down to my specific program.

  7. Unless you are from the New Jersey area, feel that you are from privileged society, and enjoy being around pseudo-intellectuals, then Duke may not be the school for you. Duke students are not the usual student body. They are very status conscious and you may have a hard time finding a good fit. If you did not attend a prestigious northern private high school and your parents are not blue bloods, you will not be welcomed into all groups. Duke clearly has a caste system and after a short while you may find yourself feeling somewhat ostracized. So think very hard about defying your parents and selecting Duke unless you know what truly lies ahead. Consider yourself warned!

  8. Community colleges are not for losers but for all unless you don’t learn u will not make it to the top but for the school to improve it depends on the students and teachers that why no prospective teacher should necessary go to a private school to teach.
    Duke is not bad after all it has sufficient departments but if you want to go else where please consider your choices very well.

  9. Thank you so much for all the great information! I thoroughly enjoy reading your articles and comments. Great insight!

  10. Hi there. I haven’t commented much, but have been trying to keep up with your blogs. Anyways, if you have time for this, here’s my story.
    I know exactly where I want to go for University, and it’s only $12,500 a year! I’ve been told that that is very good, and it also includes everything I could need at BYU-I for that year.
    My dilemma, however is, as you probably guessed, scholarships. I’ve been trying to apply for many, but I almost feel bad in doing so. I want to be taking a Fine Arts Major in Illustration, and I almost feel ashamed compared to all the doctors, teachers, dentists, etc. Should I be worrying about taking scholarships from people that are in a much less fortunate situation than I? And if I go for it, how on earth can my scholarship applications even compare to theirs?
    I do a lot of community service, so I’m guessing that would probably help, right?

  11. Community College is not for losers. It is for people who have a goal to achieve. I was going start at a University after being out of school for over twenty years. I thought if I go to the University I would get through faster and it would look more prestigious. After comparing the cost between a Community College and a University I found it was the smartest move I could have made. There is one downside to Community College, everyone is not as focused as the older students.

  12. In Ms, CC is known as the 13th grade; a school for lazy students who don’t want to do much work and an easy start. CHALLENGE YOURSELF! Others may attend a community college because they want to be closer to home or because it’s cheaper. QUALITY EDUCATION PEOPLE!

  13. Hello!
    Your website was really helpful and I thought I could also right you my story hoping you’ll answer me.
    I am student from Ukraine. For lots of people this name can be confusing, so I need to explain – Ukraine is one of the post-soviet countries and is situated “somewhere in the Europe”:)
    So, I am finishing my last year of law school in one of the most prestigious universitites in my country. And I have applied to Master’s program in George Washington University. And.. I am almost admitted! I have been notified that I passed first step and the decision about scholarship is now being expected. My friend already got his final decision – he is excepted but without any scholarship. And I am afraid that I won’t get any either.
    Studying in this University is smth we could hardly dream about and now it’s so close and almost available. But how can we pay for it? Most of articles about scholarship search for international student proposes to use personal funds, get money from parents or employer. Let’s see. The cost of tuition and living expenses for a year is about 50.000 US dollars. The average salary of junior lawyer in Ukraine is about 300 US dollars per month!! And that’s if you’re lucky. And after 5 years when you become experienced lawyer you can pretend to get 1000 dollars per month. How in the world I could earn any part of the sum needed with such salary? I see that it’s just impossible in my country. And considering that I don’t really believe in winning the lottery, the only way for me is getting grant for studying. I’ve being searching for such grant for a long time already and am still searching for it. So, if you have any kind of advice or even some thoughts on my issue – I will be just happy to read them:)
    Thank you a lot!

    With regards,

  14. A lot of people talk down on community colleges. However, some of my friends have chosen that path for different reasons. Some can not afford an education at a major university, others don’t know if they want to be too far from home, plus if you go away to college and find out you can’t survive for whatever reason,guess what, you just waisted money!! The community college route is an easier transition from high school to college and a cheaper way to pay for core classes. Just because you may start off at one, does not mean that you won’t end up at the University of Michigan in two years!! Liz needs to take all of this into consideration before making her decision.

  15. Mrs Biden, USA VP’s wife, is a teacher at my Community College. Yes… the wife of the VicePresident of the nation. I work and study at a C.C. My teachers are great… we have small classrooms, and have time to make friends and have social activities with my teachers. Yes! They remember my name… even called me a couple times. I couldn’t wish for anything better. Even teachers, you make them. They are an open book, if you ask the right questions, they will give you answers. If you are a good student, they will become the best teachers. At my small community college I get to be the start. I get to help my community (students with different kinds of troubles), and I get this sense of “I can make anything come true.” It looks like by the time I am done here, the pool of scholarships available for me is going to be big. The money I saved is looking very good so far. I got work experience, and real community service experience. Plus, a recomendation letter from the big 2nd lady 😉 Please… open your eyes. Community colleges are the best option.

  16. I was wondering on any advice regarding the choice of colleges – I know that is a blanket statement so I will explain. I originally did all of my prerequisites at a community college. Transferred to an university to complete my RN. Did not like that experience at all and left after 1 year. I have the oppurtunity to get into the nursing program at a community college. Would you go that route or deal with the experience of the university and complete it there?
    Thank you ,

  17. I went to Duke University as an undergraduate (My dream school as well) 26 years ago. I’m still dealing with those student loans.

  18. Definitely find a cheaper place to go. I mean, I know that private schools sound cooler, but come on, those people are always going to live a debt filled life. Community Colleges have the same high quality teachers, it’s just cheaper!

  19. For Alex – I would definately go for the science education if I were you! I think for how much money and time you would need to dedicate to pre-med, it isn’t worth doing if you’re not really sure about it. The science education degree would also be cheaper, and you’d have more options on where to go to school (not to mention lots of loan forgiveness programs for teachers and other public service workers – look up TEACH grant at And for theatre, you could always be an advisor to a theatre club at a high school or middle school you end up teaching at! =D Or just use what theatre training you have/will recieve for your daily dose of speaking in front of students! Or just support the local arts, which is always needed!

    For Joel – I agree! Anything extra is an extra edge on the competition!

    Ifalana – I went through a similar situation in the sense that I ended up (reluctantly) going to a community college that everyone saw as – well – they called it “College of the Desperate” (it’s actually ‘College of the Desert). But it turned out being the best decision I’ve ever made! As Josh said, the first two years are mostly your liberal arts classes anyways. You’ll save money, and – who knows? Maybe you’ll find something else you love doing or something else about yourself you didn’t know before!

    Elizabeth – It’s hard to tell what the situation is, but I would talk to my parents – maybe strike a deal? Try attending the public state university for a year. Maybe you’ll love it and it’ll end up being perfect for you! If not, ask them if Duke could be where you continue your education.

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