Sometimes I get emails that I just don’t have great, uplifting answers to give in reply, and I figure it’s only fair to include some of those in the usual rotation here, since not everyone has an easy path in front of them. Erika’s in a tough spot, and she’s just going to have to work through it. She writes:
Hello. I am currently going into my senior year as a double major in English/writing and Art/illustration. I started the art major late, which is why I’m in this rough position.
I’ve had to take out loans for my tuition and housing ever since I started college, and my interest rate doubled this past year with the loan company. I’m going to try and refinance my loans with the government now that Obama’s law has been signed, but as it stands right now, I’m looking at a final debt so big I could have bought a house.
Daunting, to be sure, and especially since neither major is traditionally associated with high-paying jobs that could help you pay it down more quickly. I was an English/writing major myself, so I know this personally. Go on.
I absolutely love both my majors and their respective classes, perhaps even loving the art major more. My biggest problem is that I still have about 30 credits to complete for art, only a couple more gen-ed classes, and only my capstone for English.
OK, I’m going to assume that’s a total of around 40 hours left to take, and that you could complete them in three full semesters. Provided that, of course, a lot of those art classes aren’t sequential.
I don’t care about going over four and a half years if money weren’t an issue, but looking at it now, I’m worried that completing my art major would be a bad move. I can still get a minor, but that wouldn’t have the same weight as a major, and I wouldn’t be able to go onto graduate school later. Could you give me any advice?
OK, this is one situation where a little bit more information could shed more light on the situation, but I’ll go forward with what I have and maybe Erika can come back and fill us in on the particulars later.
I don’t really know what Erika wants to do with her life after college, actually, so it’s hard for me to give a complete and certain answer if I don’t know what her goals are (listen up, future people writing in — be sure to include that info!). I don’t know exactly how much student loan debt we’re talking about in Erika’s case, either.
I also hate to pile onto somebody when the damage has already been done, so keep those things in mind when you read the following comments.
I think NOT finishing the art major would probably be mistake. What I was going to say first was that doubling up with art major, and doing so late in her education, may have been a mistake to begin with. But I can only really say that from a financial perspective; Erika does say that she love the art major even more than she loves the English major, and she seems to be flirting with the idea of even going to grad school in art (more on that later). So if she’s seriously considering a career in the arts, then it’s hard to call taking an art major a mistake.
Now, starting the art major and not finishing — that might be a mistake. Of course, it all depends on how much additional expense you’re going to incur by finishing the major. If it’s one more semester of courses we’re talking about here, then yes, finish the degree. You’ll hate yourself for the rest of your life if you don’t. (You may also hate yourself for many years because of the student loan debt you accumulated, but you’re probably going to do that anyway, regardless of whether you tack on an extra semester’s worth of it.)
However, if one extra semester turns into three or four, and you don’t even know for sure that you want to have an art career, then I doubt it’ll be worth it.
All that aside, this a pretty easy decision to evaluate in financial terms. You simply take the out-of-pocket cost of the *additional* schooling that you’ll incur to finish the second major — and don’t forget to factor in the interest on the loans. Then you weigh that number versus the additional income that you’ll realize over your life that you can specifically attribute to that second major. It’s a simple cost-benefit analysis: how much will Thing X cost me, versus how much benefit will I derive from Thing X?
You don’t know for sure, but you can give it your best guess by sitting down and really considering a) how you plan to use the art degree; b) how much it’s going to cost; and c) what job options you’ll have due to the art degree and what they pay.
If there was any financial “mistake” in Erika’s situation, it was probably those unmentioned middle semesters of college, taking courses that didn’t fulfill her general ed requirements or those of her major. But even then, it’s hard to jump on somebody and call that a “mistake” — unfortunately, that whole bouncing-around and trying-things-out approach is how you figure out what you want to do in life, and it’s not always quick or cheap.
That is, assuming the above is what Erika was doing during those years. Now, if she just grabbed the student loan money and jumped in an old VW bus and decided to follow the Dave Matthews Band across the country for a year — yes, that was, unambiguously, a mistake. Especially since Dave Matthews plays terrible, terrible music. 🙂
OK, back to Erika. We’ll believe the best about her and assume she was not following an overrated jam band around the country for a year, and that she was simply taking classes that didn’t help her graduate. But what about grad school?
I’m a little confused about the grad school comment myself, because if Erika’s worried about the extra student loans she’ll have to take to finish the double major, then she’s really gonna be up in arms about the next wave of student loans she’ll have to take on for a graduate degree in art. And of course I have to pick on art majors specifically, because — well, there’s a reason the phrase “starving artist” is in the lexicon.
But all that’s OK if that’s what Erika wants to do — I just try to bring the financial part of the equation into focus here.
Basically, if Erika’s considering a career in art, then that extra semester of undergrad work that’s required to fulfill the B.A. is the least of her financial worries, so go for it.
That’s all for me, today — time to go enjoy the long-denied sunshine here in lovely Rapid City, S.D. (we had five inches of snow on Tuesday night). Good luck to Erika, and everyone reading this — and of course, leave your comments and thoughts on the situation below.
As an aside, going into the weekend — did any of you see that little 6th grader singing Lady Gaga on YouTube this week? Kids are talented these days. When I was in 6th grade, I was in one of those sign-language choirs (just like the one on Napoleon Dynamite, except more pathetic — none of us even pretended to smile). The high point of our music program was simultaneously singing and signing “Flashdance” by Irene Cara.
Good luck, kid. Wipe that Justin Bieber kid off the map, if you don’t mind.
Have a great weekend!