Free Tuition U. vs. Living With Dad at Engineering School

I recently graduated from high school.  I was a decent student and graduated with highest distinction (basically equivilant to valedictorian).

I’m going to assume for our purposes that it’s more like top 5% of Kacie’s class, rather than valedictorian. Valedictorian is pretty cut-and-dried — it’s the highest-ranking person in the class.

The Univ of Nebraska at Lincoln offered me a Regent’s scholarship paying for all tuition and another scholarship that would pay for most of my books. Basically all I would have to pay for would be cost of room and board.

Congrats! That’s outstanding. God, I hope my kids get something like that.

In addition, the Colorado School of Mines offered me a scholarship that would bring my tuition down to about $8,000 per year.  My father lives near Mines so I figured that I could save on room and board by living with him if money was tight.  Since living in Lincoln would be at least $8,000 per year, in my mind I placed them on nearly equal ground financially.  I ended up deciding on the School of Mines.  Do you think I made a good decision there? Was my logic flawed?

Judging by this whole email, I would say no, I don’t think you made the right decision, and I do think your logic was flawed. But that’s OK. Read on, we’ll figure it all out.

First of all, it sounds like if you want that room-and-board situation between the two schools to even out, you’ll need to live with Dad right from the get-go — not just if money gets tight. And remember, you may still have some expenses there even if you have a free roof over your head: food, gas, fun money, etc. Same as you’d have at Lincoln.

I really do not want to end up with a lot of debt after college. Eventually, I want to go to Law School at an Ivy League which I expect to be quite expensive.

You better believe it will be. But first, let me tell you that law school aspirations, especially among high school students, frequently change once you’re in college and have taken a variety of other courses. Maybe you’ll make it all the way through undergrad school and still want to go to law school, but I think it’s definitely possible that you’ll change your mind. And even if you don’t change your mind, then there’s an additional extreme possibility that you’ll change your mind about the Ivy League part.

So don’t write Ivy League law school into your plans as a dead certainty just yet. Make your initial plans based on the here and now, which is undergrad school. I would also add, though, that if you DO want to go to law school, an engineering school like Colorado School of Mines is an odd choice of undergrad schools.

My parents will be able to help me with my first two years, but beyond that I may be paying for school on my own.  Just as extra info: Mines is an engineering focus school.  Honestly, I am not absolutely sure of what I want to do as a career so I’m a little worried about being trapped with engineering.

I couldn't find a relevant image for this post, so I just decided to go with Santa & Speedo Sax Guy.

Then don’t go to an engineering school! At least Nebraska is a large university with the widest possible variety of courses of study. You’ve got a lot more options there than you do at Mines.

Engineers make pretty good money, though, so that’s always a positive.

Agreed, but there are many professions that pay lots of money but you may not have the desire to pursue. Trust me, the last thing you want is to get to Mines and feel locked into an engineering career that your heart isn’t in, just because you feel like you’ve painted yourself into a corner and have to chase the money.

I chose Mines because I liked the location, campus, and the fact that it is very academically rigorous.

The location and campus factors aren’t completely unimportant, but they should definitely be secondary. The most important factors are, in my humble opinion: the options that both schools afford you, the quality of the education (Mines is good there, but narrowly focused), and of course, the cost.

It was very different from UNL in almost all aspects it seemed, which made my decision difficult because I like certain things about both schools.  I could always stay put for a year to work and raise a bit of money or get an intership.

Internships are great and I advocate for them wholeheartedly — but you’ll have plenty of time for them during college. I don’t recommend delaying college just so you can do an internship before you even start college at all. And sure, you can work, but if you’re 18, your work options are somewhat limited, and I don’t see you raising tons of cash over that year to the point that it’d materially affect your college costs. I admit I could be wrong about that, because I don’t know your specific situation.

Honestly, though, it doesn’t sound like you’re in a terrible pinch financially just yet. I do get questions all the time from students who want to know whether they should stay put and work for a year — but those questions never come from students who have been offered full-tuition scholarships. That scholarship, I would say, more than offsets any need you’d have to take a year off and work for extra money.

I know of at least one law office that would let me intern and I could look for something engineering related as well. After a year I could reapply to schools, but then I don’t know if I would be able to get as much money in scholarships as before. Would it be crazy to wait to go to college for a year?

Well, I wouldn’t normally say this, but — yes, it might be crazy. 🙂 I can’t really tell if you have any interest in being an engineer. I mean, you’ve chosen an engineering school but only because it’s hard and you like the area. And like I said above, it’d be rare to see a student take a year off to accumulate more money when she’s already got a full-tuition scholarship.

Sorry I asked so many questions, but I am very lost right now as to what I should do.

Do not be sorry for asking me questions. If you guys didn’t ask me all these questions, I’d have no website. 🙂

Overall, it sounds like you’re still pretty confused about what you want to do with your life — and that’s completely normal. In that situation, I normally advise that you take the route that gives you the most options at the lowest cost. That’s clearly Nebraska in this case. Tuition’s paid for, and it’s a big school with lots of choices about what you end up studying.

Is it renowned for its academic rigor? No. But that doesn’t mean YOU can’t take rigorous course loads, study hard and learn a lot.

Thank you for any advice in advance,

That’s my advice for the day. What about you guys — what do you think Kacie should do? Let us know in the comments below.

26 thoughts on “Free Tuition U. vs. Living With Dad at Engineering School”

  1. I think Kacie can not turn back now because the scholarship at Nebraska has already been lost. Therefore the best she can do is look into engineering and find the kind of engineering that she would feel good doing and can be creative about. Living with her dad comes not with a full scholarship but it comes with free room and board so may be its not that bad. Some times we have to learn to live with the consequences of the decisions we make.

    I would go ahead and live with my dad and look for a part time job to help him come up with the rest of my tuition.Family is as important as a good education but sometimes we have to compromise.

  2. I would like to address this comment made by the author:
    “I would also add, though, that if you DO want to go to law school, an engineering school like Colorado School of Mines is an odd choice of undergrad schools”

    If you are referring to the idea that CSM might not be the best engineering school to prepare someone for a degree in law compared to another engineering school, you may be justified. However, if you are saying that an engineering degree is an unwise decision to preface a law degree, you are dead wrong.

    The law profession has been one of the hardest hit sectors in this country in recent years. In nearly every branch, you have top lawyers from Ivy League schools with 10-25 years practicing experience being laid off. People graduate from Harvard and Yale and wonder why they are having so much trouble finding a solid salary with a law degree like they were promised. The reason is that they’re competing with the previously-mentioned group, and the truth is, they can’t compete. The billable hour is screwed, and people are finding out that it isn’t reasonable to expect $120k-$160k starting as a lawyer anymore. Bad news for someone who just dumped $150k+ on their law TUITION.

    Where am I going with this? The only sector of law that ISN’T in dire straits from this whole mess is…. PATENT LAW! Given that becoming a fully-certified patent attorney requires X number of credits in physics, chemistry, math, engineering, etc, an engineering degree is a great path to a law degree. Not only that, but engineering and science (particularly physics) degrees are actually much better pre-law degrees (for any law-related discipline) than your typical sociology, political science, or other humanities degree. While a political science major may have been taught for four years to memorize political history and policies, a science/engineering major has been taught for four years to solve problems. Facts and history can always be memorized, but if you’ve been taught for four years to problem solve by the time you enter law school, you’re already four years ahead of your competition…

  3. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone besides the chancellor of the CO school o’ Mines to disagree with Josh on this one.

  4. Has she formally declined Nebraska’s offer without possibility of getting that scholarship money back? The letter was unclear. If she hasn’t lost that opportunity, Nebraska is the way to go. It’s not even really a question in my mind.

    However, if the opportunity at Nebraska is lost, she may as well go to Mines (and under no circumstances should she defer a year; that seems foolish given the available data we have). Although there won’t be much opportunity to explore lots of potential career possibilities at Mines, if she does well, she will still have options (other than engineering), particularly if she chooses an engineering major that’s a little more broad in its spectrum. For example, if she goes with civil engineering, she could later branch out into urban planning. I can’t really think of a type of engineering that can’t lead to the possibility of moving into a career that isn’t engineering but which is aided by an engineering background.

    All that being said, even if she gets an engineering degree, engineers can (and sometimes do!) turn into excellent attorneys so I don’t think it’s a degree that would hinder any possible law career. Particularly given that engineers are trained in logic to some degree, which is essential for a successful attorney.

    Those are all the possible perks of going to Mines I can think of. But if it’s still possible to attend Nebraska, I still think it really is the best choice.

  5. Cristina Dinella

    I agree that it doesn’t seem like a good decision.

    IMHO it only makes sense to go to a narrowly focused school if you think that you’re interested in the schools focus. While engineering is a”good” career, its terrible if you dont like it

  6. Elaine Wilson

    Follow your heart or spend the rest of your life wondering.
    78 year old, been there, done that.

  7. I was in a PRETTY similar boat as Kacie. The 2 schools I considered was south Dakota School of Mines and UNL. I could have gotten a FULL ride at Mines, and probably had an extra 2 grand in scholarships by the end of my 4 years. But I was given in-state tuition at UNL and free room and board, plus I am in an elite Raikes Program. I will still have to pay some money my 3rd and 4th year, but through a rigourous schedule I can get my Masters by my 5th year. Even though I will end up paying for UNL, I think I made the right choice both educationally and personally. I
    love the UNL campus more than Mines and am looking forward to going to college. Do you think I made the right choice?

  8. Kacie,
    I turned down a full ride to Nebraska two years ago. I am at Creighton now, but your decision is in a different ball park. Also as a pre-law student in Political Science I think that you should go back to the Huskers. I think that if there is something you are interested in, you should study it. You are going to learn a lot more if you are interested and engaged in a subject than if you are just going into a program or to a university simply for a parent or for another perk that comes along with it. Trust me, if you think you will be happier and more likely to enjoy what you are studying at a different university (Nebraska) then go for it even if you have to pay a bit more. By ALL means try to get that full ride back and Go Big Red!

  9. University of Nebraska. It’s not even a question in my mind. An engineering college is frustrating and draining if you don’t -really- want to do it. Engineers tend to make the median income, but more than that is a hit-or-miss. Most engineers have a hard time finding jobs (most engineering fields are pretty specialized) and those that have an easier time, like programmers, have to learn a new programming language every couple of years and worry about their jobs being shipped abroad to India. If you’re really passionate about engineering, then of course, you should go and study it because you’ll never have the chance to get that sort of specialized education at a college like Nebraska.

    If, however, you want to study engineering so you could do say.. intellectual property law, then that’s a bad plan. A) your law school plans may change and b) you could have done that by just taking standard classes in college, no need to be an engineer.

    I’m sad to say though that Nebraska probably won’t let you take their offer anymore. You rejected them and colleges tend to be able to find that student begging for more financial aid who could use your scholarship. In that case, you should probably go to Mines and see whether you like engineering. It’s always possible to transfer if you change your mind.

  10. Patent law is the way to go. It’s fun, pays enormously well, keeps you abreast of the latest technology, you choose your subspecialty, and there is an enormous need for qualified patent lawyers. As a technologist who uses the services of patent lawyers, I can tell you it is a wonderful field to be in.

  11. I believe that Kacie was to hasty in her decision. However, I think she can go to the college at the Mines and live with her father, until she figures out what she wants to do.
    If I were her I would get all of the basic requirement classes out of the way. Things like Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Mathematics, English, History, and maybe a computer class and an Art class. These classes following you no matter what course of study you have. Once these classes have been taken then maybe she would have decided on a major that fits her skills and admiration. So Kacie I don’t think your thinking was flawed just one made in haste. Good Luck in your future, whatever you decide to do.

  12. I’m curious what Dad thinks about all this. I’m sure he would love to have Kacie stay with him, but has he told her she might be making the biggest mistake of her life by honing the entire question down to room and board? There are student loans available to help with living expenses, and don’t most state schools require freshmen to live in campus housing? What will she do after the 2nd year when she ia responsible for $8000-a-year tuition? That full scholarship would look really nice right then. If she hasn’t already formally declined Nebraska’s offer, she should accept it and pursue a law degree.

  13. Dhruv (engineer)

    now that you have engineering stick with it its not that bad, the easiest way to switch over to law would be by becoming a patent attorney or agent(this exam can be taken only after you have become an engineer so interning in this field might help you) and then you can go to an Ivy league school. But keep your curriculum as general as
    possible and try to take law related courses, even though your school is mines oriented I am sure such courses will be there. Best of luck for the future.

  14. I definitely would have gone with Nebraska! Even with an engineeering or law degree, which both seem to pay well, it still may be hard to find a job! You’re competing with people all over the world, with all kinds of education background and experience. And while you can’t control that, you CAN control what kind of debt you have – and none is the best, of course. =) I would try to get the offer back at Nebraska if you can! The fact that you’re second guessing rejecting the offer probably means you want to be there more, anyways.

  15. Is the scholarship at Nebraska lost? If the money part ( $8000) weighs the same at both schools, Nebraska has a wider variety of choices school wise and you dont want to be an engineer…. so….
    My questions is Why pick anything else? Are you really thinking CSM because it will keep you close to family or because of money? Will Nebraska cost you more money upfront that maybe you dont have? Where as CSM needs money too, but maybe over a longer period of time? Is that why the confusion?
    The last thing I would want to do is go to a school that is going to get me trained in something I don’t have a love for. I am old, and one thing I have learned, is you dont want to be stuck working in a job that you dont love! If you love it, its not work!
    I’d be reconsidering Nebraska if it isnt to late, if it is… CSM Here she comes!

  16. Just foolow what you think is right!
    You want to be a lawyer then what is leading to study engineering. I don’t buy that and i would advise you go back to your first love!

  17. Engineering Student

    Let me say that engineering classes are tough, but not impossible. You have to put the time in, pay attention in class, write decent notes, etc. I’m in my second year at a community college working on two associates and preparing to transfer to a four year this fall.

    I don’t know how law compares for difficulty, but the whole idea behind engineering is problem solving. It would seem that Law is very similar in that regard.

    If you don’t like math, engineering will be much more painful for you.

  18. Emmanuel A. Omotosho

    I think you should consider your desire for the choice of your ambition first. Behold,you can never live with your father forever but the achievement of your choice of ambition can last with you for life! Be careful of distractions.

  19. Kacie the worst thing you could do is not to follow your true ambitions. Law school is extremely expensive and costs more than most other graduate programs. But in the long run if you are truly happy with your career then that probably is the best direction to go in.A full scholorship can save on all expenses for you. Engineers are always in demand and the pay is excellent. You might want to consider udergrad double major in another discipline close to that or choose a discipline in pre -law if you can get away with the tuition costs so that you can afford to get into a really good Law School. With both degrees in engineering and law if you are not satisfied with one career you have another to fall back on. You seem to be extremely bright so I am sure that you can handle the challenges of these programs

  20. I was in a similar situation–I was also offered a full-tuition scholarship from UNL. I live far, far away (in Texas), so like you, I also had to worry about paying for room/board and related expenses. I had been considering Nebraska for months, but ended up choosing LSU (who had also offered me a full scholarship) because it’s much closer to home and has a veterinary grad school.

    I don’t know anything about the Colorado School of Mines, but I assume it doesn’t offer nearly as much variety as Nebraska does in terms of majors. Since you estimated the costs of attending either school at $8k, I must ask why you’d choose the school with the engineering program that you’re not sure of, when all you were worrying about was the costs of attending and both were about the same?

    What I did over the course of the school year was basically work my butt off looking and applying for scholarships to cover those room and board costs. It was hard, but I did end up receiving some, so it really paid off.
    If at all possible, I’d say reconsider Nebraska’s offer and apply for as many scholarships as you can to try to offset the room and board costs. If you aren’t able to do that, then I wish you all the best at CSM.

  21. Kacie (CSM v UNL)

    Well turns out that CSM has a partnership with a local community college, so I may be able to transfer credit in that way and save some money…

  22. Nebraska would have been the best choice in my opinion. I base my answer on your near free ride, and the option to be able to either switch your major, or do a double major.

  23. I find this really weird that she would do that because she’s not sure if she even wants to be a engineer! I feel like she only took it so she could be close to her daddy. Then, again on the other hand I turned a full scholarship to Southern University in Louisiana so I could attend Nebraska in the fall, and I would have been grateful to get a scholarship, have you seen their tuition for out-of-state students? I’ve never heard of the Regents but I would be grateful to receive it!!! Now I’m going to look into it since I was also in the top 5% of my class!! But in the end it’s all what you really have a passion for, where is your heart set????

  24. I would take a scholarship and it doesn’t matter where. I know two majors that I would do in college and if that school had one of my two majors then I would take it.

  25. it will be a great news for me where ever I found my self because all that matters is that i will work hard and lift up the name of the institution.

  26. Jordan (Student at SD School of Mines)

    I had a similar predicament before I chose which college to attend. I had a full ride to another of the state colleges but I chose Mines because of its credentials and academic rigor. However, I am a pre med major, which is closer to the fields that Mines specializes in and I think it would be a bad decision to attend Colorado Mines in your situation. Don’t just turn to engineering because they make a lot of money- do what you wanted to do to begin with. And it’s not like the classes at Mines are impossible to do well in, but if you don’t have to put the stress of Mines upon yourself, don’t do it! 🙂

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