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Struggling to make a decision! Please weigh in.


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Background info: This is for a social work masters. Funding, especially full funding, is hard to come by in the field, so both of these programs are entirely unfunded. Such is life. I'm going to go regardless. I was 100% planning (and very excited)  to go to School #2, assuming School #1 would reject me. They didn't, which left me in this predicament. I've made a pros/cons list, please look it over and advise.

Edit: There are loan repayment plans for social workers that are income based/can be forgiven after 10 years. Yes, it's a huge amount of debt for a low paying job, but we don't anticipate paying the full amount of our loans due to these programs.


School #1 Pros:
- Ivy league.
- In an 8-way tie for 16th best program in the country (3.6 on USNews).
- Has a felon re-entry certificate program that I would love to do.
- Fieldwork starts immediately, during the 1st semester.
- Closer to my brothers.
- Prestige. (When people aren't mixing it up with another school)

School #2 Cons:
- The price tag. $43,000 in tuition per year.
- Approx. $2,000 in rent. Possibly more after utilities/parking.
- Longer program. May graduation rather than December. Market saturation in May, possibly?
- General higher cost of living.
- Complete unfamiliarity with the city/state. Only spent maybe 4 hours there my entire life, though I'm going to visit next week.
- I only know 1 person who lives in the city, and she's too busy to see on a regular basis.
- I'd be "alone" for the entire summer (move June 1, start school August 27th).
- Less diversity of student body.

- Many students seem to be coming straight from undergrad, while I'm older.
- I don't plan on living there after graduation.
- Awful, cold weather.

School #2 Pros:
- In an 8-way tie for 44th best program in the country (3.1 on USNews).
- Well known private university with a good nation-wide reputation.
- Shorter program - 16 months, rather than 20 months.
- Less expensive tuition: Approx. $28-29,000 per year.
- Less expensive cost of living: Rent ranges from $400/month-$1,500. May end up being free if I live with a friend.
- School is in a city I'm very familiar with (went to undergrad nearby), love, and have wanted to return to/live in after graduation.
- I have friends there.
- Much less scary unknowns.
- Much better weather.

- Boyfriend lives here, though he supports me going elsewhere for school and has agreed to visit wherever.

School #2 Cons:
- Doesn't have a structured felon re-entry program, but I could likely tailor my fieldwork in a similar manner.
- Fieldwork doesn't start til the second semester.
- Ranked lower.
- Isn't ivy league.
- Possible regret for turning down ivy league education post graduation.
- Possibly won't "open as many doors" post graduation (says my father).
- Not close to family, but near close friends.

Edited by Lifesaver
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I know this is a tough decision but if I were in your shoes then I would go to School # 2.


My reasons why:

1) you would be miserable the entire summer it sounds like before classes really get going and you meet people at school 1. After that, you still wont be quite as happy as you would near your boyfriend and friends.

2) School #2 is still amazingly ranked and for an MSW, I don't see how prestige will make a huge difference (and even if it did, you will have it still from school #2)

3) I am saying this in the nicest way I can but it needs to said: You will not make good money at all with an MSW and 100k in debt to go to an ivy will only result in your spending your entire adult life trying to pay off a debt that will be nearly impossible for you to do. The rule of thumb is that you shouldnt take more than 1 years worth of loans out for education total. I almost want to say even that School 2 is too expensive to consider for what you will be making after but it is at least better than 1. It being shorter will also take away from loans so you are talking a 50k difference. That is a TON of money.


I would go with school 2 and have no regrets. You will get an awesome education, in a town you love, with people you care about. It sounds like the perfect situation!

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The loan repayment program has requirement that you should not miss any payment for 10 years, I believe. So it's not a super guarantee.


If your family is willing and is rich enough to help with your payments if you have trouble making them, I would go with school #1. Otherwise, school #2. If experience matters more than school prestige in your field of work, then school #2.

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I'm pretty sure I know to which Ivy you are referring for School 1, and you don't have to pay $2,000 in rent in School 1 city.  I live in a much more expensive city and we don't even pay $2,000 in rent.  You can definitely find a cheaper place than that in that area.


Considering your pros and cons, it really seems like the only things that School 1 has to recommend it is that it's an Ivy.  I say skip it and go to School 2.  You can make connections in that city and network your way into a job, since you want to live there long-term; you'll have much lower debt; and it seems like you will just overall be happier there.  All of those things are far more important than some name recognition, and anyway, I don't get the sense that social work is a very prestige-driven field.


Also, be aware that that you have to pay taxes on any forgiven loan balance as if it were income.  Let's say that you borrow $120,000 to pay for School A - $41,000 in Direct Unsubsidized Loans at 6.8% and the other $79,000 in Graduate PLUS loans at 8.5%.  After you graduate, you find a social work job making around $45,000 a year and you put your loans on income-based repayment.  Sure, your payments are limited to 15% of your gross monthly income, but you're not even paying close to the total cost of the interest every month, much less the principal, so your loans keep growing and growing.  If you pay every single payment on time for 25 years, the government will have to forgive over $133,000 in loans, which is more than you originally borrowed.  You have to pay taxes on that!  Assuming it'll be taxed at 30%, that's about $40,000 that you now have to find a way to pay the IRS.


And if you do Pay As You Earn (where your pay is capped at 10% of your gross monthly income and you only pay for 20 years), you will be forgiven $209,000, and you will owe the IRS rougly $63,000.  Check out the loan repayment calculators here (https://studentloans.gov/myDirectLoan/mobile/repayment/repaymentEstimator.action) to check my work.


Your actual tax burden will be much higher because you'll only have paid for 10 years; the calculator does it based on the standard repayment for these two plans, which is 25 years and 20 years respectively.


Also be aware that the current administration is discussing capping public service loan forgiveness at around $57,000.

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I would also say go with school 2 unless you really want that felon re-entry certificate program. Prestige is nice but really in the long run isn't that likely to help you as compared to just doing really well and impressing people. It seems you will be much happier if you go to school there since will have people you know close to you which is super important during graduate school I think. Also small things like the weather is huge, I regret at times going to school at a place that has horrible weather. So like I said I would do school 2 if it was me. 

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Have you looked into the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program? If you work for a government/non-profit for 10 years and make payments each month during those 10 years, your government-based loans are forgiven. 

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Can you ask for graduate employment statistics? If they're high for school 2 despite its lower ranking, I'd also pick that one due to the lower cost of living and the fact that you have friends there, which I assume would make things much less stressful!

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Seems like the real pros of #1 are that it's an Ivy League, has a felon re-entry program, and more fieldwork. On the other hand, #2 is cheaper (both in money and time), in a city where you want to live, and still has good reputation...


All things considered, I would suggest going for #2. Especially if you can also do the felon re-entry thing there.


Maybe it's a good idea to write to both universities to get more information about your interests...

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Definitely school number 2.  And can I just say I cannot believe the cost of a social work program in the US!  I am doing my MSW at University of Toronto this fall and my tuition for the year will be under $10,000 (and UofT is the number 1 school in Canada, also very high on national and international rating lists)

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One of the posters stated that you would have to pay taxes on the forgiven amount.  That is not true. Public Service Forgiveness loans do NOT have the tax bomb.  Nor do all of those 120 payments have to be consecutive. You just have to make 120 payments while employed by a 501-C3.  You can even go work in private industry for a while and come and come back to the non-profit to pick up with where you left off.  There is so much mis-information about these re-payment programs that it is very confusing, but this information is available right on the fed govt's sites regarding loans where the information can be double-checked.  

Frankly, it sounds as if you would be happier at school No. 2. I'm sure you'll do fine.  I just accepted admission at your school #1.  Because of the re-payment program options, I'm a little nervous but comfortable with the loans and how I plan to handle them. If I end up someday with a chance to use my degree in a way that means leaving non=profits,  that will mean that I'll encounter employers who aren't as familiar with the details of social work degrees and in that situation, that elite university degree is gold, baby. The reputation of that place is worldwide. You can even take classes at Wharton, the medical school or the law school (or any of their other grad schools) while you're there and that doesn't look too shabby on a resume if it shows that you took a class about running non-profits at frickin' Wharton (one of the top finance schools in the world).

Ultimately, you have to be happy and only you know what is important for you.  If you are really worried about the loans and you would be happier for those two years at the other place, then be at peace with that. 

  Here's some info. I came across today about your school No 1.  This is for the original poster and not intended to offend anyone.  


"In their latest editions Penn was ranked 13th in the world by the QS World University Rankings,[82]14th by the Shanghai Jiao Tong University's Academic Ranking of World Universities,[83] and 15th by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.[84] According to the Shanghai Jiao Tong University ranking Penn is also the 8th and 9th best university in the world for economics/business and social sciences studies, respectively.[85] University of Pennsylvania ranked 12th among 300 Best World Universities in 2012 compiled by Human Resources & Labor Review (HRLR) on Measurements of World's Top 300 Universities Graduates' Performance ."

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What do you mean be "felon re-entry program"?  Are you the felon?  Or do you want to help felons re-enter society/work?


Here are my thoughts:


-Having cheap rent by living with a friend, even potentially having free rent is....a potential headache waiting to happen.  


-Even though it was a long shot and you thought you would not get in you still applied to the Ivy knowing that if you did get in it would place farther away from your BF and that it is located in a town you have no desire to actually live in.  But you knew that when you applied...even if the application was just  fantasy.  


-About costs:  let's be real here; even if the program at the Ivy is not funded it is still an effin' Ivy and finding should not be that hard to come by.  You might have to dig a bit but I bet top dollar that you can have your second year fully covered, perhaps even living expenses.  If you start now you might be able to get both years covered.  I just don't buy that an Ivy League school has zero funding/merit aid/scholarships/fellowships/ect available for grad students even if the program is typically "not funded".  The school/department/program has the money.  Trust me.  


You signature indicates you were accepted into five schools...what are the other two?  

Edited by Crucial BBQ
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School #2. What will matter more for your future employment is networking. School 2 gives you the opportunity to start doing that while in school and potentially even intern at a place where you could be employed in the future. But don't live with a friend for free. That really is a recipe for friendship disaster.

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School #2, if you want to play it safe. You've been there, done that; you can do it again.


Economics is a hard truth, but the distance between 29k/yr and 43k isn't terribly far. Jumping into an unfamiliar situation without any support can be scary, but it can also be very rewarding. If you're willing to jump, I think school #1 can also give you something more than economics:


- a life story

- build your confidence

- expand your network 

- access to Ivy league people (whatever that means)

- access to Ivy league school resources (Ivy leagues schools are able to leverage top guest speakers and outside contacts in respective fields)

- distinguish you


If I was an employer interviewing the you that went to school #1 vs the you that went to school #2, who do you think I would pick? I would choose the girl from the south that had to sink or swim in a cold northern city while attending an Ivy college with a strong MSW ranking. School #1 has greater reward potential.

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This is some of the best and worse advice I have ever gotten: Flip a coin. Make school 1 heads and school 2 tails. Then, if you don't like the result of the flip you know to go with the opposite choice. My next suggestion is really look at the funding situation. Out of the 6 schools I applied to, 4 of them offered my scholarship money, and I am not a genius by any means. Lastly, a common trend has been that prestige matters very little in social work. No one is making millions of dollars, and where you go to school is not as important as your experience in the field. So don't let that be a primary influence for why you want to go somewhere. Ultimately, though, go with your gut. No one knows what you want better than you.

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I'm still struggling with whether or not to choose school #1, but I'm happy to answer any questions you might have about the city - I've lived here for most of my life and I absolutely love it here. I also think it's a great place to pursue a social work degree because even though it's a huge city, it can at times feel like a tight-knit community, and there a ton of wonderful people devoting their time, energy, and resources toward improving the quality of life for others.


In terms of cost of living, do NOT spend $2000 in rent! I live alone in one of the best neighborhoods in the city - and within walking distance of the university - for $800/month, and I have friends in group houses whose rents are in the $300 range. There are plenty of options if you know where to look.


Feel free to PM me with any other questions or concerns you might have about life here. If you're visiting here, I'm happy to meet with you to discuss options, especially since I'm torn between three schools at the moment myself.

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I visited school #1 last week and I was not pleased for a number of reasons. Ivy or not, it's just not going to happen. I would be miserable.


I'm likely going to pick school #2, who may actually be giving me some scholarship money. I've been told to check my mailbox. So, I'm waiting on that and trying to decide if a return to NYC may be beneficial.

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If you are planning to get a PhD after completing your MSW ... Then school #1. If not, then choose whatever school you want. The country is In dire need of social workers; where you obtained your degree doesn't matter. I've worked with many social workers and to be honest I don't know what schools they went to...

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