Top Tier or State School University Dilemma

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Post by GPMagnus »

Garrett - tough choices are good for you because they force you to consider your priorities !
I think you need to consider the following:
1. If you go the 2 year route, will your degree allow you to do something useful and not inhibit you in the future? i.e. can you get a job in a field you'd be interested in and grow from there?

2. The 4-year route will allow you more "safe time" to take on internships to help you find what you want to do after college, or more time to study and possibly get a double major (something you like / something that will get you a job) - in this case, being close to a major city us advantageous, so Emory is better than Amherst (which is 100 miles West of Boston / 50 North of Hartford) or UF.

3. Geography - if you are looking to live in the SW US, then UF or Emory are likely better choices than ND or the others;
I personally think that Princeton, if you get off the W/L, would be worth it, and possibly Emory - GA is much cheaper to live in. If you decide 2 years then there is no question ...
In terms of risk, if you want to ERE through a high-paying job after undergrad then look at the placement stats of the schools (Princeton is likely the best choice then in any case) OR choose a "useful" major like electrical engineering / comp sci and be like Mr Money Mustache.
If you want a "normal" job (i.e. not Goldman Sachs / GE / McKinsey) then getting out 2 years quicker is something to consider. Also, UF is a decent school in general and has a decent business school and the football and basketball aren't too bad either :)
Disclaimer: Never attended any of these schools, although I know grads from Princeton, Emory and ND.

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Post by Scott 2 »

cimorene12 - Guilty as charged! Imagine what I was like before learning I'm not always the smartest person in the room...
Seriously though, one cannot become a fully developed person without spending some time as the "dumb" one. Not just knowing less, but actually being slower than the people around you.
Even at private university, it's easy to run from this experience. I know because I did it. I got into a major loaded with kids that had perfect SAT scores, had maxed their AP credits, were valedictorians at private schools, etc. One of them was a 16 year old genius at college, lol. Once I realized I'd have to work and couldn't just fall back on being really smart, I switched my focus to beating the system.
I changed majors to computer science, selected "programming for <insert major>" classes to get my electives, switched tracks from liberal arts to engineering (to avoid time consuming "overpriced" subjective classes) and largely stopped going to class. The nature of a CS degree is most class work can be done on your own, even team projects (for a novice, collaboration is WAY harder than hacking something together). Once again, I felt "smart"...
Right out of school, I'm sure I was a HUGE pain to work with, even worse than most recent graduates.
I finally lucked into two years at a company where my boss was both smarter than me AND had a bigger ego. He'd call me on my shit and hold me accountable for producing according to my potential. I had to do a lot of growing up, but am a better person for it. I even learned how to collaborate productively with a team! For someone whose prior approach to group work was to tell the others to sit there while I banged it out, this was a huge and wonderful lesson.
Another thought on Ivy level degrees - many of the desired "Ivy" level jobs are the antithesis of ERE. 60+ hour weeks, work is your life, etc. Certainly it is not required, but it is an easy path to fall into.

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Post by mikeBOS »

Scott2 has a good point about the value of "connections". They're good for working your way into an upper management 50-60+ hour a week job over the course of a multi-decade career. But if what you want to do is just save up a few hundred grand and then start RV-ing and bicycle touring before you're 30, then what good are those connections? And they fade away pretty quickly if you don't keep on top of them or if people catch wind of the fact that you've figured out there's more to life than ascending a corporate ladder.
I'd say it depends on how much you enjoy school. If you enjoy classes in general, why not take 2 more years of it for free? If you're itching to start the more adventurous part of your life though, just take the 2 year route and get on with things sooner rather than later.

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Post by bigato »

My personal impression based on what you wrote here is that you are the kind of autonomous individual who will be far happier taking the shorter path to financial freedom.

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Post by BeanHead »

Congrats on having so many great college options and full rides! That's what's called "good problems."
I applaud your money smarts at such a young age. However, your comment about what you learn vs. what a professor thinks is important is a little off-base. You'll have good and bad professors, and you'll have to learn to deal with each accordingly. It's a great primer for dealing with people in life. "But BeanHead, I'll be FI by the time I'm 30, I won't have to deal with people." Well, yes, you will. You'll always have to deal with people. So keep in mind that not only will you be going to a college to build up a network but to work on your individual networking skills.
Plus, a professor you may be initially put off by could end up being your favorite, AND they could help you get you a job/internship/opportunity in something you're passionate about. Just go in with an open mind, which should come naturally for you given the colleges you're interested in. Best of luck!

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Post by JohnnyH »

Since your asking on ERE, I'm assuming a 25-50 year career is not of great interest to you... So what MikeBOS said, most benefits of an ivy league degree and connections will be lost for the non-full time financially independent.
I'd pursue a 3rd option; aggressively lobby the IL schools to accept your 2 years of college credits... Say it's a deal breaker, get letters from CC dean, I'd offer to take whatever test I needed to get the credits applied. I'd fight hard for it.
Also, I'd strongly consider a computer, engineering, math or hard science field. Most degrees are just crapshoots:
I personally know:

*music masters from state school: teaching salary is about 20% of their student loans.

*environmental science masters from Ivy: unemployed for years, can't find a job he thinks is worthy of his education.

*economics masters from top private in economics: works 60 hrs/wk for a brokerage and doesn't like it... Has same job as he had w/ bachelors but got maybe 15% raise.
Now to be contrarian, I'd definitely take the 2 year option. By year 3 of college I was done with it and ready for something new... As everyone else said, I'm sure your individual value will eclipse any state school vs ivy league gap.
Now for some math, if you graduate 2 years early and save $50k for those 2 years, you're looking at an additional ~$225,000 after 10% gains for 10 years... I'd rather have a quarter million in my early 30s than a different heading on my degree.

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Post by HappyGarret »

Alright, I've narrowed it down between Amherst and UF. UF is still deciding my transfer status and working out some of the final details of my financial aid package, so unfortunately it won't be ready by May 1, the decision due date for all the 'top tier' colleges.
Because of this my plan is to commit to Amherst, then if the UF transfer deal sounds good, go there and finish off my bachelors in something practical that I enjoy, like engineering, organic farming, accounting, etc.
And if Princeton takes me off their Wait List, maybe go there instead as well.
In short, I'm committing to Amherst, then either un-committing and going to UF for two years, un-committing and going to Princeton for four years, or staying committed and going to Amherst for four years.
I'm very likely to take the UF scenario. Two years actually living by myself while saving and learning about asset allocation will likely teach me a lot more than two more years of college. I agree with JohnnyH, I'd rather have 250k, greater autonomy, and greater financial experience than a fancier degree. Plus I won't freeze to death at UF. What are your opinions?

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Post by theanimal »

I agree with JohnnyH and your conclusion. Go to UF if the opportunity presents itself. It's still a quality school and you'll be able to get out and achieve ERE quicker if that is what you choose to pursue. I'm currently in my second year at Miami U. (Ohio) and am happily graduating next spring. Personally, if it wasn't for my parents I think I'd be out of school doing something else at the moment.

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Post by jacob »

@HappyGarrett - Here's an alternative outcome. You save 50k for two years. The market increases by 10% the first year but then takes a 45% dive and then starts growing by 5% annually for the next 8 years. After ten years, you have $89,000. Cost of living due to inflation might be 35% higher. Your effective purchasing power is now $66000. What financial experience did this result in?
What if the job market is completely in the dumps in two years? Conversely, what if it's booming and any job is a fast track to bonus-world? What if your current field of interest is rendered void by foreign competition or artificial intelligence in 5 years time?
I guess my point is not to try to extrapolate and predict an outcome based on current trends or current desires. It's better to look at what possibilities a given setup/arrangement could result in. Then consider a bunch of different scenarios within each arrangement. Then pick the group you like best.
I'd say in particular since you're saying that you could do this, this, this, or that, that you're not particularly focused on achieving a single plan (e.g. 0.5 kids, married, house w picket fence, middle-management in 10 years) but rather than your planning horizon is set to "whatever comes up". In this case, you should remain as open-ended as possible. Making a decision based on 100*1.1^10 is about as closed-ended as it can be.

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Post by vireoes »

UF would seem like a good option if you knew exactly what direction you wanted to go in. You would also be better able to say if they had a decent program in your field. Sometimes it is the rank of your program and not the overall school that can make a difference. When I used to do hiring in my field, someone from UF would likely have ranked higher on my list than someone from a liberal arts school or even ivy league, especially if that had a bit of practical experience. Every field is different and generally those other schools will leave you with better connections. Your choice of majors is pretty diverse, so unless you decide before you start it may take you most of the first year to get a taste for each of those majors and decide which one or two you want to select. In which case finishing in two years may be rushed and doesn't give you time to get practical experience while still in school. Without the practical experience getting that first job may be more challenging. I would be inclined to pick from the other schools then and enjoy more time to pick your direction. Also some of those schools while not taking your associates degree may accept some of those credits so it may shave a year of time off anyway. Something to discuss with them in more detail once you have narrowed your choices down.

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Post by llorona »

1. You will never, ever have the chance to repeat your college years again. Even if you achieve ERE at an early age and opt to go back to school, it will never be the same. You've got the opportunity for a free ride to several prestigious universities? Don't pass it up.
I get that you worked hard in high school to earn the associate degree, but you've got this amazing chance to do nothing but soak up knowledge for four years. What an opportunity to learn and explore.
2. "I realize that I can teach myself anything these schools provide..."

It's great that you are independent and driven, but I disagree with this statement. I completed my master's degree 12 years ago. I remember very little of what I read in textbooks and case studies. Nearly every valuable skills and attribute that I use in my daily life came from lessons, discussions, and experiences with professors and colleagues. Teamwork, group dynamics, emotional intelligence, analytical thinking, writing, and leadership are skills learned from practice and life experience, not from cracking open a book.
3. You are a lot smarter than I ever was in thinking about the future and planning for it. But remember, not everything in life is about earning and saving $. It's not a race to the finish line. Might as well slow down and enjoy it. Besides, what you want now might not be what you want five, ten or twenty years down the line. Also, you can plan and plan all you want, but life has a funny way of tossing curve balls and lemons when you least expect them.
5. Music degree. It's fine as a minor or even part of a double major, but not on its own.
5. "All that said, I'm starting to become extremely spiteful to higher education. I have started reading more often, and I have learned more in the few books I've read than I have in all of my 'education' put together. I enjoy learning what I want to learn, not what a professor thinks will be good for me."
I mean this in the kindest way possible. This statement comes across as arrogant. I get that you are very intelligent, probably much more so than people around you. However, an attitude like this won't get you far in this life, not through your education, the workplace, your ERE years, or anyplace else in this world unless you buy your own private island.
The best thing you could possibly do is listen to what your professors have to say. Most of them have been on this earth a lot longer than you, probably two or three times as long. PLUS they have had the benefit of life experience and wisdom. If they think something will be "good for you" to learn, then there is a reason for it. The smartest action you can take is to open your mind to what they want to teach you. Ultimately, you may reject what they present and deem it useless. But you might surprise yourself by unexpectedly picking up a thing or two.

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Post by HappyGarret »

"All that said, I'm starting to become extremely spiteful to higher education. I have started reading more often, and I have learned more in the few books I've read than I have in all of my 'education' put together. I enjoy learning what I want to learn, not what a professor thinks will be good for me."
This statement wasn't entirely accurate, or at least, honest. I admire some people, and I take after them and learn all I can from them.
My Intro to Electrical Engineering professor, for example, who lives on 5k a year here in south Florida, is my mentor, and I've acquired an incredible amount of DIY knowledge and sustainable living philosophy from him.
My Government professor, in contrast, shows excessively worded slides for half his class and discusses personal matters the other half. He fosters poor diet, a hyper consumer ethic, and barely knows his own course material. Here, I have a harder time learning the subject, so I just read the book.
What I meant to say was that I can tell when a class will be useful to me or not, and, well, usually they're not. l: At least that's been my experience throughout high school. I'm unsure whether your experiences have been different.

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Post by mikeBOS »

I've got to respectfully disagree with some of llorna's thoughts and the value of advice towards young people in general.
I don't think college is any less enjoyable later in life than it is straight out of high school. I think reaching financial independence first and then going to school is a pretty clever option. It allows you to study whatever you want to, rather than what the market will reward. And it allows you to focus on what's important, learning and understanding the material, rather than trying to game the system by going for easier classes/assignments and higher GPA's. I say this as someone who was able to take whatever classes I wanted and didn't worry at all about tests or what a professor thought of me because I didn't need to worry about landing a job after graduation.
And I can't disagree with this strongly enough, "The best thing you could possibly do is listen to what your professors have to say."
The type of person who becomes a professor is nothing like the type of person the poster apparently is or hopes to be. And what makes those professors happy would probably make happyGarret miserable.
Young people like HappyGarret will run into lots of people eager to give advice, but I think the best advice is to be leery and skeptical of advice, particularly when it is coming from people who live lives completely different from how you hope to live yours, and particularly when that advice is at odds with the conclusions you have come to after lots of thought, research and reflection. Unfortunately young, bright people face a lot of pressure to not "waste their talents" so when they dare to do anything but follow the ordinary course of society's idea of "success" they come up against a massive wall of opposition which, rather than setting them on the right track, probably serves more to just delay and derail the life they want.
Some people can benefit from advice, particularly people who haven't researched things too much, or who can't be bothered to think too hard about what they ought to do. But for smart, introspective people who know themselves and who are brave enough to want to try something different, advice can be poisonous.
Thoreau even had a bit about it in Walden: "What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new. ... Age is no better, hardly so well, qualified for an instructor as youth, for it has not profited so much as it has lost. One may almost doubt if the wisest man has learned anything of absolute value by living. Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young... I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors. They have told me nothing, and probably cannot tell me anything to the purpose. Here is life, an experiment to a great extent untried by me; but it does not avail me that they have tried it."
I'm the same age right now as Thoreau was when he wrote that, and so far I've lived a life eerily similar to his, and what he says rings true to me. Most advice I've heard has been bad advice. Maybe I'll change my mind in another 30 years, but I doubt it.
Woody Allen was asked during an NPR interview on his 70th birthday what he's learned and what he could share with younger artists. His serious, honest response? "Nothing."

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Post by Scott 2 »

The advice llorona gives is excellent.
Don't let your intelligence get in the way. Through life experience, everyone has some amount of wisdom to offer. It's up to you to extract it. When a class has _nothing_ useful for you, it's you who has failed as the student.
I say this as someone who at 20, explained to one of my professors that he needed to partake in the university's excellent school of education. Then I suggested perhaps we should meet with the dean of the engineering school, so we could discuss how and why he was such a poor teacher...
Don't be like me! I was a self-centered prick. It held me back in life.

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Post by bluejoey »

Hi there.
I went to the best school in the country for engineering. I graduated with an entirely different degree and obtained a master's in a different field. I now teach preschool, and am working full time while going to grad school (for the second time) to enable me to teach kindergarten. I'm also teaching myself Spanish because I like the idea of teaching bilingual kindergarten. Oh, and my wife and I (whom I met in grad school) run a wedding photography business together.
Life throws curveballs, as llorona said. The school you graduate from doesn't determine your career. According to stats of recent graduates from my school, I should be making somewhere around 80k these days. I make around 1/4th of that. And when I get the job I'm aiming for and going to grad school II for, I still won't make half of that. And I'm okay with that.
In your position, I'd go with the school that I felt the best about and not worry so much about graduating early, working extra, or any of that stuff. There's time for that. What's more important is learning how to be comfortable with yourself, and as long as you're getting paid to do that, I'd take four years of a free ride over two.

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Post by Seneca »

In contrast to several people here, I hated most of my time in university (engineering school), so much so I started getting really worried as a senior that I had made a grievous error. But I have thoroughly enjoyed being an engineer in industry, and even if I didn't, there aren't many degrees more useful on the whole than one in engineering. It's like a master key to employment.
College to me always felt slow and like a waste of time, not because I was the smartest or anything, but I find solving problems and doing things in the real world, even if less intellectually stimulating, to be of far more value than anything I was ever a part of in college.
In contrast to Scott2's idea you need to be around people smarter than you as a reality check...I'd say it's more humbling to be around people far less smart/pedigreed than you that are doing interesting things and making tons of money doing what they want to.
The older I get, the less I think of "smarts", as defined here by the guy who gets in to Ivy League or aces some standardized test...

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Post by JohnnyH »

I like the way the decision tree is growing. :)

If you had your major decided (I know, I know, I used to hate this) you might be able to take some high level degree courses at Amherst that could go towards your degree at UF.
Your mentor sounds like a great person to listen to! He'd certainly fit in well here.

"lives on 5k a year here in south Florida, ... and I've acquired an incredible amount of DIY knowledge and sustainable living philosophy from him."
I agree with MikeBOS, looking back at college I think it would have been better if I had been older: increased experience, maturity, focus, finances... I guess I'm against pop culture on this one, but I actually regret my shiftless freshman year spent partying, playing vidja games, racking up student loan debt, gaining 15 lbs, getting poor grades and chasing girls (to marginal success because I still looked 15 ;)!

At the same time, I do not regret getting it out of the way as early as possible.
Scott2 said; "When a class has _nothing_ useful for you, it's you who has failed as the student."

Well, 'nothing' is an extreme word, but I think it is the administration [system] that has failed. Forcing students to sit in rudimentary general ed classes they would rather avoid for 1-2 years is a vulgar waste of students' time and money, IMO.
IE: My alma mater in 2013 charges an undergraduate over $1,000 for a 3 credit hour PE/music/art class, and requires one of each to graduate. $3,000 dollars and 150-300 hours invested for these which had nothing to do with my degree and were essential middle school classes. Were they fun and did I learn things? Sure, but in the least efficient way I've ever experienced in my life.

Not picking on PE/music/art (some of my favorite things) but satisfying the general ed requirements was incredibly frustrating and costly. I've heard this repeated by many peers as well... IMO, HappyGarrett has a golden ticket/get out of jail card.
As far as "soak up knowledge for four years" all high-school graduates already have a benchmark; 4 years of high-school. If 4 years felt satisfactory, it might in college as well... If it felt limiting, college might feel more-so, albeit with more adult activities/distractions...
Besides, it's not like you're going to be forcibly removed from all campuses after you earn your BS. If you are loving the "lifestyle" so many wistfully recall, go for a MS... Hm, that's an interesting way to frame this as well; state school MS vs ivy BS.
Jacob had a good point about 10% market return assumptions, the 10% I often optimistically quote is based on 40 years non-inflation adjusted, average Permanent Portfolio returns.... But, I wouldn't let initialization risk (chance market tanks instant you're in) keep you from ever putting money away (as much and as early as possible/tolerable).

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Post by theanimal »

Johnny H +1

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Post by akratic »

I would personally go to Princeton if I got in and Amherst otherwise, but I think this decision is too personal for other people's preferences to mean much. For example, someone else might pick UF for the parties and dating scene and it'd be 100% the right decision for them.
Given that you can tell right away whether you like a professor or not, one suggestion I have once you get to college is to sign up for 10+ courses at the start of each semester, and then drop all of the way down to the best 4 courses after a week or two.

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Post by JamesR »

If I knew ERE back when I was 18, I think I would've just worked until I achieved ERE to the point that my savings would generate enough income to cover the cost of university. That way I would've had the maturity to enjoy university (dating-wise too) & the financial security to not worry about getting a degree for the purpose of a job and just enjoy the challenge of learning interesting things.
If I had stayed at my parents house for few years, and developed a career with skills/work experience in something specific, then I would've quickly been making excellent money within 3 years. For example, since I was a computer type of guy, I could've done web development and really developed my skills in Javascript, MySQL, etc. That would've lead to good paying jobs of $60-80k/yr after 3-5 years of work experience as there's good demand for it (and I know a couple of 21 year olds making that amount right now).
I estimate I would've been able to get to $300-350k in 7-8 years, or 25-26 years old, which would've started throwing off enough income to go to university here. That would be the perfect age to go to university.
Interestingly enough, both of my parents went to university in their mid-30s. I was always surprised by how strong my Dad is at math, and I think that's partially because of going back to university so late - a perfect brain tuneup.
Life is long. And I think anti-aging/longevity type stuff is around the corner, where we'll see moderate increases in life span & health. I think that those that do university later will gain a benefit from that in some ways. Keep their brains fresh and young.
Princeton sounds tempting, if it's paid for, including residence & food. But that type of university seems good for math/science. Are you that kind of guy? If you like music, would you be interested in Audio Engineering?
You didn't mention what your associate degree was on, so I'm guessing it was completely general studies?
I do like the UF option the most, unless princeton is free and guaranteed for the 4 years.

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