There was another mediocre article today in the Wall Street Journal, this time about paying for graduate school. I'm not going to get into the usual discussions about should you or shouldn't you? or are humanities degrees worthless?
I just want to point to a tuition trick I've seen before. Trick is probably a harsh term. Scheme? Whatever.
When 24-year-old Kristi Roybal was choosing between graduate programs in social work and international studies, she picked one at the University of Denver, which offered her a $20,000 annual scholarship.
But with a $53,000 total annual tab, she had to figure out how to cover the rest.
About 5-6 years ago, a friend/student/neighbor suddenly decided that she wanted to get a Phd in Food Studies. At the time, I thought this was a bad plan because the person was clearly not cut out for academic life, though she was smart enough for anything. Anyway, she applied to the Anthropology Program at the University of Chicago, an august institution.
In reply, she received not a rejection, but an invitation to the MA Program in Social Thought or something like that. The letter had a perky tone: (paraphrase) "It must be strange to get into a program different from the one you applied for and with a scholarship at that!" She was offered $15,000 off of $35,000 tuition. And she actually thought about it for a long time, even though it would have involved a loan for AT LEAST $20,000.
I looked into the program and discovered that there were no designated faculty; there was no department. Students took various courses from various social science departments. In other words: a no cost program from the school. No wonder they could be so generous.
As for the young woman in the WSJ article: instead of thinking of the big discount from U of Denver (a private school), why not get your social work degree from your state school. You may not get a discount of $20,000, but you will be paying in-state tuition.
There are some cases where the prestige of the institution really matters: if you are seeking an academic career, the better the school (and that may even include undergraduate), the better your chances of being hired at a similarly prestigious gig. Law schools MAY be the same.
But social work? That's a vocational degree and I imagine that it's more important to emerge with few loans for what is likely to be a rewarding but low-paying job.
The scholarship tactic reminds me of stores: $100 off! I was thrilled by a scarf at an on-line catalog: reduced from $119 to $9 (!!!), I was swooning with desire. But I hesitated. And the scarf was removed from my cart. It had sold out. I realized that I already had scarves in the offered colors.
As always, it's not what you save, but what you spend.