Author Topic: Need help with a university decision  (Read 1559 times)


  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
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Need help with a university decision
« on: October 26, 2018, 04:56:32 PM »

I have been hardcore reading MMM for several weeks now both on the site and on the app, and I'm ambitious to start growing my mustache even before I graduate from university. I have started my second year at University and I have to make an important decision before my spring semester. This decision is whether or not to go on the study abroad semester in Rome. I was hell-bend on doing whatever was necessary to acquire enough money to afford the semester in Rome, but now that I have been reading the blog, I am starting to have doubts. Should I decide to go on the semester, I would be spending nearly every penny of my savings and also maximizing my incurred student loans for the semester. I have included my current finances to date in the hopes that they will help in making a decision. By the time the trip date arrives, I will have earned a little more through work-study and other small jobs I can find.

Usable Funds
Chase Savings account: $1500
Vanguard Roth IRA: $579.41

Usable Funds should I choose to accept them
Federal Subsidized Loan: $2250
Federal Unsubsidized Loan: $2000

Money I can earn between now and the end of the spring semester
Fall Work-Study: $650 (I started with an $800 cap for the semester, and earned almost $600, but got an email on Wednesday about an additional $400 being added to my work-study funds, and I intend to earn every penny of that before this semester ends)
Spring Work-Study : $1000 (I will be working on the Rome campus to earn this money)
Earnings over Christmas Break: $500 (I don't know how much I will earn during the break, since I take any tax-free under-the-table jobs I can find and the schedule is not consistent.

Approximate Cost for the semester (not including student loans): $16,121
Approximate Cost for the semester if I were to accept offered loans: $11,871
(Note: This cost is not all tuition, etc. This also includes estimated travel costs, books, etc).

I currently have no credit card debt (I am extremely careful about this one, I treat it like a debit card with benefits, paying everything off once a week, but ever since I started reading MMM, I have made almost no purcahses, which is a sharp decline from my old 2 Domino's Pizzas a week lifestyle)
However, like most people, I do have student loans that I have gathered from the previous semesters:
Subsidized: $3500
Unsubsidized: $2000

I have applied for many different scholarships, and am waiting to hear back from many of them, but any scholarships I currently have are reflected in the approximate costs for tuition above.

Any advice on what decisions I should make from a financial standpoint would be greatly appreciated. My long-term goals are to be just like MMM, retired by age 30 with no loans and a young family with my amazing girlfriend I am currently dating right now.

Let me know if there is any other information you might need and I will update this post.

If you want to do any deep research on the Rome Program offered by my university, you can follow this link for more info: It is an amazing program from what I have heard, and my two older sisters have both gone on this semester abroad and speak very highly of it. Luckily enough, they were able to get through college debt-free before my dad decided to up and leave the family. But that's all in the past and I don't let that slow me down at all.

Thank you,


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2018, 06:18:21 PM »
Kudos to you for getting interested in your financial life at such an early age! It's not easy to separate your mindset from what I'm sure your family and friends are doing as the norm. So you should be applauded for even coming here to ask.

My big question for you is:
Why do you want to do a semester in Rome? How does this fit your education plan? Could you more easily afford to go to school locally and then later take a separate trip to Rome? What are the 'other' costs involved in going (e.g., NOT doing a local internship/work that could have more promise or potential) and what may be some of the benefits for you (will you be acquiring new skills or relationships)?

Semesters and summers abroad can often be cash-cow programs for both the host & partner universities who are selling you a "vacation" experience labeled as education, in order to access student loans. There also are people who will tell you that travel abroad is good for your future job prospects/resume, when what really is good is actual work with references that you can list. (Many semester abroad programs would be viewed skeptically as you wanting to party or have fun abroad or as the province of rich/privileged students.)

There are people on these forums who would tell you that no student debt is ever justified. I'm not one of them. But I don't think anyone can advise you on whether they think this semester abroad is a good idea or not if you don't articulate why you even want to go and hope to get out of it! If you do, I'm sure the posters here can help chime in on how to value this experience vs. other options you may have.


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2018, 06:58:49 PM »
I work at a university and have two kids in college.  I loathe the way colleges push study abroad.  It can be great fun and can be educational.  If you really want to do it, that's fine, I just hate the way colleges present it as if it is a necessity.

One thing I would look at carefully is how it will impact the sequencing of your program.  I've talked to a lot of students in highly sequenced majors who get sucked into the university's marketing of study abroad, and in addition to the costs incurred, end up taking at least an extra semester or even a year to get their degrees because they can't fit all the courses for their programs in after taking the time in study abroad.  That makes their degree cost a whole lot more.


  • Bristles
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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2018, 07:31:48 PM »
My long-term goals are to be just like MMM, retired by age 30 with no loans and a young family with my amazing girlfriend I am currently dating right now.
It's a great goal but just be aware that retiring by 30 is not exactly easy. If that is your firm goal it will need serious dedication and some luck at most income levels. MMM saved and worked to leave university with no debt and then had two good incomes for the best part of a decade with no kids.

The math of compounding clearly says sacrificing now and seeing the world later is best. The math of personal development is more ambivalent - the value mainly depends on how much exposure you've had to the outside world already.

So how committed are you to retiring by 30, and would this trip be a huge deal for you to get out of your comfort zone and grow as a person? Or is it just to party somewhere that looks cool on Instragram?
« Last Edit: October 26, 2018, 07:40:09 PM by mrmoonymartian »


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2018, 07:35:56 PM »
Do you want to go to grad school? It looks good on transcripts if you are applying to grad school. Otherwise I don't see a reason to do it. You would be better off bumming around Rome on your winter break.
It would cost you 16000? $Holy shit. There are a lot of cheaper ways to go to Rome.


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2018, 09:11:32 PM »
Based on your previous loan amount (5500 for first year) the difference between a regular semester and the study abroad program is 16,121 - 2750 = $13,371.  That's a big difference for 3 months.  How do you plan to pay for the $12K balance even with student loans?

When I was in college I worked throughout college and took out loans of $5K one semester to focus on my studies, managed to get all A's when I didn't have to work 25 hours a week.  That was more than enough for me loan wise.  I would have never taken out $12K in loans for a single semester knowing I would come out of college with $30-$40K in loans.  I would have felt I couldn't afford it. I too wanted to travel abroad during college so I took a solo trip to Europe during spring break because it was all I could afford and I stayed with family.  I did more traveling when I was out of college and debt free.

These are the kinds of decision that you will continually encounter if you are really committed to FIRE at 30.  My impression is that you are looking for permission to do the study abroad, knowing that you can't afford it and would set back your FIRE goals.  Those early years of compounding are important, but what is more important is your mentality and ability to really know what is a need vs a want.  I think this is a want and will delay your goal of FIRE.


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2018, 09:33:14 PM »
I wish I had done a study abroad because I think it's a super cool way to travel, especially in Europe when everything is so close compared to North America. In my program it would have set me back a year due to the sequencing mentioned above, and I was borrowing already so I couldn't justify the cost. Instead, the summer before I graduated I went to Europe for two months, visited 8 countries, and spent probably 4k or so (I can't remember exactly, it was 6 years ago). I still graduated with loans, which I paid off as fast I could, and now I'm busy accumulating my stash.
It really is a tradeoff between your future and current self, but I lean towards having the experiences you value when you can, but finding the most affordable way to do them.
Try to think outside of the box a little. Can you get grants or scholarships to cover more of the cost? Can you tutor English while you're there to earn a bit more? Can you save on flights by credit card hacking? Does it have to be a study abroad, or would a trip fulfill the same need? Will the study abroad increase your earning potential after?
It's nice to have big goals like retire by 30, but realize that it's very far outside of the norm, and you also could be content with retiring at 32 or even 35, if that allows you certain luxuries. I don't regret any of the travel I've done, I think it teaches you a lot, especially if you approach it creatively.


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #7 on: October 26, 2018, 09:56:59 PM »
A lot of my friends traveled abroad as they had never really been out of the US for an extended period, and it really opened their eyes and made them more mature than they had been when we started college. I did not, having lived abroad for many years, but did visit them and appreciated the impact it had on them. That being said, could a similar experience be achieved back-packing across Europe and living in hostels for a summer? Probably. It may even be cheaper and more educational.


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #8 on: October 26, 2018, 11:01:25 PM »
If you were my kid, I would probably advise against it.

In your OP, you talked mostly about the cost, how to pay for it, and that your sisters said it was "amazing".  You did not explain what the educational value of the semester would be, why it would be worth it to go to Rome instead of spending that same semester at your home university (University of Dallas?), or how it fit into your degree program.  You also didn't explain if the semester abroad would delay your graduation.  You also didn't exactly spell out how you were going to pay off either the existing or proposed additional student loans.

All of these things make me think it is not really a part of your college education but is basically a boondoggle.  I am saddened that your sisters managed to do something like this and you didn't because of crummy life circumstances with your Dad.  That still doesn't make it a good idea.

Unfortunately, the only degree programs that I can imagine would benefit from a semester in Rome would be in art, architecture, Italian, or the classics.  And unfortunately, degrees in those fields - with the possible exception of architecture, maybe - are not very marketable.  So if you were my kid I'd be suggesting a different degree program if you wanted me to pay for it.


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Re: Need help with a university decision
« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2018, 12:36:50 AM »
I took a summer abroad, for a co-op work term.   It was amazing and a huge life changing event for me to work in another country, working around a different culture and having to figure out MS Office in a different language.  Highly recommended.

So -- what about taking a summer study semester abroad?  (take minimum classes to qualify, maybe learn a language or classes that you are interested in but don't need).

Or -- take a work term abroad.   I used AISEC / IAESTE  (Science / Business / Engineering placements).

True -- I spent 100% of my earnings on my travel costs, and did not build up more money to pay for my next full year of school, but it was completely worth it.   AND I did not extend my school years - I graduated in 4 years.