Life-changing decisions pertaining to education. Help.

by [anonymous]1 min read21st Sep 201234 comments


Personal Blog

I just graduated from high school and I want to continue my formal education by studying for a bachelor's degree in science.

I can go on to study in: Hungary, England, the USA.

Hungay. I'll graduate debt-free and I will spend little on my cost of living(e.g., accommodation, food). However, I'll earn a useless degree in that the university I would attend is poor in terms of academic performance. So, Hungary's a good choice from a financial standpoint, but horrible when it comes to the value of the education.

USA. I'll graduate with some negligible debt and I will spend a modest sum of money for my cost of living, but overall it's still affordable. The education I will receive is so-so, but still better than the one in Hungary. The USA is somewhere in between England and Hungary in terms of financial matters and education.

England. I'll graduate with the most debt and I won't even afford to pay for accommodation; I'll probably have to squat somewhere. The quality of the education is top-notch.

It seems that every place I could go on to study involves a trade-off—England's best for education, Hungary for money.

Now, another dilemma I've ran into is whether I should study Biology or Medicine. I can study Medicine in Hungary, but not in the USA or in England. I am an introvert and a very private person and I enjoy solitude, so some might argue that Medicine is not the best career path, but I contend that some medical specialties, like Pathology, involve less human contact than others. Biology is also appealing as I think I would thrive on doing pure research. I did some job shadowing at a hospital and I can't tell whether a career in Medicine would make me happy. But I definitely won't be happy being an unemployed biologist or a technician who does the same stuff over and over again.

Since I'm confused and depressed, I come to you asking for advice about: (1) What and how should I decide to study; (2) Where should I study.

Thanks for reading!



34 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:01 PM
New Comment

I'm confused and depressed

Not the best state of mind to make long-term decisions in. It seems that you are asking wrong questions. Why are you "confused and depressed" instead of excited about having several great opportunities to choose from and eager to enjoy the world? What are you afraid of? What's the worst that could happen? How hard would it be to change direction if you find that your chosen path is not working out? What skills do you need to recognize it and be able to correct it? This last question is what this forum is best equipped to answer. You might find that, once you are confident in being able to steer your career in the right direction, instead of flying ballistic after the initial push, your anxiety about making a wrong choice and ruining your life forever will ease and let you think clearly.

I felt a certain wrongness about my answer to this post and this addresses it way better. I think addressing the emotional issues here is probably far more important. Especially the apparent ambivalence between two totally different fields.

I'm confused and depressed

Not the best state of mind to make long-term decisions in.

What other state should you be in for answering difficult questions? Regarding confusion, a tough decision that can go either way should feel like confusion until you have a convincing answer. Picking a college is a literal once (maybe twice) in a lifetime question that is fully out of context for him.

As for depression, there's a school of thought that (certain types of) depression* is nature's way to make you focus on thinking and adopt a risk averse strategy in the meanwhile (re food/social stance). Here's a well linked to article from Time. In SAT analogy form, Anger : Precommitment :: Sadness : Thinking. This is not to say that depression is good per se, but that it is not automatically dangerous to make hard decisions while in a depressed state of mind.

*This theory defines depression as the expected short-term depression one feels after a loss (eg losing a loved one), and the theory considers clinical depression as a malignant variant of adaptive depression.

I'm confused and depressed

Not the best state of mind to make long-term decisions in.

What other state should you be in for answering difficult questions?

Confused and happy. Confused with neutral affect. Maybe not-confused and proud of yourself for acquiring the information needed to make the decision a no brainer.

(I do agree that it can depend on the situation and that various moods bias us in ways that can be more useful in certain situations.)

Is there any research about how whether one makes better decisions when one is happy then when one is depressed?

Point 1: If you have specific schools you're choosing from you should just say them, but as is your statements about cost and quality of education in britain and america don't make any sense.

Point 2: If you care about learning the college you go to is a lot less important than your own effort and energy. Lectures are inefficient at teaching, and you can learn almost any field through diligent reading. The most important difference between colleges is prestige.

1: The precise schools' names are irrelevant, for they're all on par academically, whether they're in England or the USA.

2: True, but in the USA, for instance, I have more means to educate myself in school, as opposed to Hungary. Also, consider the learning environment!

The precise schools' names are irrelevant, for they're all on par academically, whether they're in England or the USA.

No, they are the most important thing. If you want to ask for advice, you should not cripple peoples' ability to give you advice by withholding vital information. The best thing that you could hope to get out of this thread is some surprising information (good or bad) about one of the schools, which makes it a clear winner or loser.

The crux of my confusion is not what school to pick, but what to study and in which country.

Anyhow, in the USA I'm thinking some liberal arts colleges: Berea, Bowdoin, Bates, Carleton, Harvey Mudd. England - I got an offer at Durham for Biology.

From a financial standpoint, Harvey Mudd may be a good choice; its graduates tend to do pretty well (I am in no way affiliated w/ Harvey Mudd, though I was accepted there):

I can't really speak to the others.

Regarding biology vs. medicine, how well does medicine pay in Hungary? How transferable is a Hungarian medical degree?

Durham is widely viewed in England as second only to Oxford and Cambridge. (For some specific subjects, Warwick, LSE, Imperial etc. do better, but Durham does well overall).

I had a very long post before Firefox crashed and ate it. Long story short: Find out exactly how much debt is 'negligible' before doing anything else.

1) How much can your parents pay per year? I've never known a single foreign student who wasn't able to show ability-to-pay prior to acceptance.

2) Foreign students rarely get financial aid and never get loans without a cosigner. Do you have a US/UK cosigner? Does this mean your parents will be taking out a personal loan (at higher APR) in Hungary to pay for your tuition?

3) What sort of debt burden can they handle if you drop out? What sort of debt burden are you comfortable with if you graduate?

4) What is your contingency if something goes wrong (eg father laid off) for each schooling location?

Example, you mention Bowdoin university as a university you are considering. Bowdoin's total cost in 2009-2010 was $50,485 to out-of-state students. Assuming $2000 in travel expenses a year, and ~$2500 incidentals you end up with 55k a year. Lets say you get a 11% APR[1], because you likely won't be getting US Govt subsidized loans[2] and would require your parents to cosign in Hungary. You're ~8% likely to drop out[3] and it will cost you on average $58k. You're ~92% likely to graduate, and it will cost you on average $261k. That's approximately 201,000 Euros, minus whatever your parents can pay.

If $260k in debt for a US school is 'negligible' I shudder to consider UK costs. (Though, upon research it seems they're actually cheaper than US schools and I'm left wondering how much research you've given to this topic.) Further, the idea that you'd just 'squat' somewhere is simply insane. Such an action would drastically increase your chance of dropping out, which is a ridiculous option versus a comparatively sure thing at home in Hungary, and as noted above, dropping out is expensive too.

In summary: Double check to see if going abroad is feasible and actually calculate the cost before going any further.

[1] I don't know the Hungary rates, but I assume they're similar to US rates.
[2] Subsidized loans are currently 6.8% and would subtract about 15k from the total cost. Plus they have other benefits compared to personal loans (tax deductions, grace periods, etc) that measure in the tens of thousands. [3] Bowdoin has particularly good graduation rates; some colleges don't (eg, at Purdue only 40% of students graduate within 4 years). Even a small change in graduation rates can drastically increase costs.

Thanks for the heads-up.

In the USA I'll receive full-need financial aid, hopefully, which means that I'll only pay what I can afford, without going into insurmountable debt In the UK I'll take a loan to pay for the tuition, which can be paid back after I start earning a certain salary.

Why do you believe you will receive full-need financial aid in the US? Specifically, are you a US national currently living in Hungary and do you have some way to establish residence in the US?

Governments do not give financial aid because students need it. Governments view financial aid as an investment in the future; students pay back the government by paying higher taxes and having more economic activity once the student graduates. A foreign student never pays taxes, as they return home after they graduate, so a government has no incentive to help them.

Financial aid for non-nationals is exceedingly rare. Super, super rare. With the recession going on, financial aid of all types is harder to get and foreign financial aid was already hard to get. For most foreign students, ability to pay the complete cost of tuition without any aid is a significant factor to admissions. While foreign college attendance in the US has been going up, that's because we've been using the higher cost that foreign students pay to help pay for domestic students.

What specific factors make you believe that you will receive US financial aid and not UK financial aid?

No, I am not an American citizen. Every single college that I am applying to is private. Private colleges that claim to offer full-need financial aid to international students usually do that. I also keep in touch with a handful of international students studying in the USA and they all receive the financial aid they needed, from private colleges of course.

What specific factors make you believe that you will receive US financial aid and not UK financial aid?

Except for a tuition fee loan, there is no other financial aid I can receive in the UK, either from the government or from the university.

I can't understand how you got the impression that I am applying to public institutions, given that I wrote what colleges I am applying to above. (Bowdoin is a private college, for example.)

One difference I haven't seen mentioned: in American liberal arts colleges, you can pretty much mix and match any combination of courses you want as long as you reach a certain (small) required number of courses in your major (which you don't have to decide until halfway through or so, and can always change with minimal penalty). In England (disclaimer: I've never studied there, but I've studied in Ireland which I think is similar) you get accepted to one course and with a few exceptions you've got to just study that. If you're a dilettante who likes experiencing a little bit of everything, America might be better for you. On the other hand, many American colleges require that you take a certain amount of everything, and if you know what you want and don't want to waste time satisfying a Literature or a Foreign Languages requirement, you might prefer the English system. Obviously I know nothing about Hungary.

If you decide to stay in Hungary and pursue medicine, you might be interested in the local equivalent of an MD/Ph.D program. It would allow you to have the MD and therefore the career prospects, while still being involved in pure research. I think becoming a doctor and then spending the rest of your life in academia is probably at least as easy as getting a Ph.D in biology and then living comfortably in academia (source: wild guess) and you would have the MD to fall back on if the academia didn't work out. The only thing you'd have to worry about is being able to make it through medical school and maybe a few years of regular medical practice while you built up your research credentials enough to switch to full-time academic work. I know nothing about the Hungarian system, but some residencies in the States have specific "research tracks" for people who want to end up in academia.

It should be noted that Yvain's input is particularly valuable here, being familiar with schools on both sides of the pond and having studied medicine.

I've been long time thinking about asking whether we could have something like a "Ask the LWers" thread where you could post personal questions in hope to get some helpful rational outside view.

I've been long time thinking about asking whether we could have something like a "Ask the LWers" thread where you could post personal questions in hope to get some helpful rational outside view.

Have you encountered specific instances where asking such a question in the open thread didn't provoke a desired response? Or are there enough such questions that they clog up the open thread? If so then a new thread sounds useful!

Have you encountered specific instances where asking such a question in the open thread didn't provoke a desired response?

No, I haven't. Actually, I very rarely check the open thread (though trying to rectify this). I think it might help to have this (and maybe a couple other recurring threads) to be sticky.

If there was enough personal questions it might be worth to have a thread for them. If one of the aims of LW is to improve life via rationality, this is well aligned and likely a useful thing. How to properly ask such a questions would have to be worked out too...

This is what I was contemplating! Could you create an article with this proposal?

Or just create the thread, and then see if it gets used. :P Less meta-proposals, more empiricism.

In my experience, university in England is rife with soul-crushing bureaucracy, relative to the USA.

You've already been accepted to particular schools, I assume? I think that matters at least as much as which countries they're in.

Only in England. I've started working on my college application and university admissions in Hungary at undergrad level is more of a formality.

I always thought American universities were better than British.

I think there's more of a range in American universities. A large percentage of the U.S. population attends post-secondary school. It's a large country with hundreds of colleges and universities. My impression is that our top colleges are comparable to Oxford and Cambridge. Bates and Bowdoin are reputed to be good schools. The question is how they compare to the colleges he could go to elsewhere. I, also, wonder how and why they were selected. Perhaps they are offering financial aid?

[-][anonymous]8y 2

What specific schools did you have in mind?

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

The ones from Hungary are no-name. In regards to England, think slightly below Oxford-Cambridge. The USA - liberal arts colleges, such as Bates and Bowdoin.

Can you see yourself minoring in computer science and majoring in biology? Bioinformatics is likely to get huge with personal genomics just having started its very own Moore's Law curve, and it's likely that many interesting jobs will become available that won't involve as much academic competition as traditional biology research positions. Less intense academic competition means less damage from having graduated from a no-name university.

No, I'm not interested in computer science.