New York University: Tale of 2 Students

Today I’m going to use New York University as a punching bag.

I’m going to use NYU to illustrate how too many well-meaning families muddle through the college process and end up looking for the most highly ranked colleges without considering the price.

Some of these families end up like Cortney Munna, a 26-year-old woman, who is facing nearly $100,000 in student debt, after graduating from New York University. NYU happens to be the second most expensive college in the country. Cortney got into this mess with the encouragement of her mother. An column in The New York Times yesterday on high student debt focused on Cortney’s fate.

Clearly NYU was a horrific choice for this young woman, who mistakenly thought that the patina of her degree would bring her a career with big bucks. It hasn’t happened. She is now earning $22 an hour at a job, which is the highest pay she has enjoyed since graduating five years ago.

NYU Price Tag

It’s no wonder that Munna is strugging with college debt. NYU costs close to $54,000 a year and the school typically only meets 71% of a student’s financial aid need. And that 71% includes loans. For a wealthy school, that sort of aid package is truly dreadful. It’s no surprise that students graduating from NYU leave with average college debt of $33,500, which is far higher than the national average.

Rejecting NYU

Today, however, I want to applaud a family that did manage to resist the allure of NYU after receiving very little financial help.

The daughter of a friend of mine has been wanting to attend New York University since she was in middle school. She dreams of becoming a film director and she is quite talented.  I warned her parents at least two years ago that NYU typically offers underwhelming financial aid packages.

Sure enough, NYU accepted Lia, but only gave her $5,000. Leslie (the mom), calculated that she and her husband would go into $100,000 debt and Lia would have to assume $40,000 in student loans to make this work. The prospects of all this student debt didn’t discourage Lia. She still wanted to go!

Luckily, Lia also received an offer from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles that would cut 83% off the price of its bachelor’s degree. Lia earned this phenomenal deal because of her extraordinary film-making potential. Loyola Marymount also has a film school and it’s in LA for goodness sakes.  How can you beat this price?

My friend Leslie and her husband told Lia she would be going to Loyola Marymount. Lia is still smitten with NYU, but hopefully she will come around to the wonderful educational opportunity in front of her. Maybe the new car that her parents can now afford to buy her will help.

Sometimes parents have to save their children from their own naivete. I bet Cortney Munna wishes her mom had done the same for her.

Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of a new eBook, Shrinking the Cost of College: 152 Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. She also blogs about college for CBSMoneyWatch. Follow her on Twitter.

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4 Responses to New York University: Tale of 2 Students

  1. Amy June 18, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    I don’t understand why NYU or other colleges are being called on the carpet and blamed when students and parents make bad financial choices. As an NYU alum I can say that there are many reasons why NYU is a hugely appealing school. I can also say that having gone on to an Information Session there, they make it pretty clear that they base their merit-aid on your FAFSA. If NYU doesn’t offer you much money that ought to be telling you that you can’t afford to go without incurring huge debt from some other source. And anyone who is planning to live in NYC ought to know that everything is more expensive there, certainly real estate!

    In the article Cortney and her mother wonder where they went wrong. Where do I begin? They did everything wrong. She is a perfect example of a student who had no business attending that school. But that was her choice, and not the school’s responsibility to say she shouldn’t.

    Students usually hear, through research or through the grapevine, that if they don’t have a 1350 CR & W SAT and a really solid HSGPA they are not likely to get into NYU. If she had the grades to get into NYU she certainly could have gone to a very selective New York State university, such as Binghamton or Geneseo. Or to any of dozens of other public or private schools with somewhat lower academic requirements that would have welcomed her with open arms and a solid scholarship.

    When she graduated she could have moved in with her mother, as so many students have had to do. She might have taken over running the Bed & Breakfast, tutored on the side, and maybe her mother could have gotten a job in the local community. And maybe, someday, this student could afford to go to grad school at NYU on a grant or a teaching fellowship. Just a scenario.

    Instead she lives on her own in one of the most expensive cities in the country. She’s paying rent, insurance, cable/internet, utilities, and so is her mother on the other side of the country. The student is worried she won’t get a good paying job in upstate NY? But she’s not worried that she won’t get a good paying job in pricey San Fran? So what kind of job did she THINK she was going to get, with a major in Interdisciplinary Studies and Women’s Studies? I don’t think this is on the list of the 10 most lucrative degrees of 2010. Did she simply think a degree with New York University stamped on it was an entree into a job?

    The article screamed a young girl who took a much larger bite than she could chew, right from the start, and went into the entire situation blind. And where was her high school guidance counselor’s voice in all of this, right from the beginning? I would think that anyone entering into that kind of financial commitment would seek some expert advice before signing those promissory notes.

    I’m sorry, but with so much immediate technology and hugely accessible information available, this whining article did not garner my sympathy.

    As for Lia, going to school in LA is going to be a different life than school in NY. If she really wanted to be in NY, not just for NYU but for the tremendous benefits that living in that city would offer a budding filmmaker, she certainly could have done so. The City University of NY has a wonderful film program at Brooklyn College -at a fraction of the price of NYU. Or she could have taken other kinds of programs, everything from acting to theater arts to media studies, at numerous other great schools in NYC, most less pricey than NYU and more generous with financial aid, including Pace University, Fordham University, The New School, and others. I think the larger problem here is that students don’t get broad and diverse advice about their college choice. They may have Dream Schools in mind but they need some Reality Checks when it comes down to the real choices they make.

  2. belinda May 30, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    Not to be mean, but USC degrees get you a job in film, not Loyola-Marymount. She’ll be lucky to be a pa on a reality show. You don’t need film school to become a director.

    • Lynn May 31, 2010 at 9:43 pm #

      Hi Belinda,

      Hate to disagree with you, but attending USC doesn’t guarantee anything. You might want to check out my other college blog that discusses where the Oscar-nominated directors attended school. You might be surprised. Here is the link: http://bit.ly/9xQvxd

      Initiative and talent counts a lot more than US News’ rankings.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy

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