The 'Birdman' Effect: Why You Shouldn't Go Into Debt For College
It’s around that time of year when millions of potential students weigh their options for which college to choose.
Many factors go into this decision, like the school's location, reputation, offered programs and whether the tuition costs an acceptably insane amount or not.
What we normally fail to consider, however, is how much our egos will drive our decisions for which schools we ultimately decide to attend and whether this overpowers more important aspects of our decision-making processes.
Ego is one of the most unspoken, yet constantly pervasive forces in our lives. A spotlight was finally shed on ego in Alejandro González Iñárritu's film, "Birdman."
In the movie, the main character, Riggan Thomson, is trying to reinvent himself as a theater actor apart from his prior career as a big movie star superhero.
All the while, he has conversations with his ego, which became embodied in a crazed version of his "Birdman" character.
This alter ego does not actually exist, but Thompson’s conversations with him show how he is in an internal war with his ego, which urges him to give up his current pursuit and go back to being a blockbuster superstar with all the money and fame that comes with the territory.
"Birdman" dominated at the Oscars, flying away with four golden statues, including Best Picture and Best Director.
We can imagine that one reason for its landslide night is because it tapped into the important message that ego is a powerful force that plays a more influential role in our lives than most of us realize.
In our own lives, the "Birdman" in our heads may lead to more ego-driven decisions than we would like to admit.
Ego is to blame if we date someone more as an affirmation of our own self-worth than because we like him or her or when we offer advice we're not really qualified to give.
It's about ego when we take our millionth pouty-faced close up #selfie or when Kanye West does… well, anything.
Ego also leads the day when we consider schools primarily as status symbols and allow our futures be shaped more by a school’s ranking and status than the actual value the education and degree will provide us.
Let’s face it: For most of us, choosing an undergrad or graduate school also means taking on a massive amount of student loan debt.
Forbes estimated approximately two-thirds of American college grads have debt at graduation, and that’s not even taking into account the costs of graduate programs. American federal student loan debt has reached a reported $1.2 trillion total as of 2013.
The numbers are scary, and the fear is real. Sadly, in our competitive, rankings-crazed education system, a lot of these loans may be taken out in order to go to that ritzy private school where we could have otherwise saved on an in-state school or slightly lower-ranked program.
US News, the king of rankings, calculates that the current undergraduate tuition of a year at Columbia University is a whopping $51,008 while a New York resident could otherwise pay $8,619 a year for in-state tuition at SUNY Binghamton.
Now, you may justify the scary difference in cost by saying that a degree from the former will provide far more opportunities, making it all worth it. But most of the time, it honestly doesn't matter.
What matters more is what you get your degree in, how good your grades are and the experience and independent initiatives you seek out.
And sadly, a school’s ranking and reputation won't pay your monthly student loan expenses and a diploma won't comfort you when you're paying crazy amounts of interest, unless you use it as a tissue to cry into.
Most of the time, you’re essentially paying that extra $40k a year for a lifelong superiority complex. Frankly, we don't buy it.
Take it from someone who learned the hard way; do not create your own personal "Birdman" nightmare and let yourself fall into an expensive ego trap that simply isn't worth it.
Instead, consider the following tips:
1. Be introspective.
Take a cold, hard look at the reasons behind what programs and schools you are considering. If you are constantly checking US News rankings or are considering schools for little more than you like the look of their athletic wear or the coed students in them, take a step back and reconsider.
Instead, favor the schools that have a great program and also a lower tuition cost.
First prize goes to the schools that offer you a scholarship or better yet, a free full ride. Now, that would be worth it.
2. Give yourself options.
Apply to a range of schools for whatever program you're interested in so that you don’t pigeonhole yourself.
This gives you a chance to compare various tuition and living costs, scholarships and possible financial aid. With options, you can make the best decision for you.
3. Evaluate your future.
Try to determine what your financial situation would realistically be with a given school when your lender starts asking you to make payments (generally only six months after graduation).
This part should not be taken lightly. Try to speak with a financial adviser if possible to determine what a monthly repayment might look like, given a bad interest-rate scenario. Interest is a tricky bitch. It’s always there, lurking in the shadows, growing.
Try to imagine what life would be like with those payments in the worst-case scenario if you didn't have a job but are still paying rent, bills and other living expenses.
That might lead you to rethink things. Also, do some research and talk to people who are currently working in your field to gauge job competitiveness and salaries.
4. Take things into your own hands.
If you have been offered different scholarship packages by different schools, you may be able to negotiate the costs with admission centers to get better offers.
Never accept a scholarship package offer as final. Only you make it final by accepting it.
5. Take it or leave it.
Lastly, if you're already in school and are unhappy with the program, or just realized the field of study is not for you, don't feel bad about leaving the program.
Dropping out isn’t something to do lightly, but if the reasons are strong enough, there's no shame in doing what's best for your needs.
This is always better than sticking it out for the wrong reasons, like the slight hope things will get better when you know they won't, or because family or peer expectations are pressuring you to stay. After all, it's your life and it's probably going to be you who foots the bill.
In the end, we may need our egos stroked once in a while, but heed the wise words of Mötley Crüe’s Nikki Sixx, “Ego is the great enemy. Ego will hold you back every single time.”
Don't let your "Birdman" hold you back when it's your time to soar.