The cost of private education


The cost of private education? That is what I was wondering the other day when I was talking to my wife and it led to this blog post.

I went to a fairly expensive college, George Washington University. I think at the time (1998) it actually was one of the, if not the most expensive schools. Why did I decide to go there? Well my brother was attending the school and living in Washington, DC seemed amazing to a suburban boy from Tennessee. Sure I had gotten into University of Tennessee (Go Vols) with a scholarship, but adventure won over finances.

Through a combination of high school AP classes and smart planning I was able to meet all of my medical school and major (BA in religion) requirements in 3 years. That move alone saved me over $30,000 between tuition and room and board. I also worked throughout school and was an RA for a year and a half. All of this led me to graduate with less than $30,000 in debt or a third of what my education cost.


Medical school

Then medical school came along. I had applied to an early selection program and was accepted into George Washington University’s Medical School without having to take the MCATs at the end of my freshman year. It was a sweet deal and one many people with kill for. I was grateful for the opportunity and switched my major from Biology to Religion. Who needs all that science when I was going to get it in medical school anyway?


That should have been the end of the story, but then I got to thinking.

I was coming out of college with $30,000 in debt already. If I went to George Washington Medical school for 4 years, tuition alone would cost me $120,000 (I recall it being around $30,000- 35,000 a year) plus the cost of living in Washington, DC which could probably add to another $20,000 a year. I would be looking at an additional $200,000 to $220,000 in debt on top of my college loans.

That sounded crazy to me. So I made a plan. I would take the MCATs and I would apply to my state school, the University of Tennessee. If I got in it would be great. I would save money and move in with my brother (he had started medical school there after my freshman year). If I did not get in, well then I still was going to be a doctor, just at a higher cost.

The cost of medical school at University of Tennessee was around $10,000 a year when I started and it increased to $16,000 by the time I graduated in 2005. This led to a tuition bill of approximately $52,000. The cost of living was also much cheaper in Memphis compared to Washington, DC. Living with my brother made it even cheaper. I did, however, play hard and so I took all the loans I could get. I think I maxed out at about $15,000 a year. This led to a total loan amount of approximately $112,000 for those 4 years as opposed to $220,000 for living in DC.

So one smart mistake (going to public school) countered one young man’s mistake (maxing out loans).


I checked my consolidated loans on writing this article. It states that I started with a loan value of $152,477 when I consolidated college and medical school debt in 2005. When I started paying my loans back after years of deferment and hardship forbearance in 2011, the amount had ballooned to over $180,000. On top of this I took another $10,000 loan in my last year of medical school because I could. This was just plain stupid, but at least I had been smart enough to go to public school.


Cost of private school

Let’s consider if I had gone to GW and taken out $250,000 by the time I graduated medical school (College plus medical school debt). At 3% (my consolidated rate) this loan would balloon to $308,417 compounded daily over 7 years as opposed to $188,106 for my public school debt.

That one decision to go to University of Tennessee saved me $120,311 total of which approximately $98,000 was tuition and another $20,000 was interest over the course of the 7 years I was not making payments.

The cost of private school for me would have been $120,311. That is a lot of cash and basically the amount of my 4 years of medical school.


Not deferring payments for 7 years

Let’s also imagine I had started paying off my debt as soon as 2005 rolled around, then I could have easily saved an additional $30k that had compounded in interest over the 7 years I waited to pay back my debt.


So what is the lesson here?

  • Public schools are great and can save you a lot of money. If you can afford to go to private school and believe the networking will make a difference to your future, then go for it. As far as the education, it is what you make of it. If you are smart and a hard worker, a public school will provide just as strong of an education.
  • Don’t take out more loans then you need and start paying them off as soon as you can. Live within your means and don’t use loan money as an excuse to spend.

What do you think? Is there a value to private over public schools?

Wanna take control of your life?

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.


I am a Dad and Doctor trying to make sure I am living life in the best way possible. Whether it is having my finances together, being a great parent, or balancing my home life with work, I am here to kick a$$ and help you do the same.

10 thoughts on “The cost of private education

  • September 17, 2017 at 6:49 am

    I have experienced both private and public education in my pre-college, college (transferred from public to private midway through) and post-college years, and it would be tough to convince me that private schools are worth the extra cost. Unless there’s a particular set of circumstances, I plan on having our kids go to public university, and depending on the major and situation, would also consider community college in the early stages to fulfill prerequisites, save money, gain residency status, etc.

    • September 17, 2017 at 6:54 am

      We have a junior college in town and I can definitely see the benefit of my son doing some classes there (whether it is while in high school or in the summers) to get a head start on his course count. He can hit up some of the pre-requisites like English and then when he gets to college figure out the rest. Being in California, hopefully he will go to a UC school, but even some of those are expensive.

  • September 16, 2017 at 6:09 pm


    Great post! Like you, had a combo of expensive private undergrad plus reasonable public med school educational debt. Impressive job graduating in 3 years (I was proud to have finished undergrad a quarter early thanks to APs and hard work; you make me feel like an underachiever!). Glad it all worked out in your favor in the end.

    Back when I was applying to med school (’94), I specifically remember GW and Colorado as being the med schools with among the highest annual tuition + boarding costs in the country, so your med school decision was probably incredibly high yield in terms of savings.

    It’s tough in your 20s when the criteria you use to make big decisions with long-term financial consequences (where your shmoopie lives; where it’s fun to be young and alive) might place you in financial shackles for decades to come. Youthful recklessness in educational debt can be tough to live down in your 30s or 40s.

    I think the great experience of fancy undergrad that we both enjoyed is a luxury – nice to provide the kids for those in a position to do so, but by no means a necessity for becoming a successful adult with a productive career…

    Thinks for the brain fodder!


    • September 17, 2017 at 12:12 am

      Thanks for checking in. George Washington was still ranking as one of the most expensive medical schools when I looked for a 2001 enrollment. It is funny how simple youth choices can have such profound impact. I even thought of joining the military to pay for it. Another good option for those making decisions on where to attend, but it is important to weight the benefits with the downsides.

  • September 15, 2017 at 9:44 pm

    Wow that’s $$! Here in Canada my degree cost $2500 a year and my graduate degree was $10,000 in total, but we pay a lot more in taxes. If my kid wants to go to the US for school we better start saving up!!

    • September 15, 2017 at 10:02 pm

      Honestly I think the higher taxes = cheaper education is a fairer system for all. It doesn’t lead to people not going to school and the richer subsidize educating the poorer. It is a win win for society.

  • September 14, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    Great lessons, especially the second bullet point. I am a public school kid born and raised. Attending public school growing up and went to school at Ohio State University. Tuition was super cheap and the education was great and heck, even better than a lot of the other private schools nearby. It can be the right choice for some people in the right circumstance. But I am not one of those people and it seems like you made a very wise choice to become a Volunteer!


    • September 14, 2017 at 8:28 pm

      Go Vols! OSU seemed like a fun school to attend also. I think public school is a good way to go. My friends who attended public school have done just as well (and some better) than those in private…

  • September 14, 2017 at 6:00 am

    Ouchhh. And I thought my private school loans were bad. I racked up $25,000 in my own name and $45,000 in my dad’s name to cover my private undergrad degree (and that was after a scholarship, mind you). There are so many alternatives to a fancy degree. I tell people to opt for dual credit courses in high school, then do your basics online or at community college while working and building your savings, then transfer to an affordable public college to get your degree. Oh, and don’t do forbearance; it def comes back to bite you. :/

    • September 14, 2017 at 7:03 am

      Fully agreed. I was talking with my wife last night about our kid attending the community college right here in town for 1-2 years and then moving up to a 4 year degree. Plus, we both graduated a year early due to AP courses from high school. That move alone saved us a lot of cash.

      As for forbearance, it is another crutch the lenders provide for people to remain in debt. It is amazing how the banks treat student loan debt so differently then other debts. I suspect it is because you can not file for bankruptcy to get rid of it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *