Importance of financial aid in choosing school?

Hi folks,
I am really struggling with my decision over which med school to go to. I have narrowed it down to 4. One of the 4, the University of Chicago, offered me a great scholarship! It covers have of my annual expenses. But the school I had recently decided was my first choice, Cornell, has just sent me my package, and they are not only NOT offering me any scholarships, but are requiring my parents to contribute $10,000 a year. My parents WON’T do that. Cornell says I should try to convince them, and only as a last resort apply for private loans. With private loans I’d be over $200,000 in debt at the end. Cornell’s average student indebtedness is less than $100,000. So they HAVE money that they are giving out, but they are giving it to other students. This mindset offends me enough that I almost feel like not going there just to spite them. I had a long, very nice conversation with the financial aid director, but she told me that they never, under any circumstances, give students “indepedent” status. My dad’s income as a physician, she said, is all the committee needs to know and they will refuse to give my any aid.
My dad knows about the U of C scholarship, and there’s no way he’ll pony up 10 grand to help me go to school in New York when I could save money and stay 1000 miles closer to home at the same time.
I’m still waiting for financial aid information from two other schools–but they used the same form and I’m expecting their offers to be similar to what I got from Cornell.
Anyway I am wondering what people aroung here think about the possibility of taking on $200,000 in debt over the four years. Would it be a disaster? Should I go to the U of C just because of the scholarship? I liked the school but I really don’t like Chicago as a city. I was sooooo excited about living in New York.
I just got back from a trip to Japan–in fact I just stumbled off the plane from Tokyo less than 2 hours ago, and got this news in the mail. Being in Tokyo reminded me that I love being in big cities. New York would be like that. Whereas I think Chicago would drain the life out of me. But Cornell will drain away a huge chunk of my future income. I don’t know what to do!
Does anyone have advice?

Well, first of all, get some sleep!
I can see having a very tough time choosing between New York and, say, Kirksville. Big city, small town. Can you tell me more about why Chicago would drain the life out of you? I have to tell you, it would have to suck pretty hard for me to blow an extra $100,000 on loans to go somewhere else. I think I’d spend a lot less than that on a spa day once a month to get my soul pumped back in!
I know this sounds flippant, but underneath the humor is my opinion–take the money and run! Of course, this is hypocritical of me, since you don’t see me attempting to re-establish Louisiana residency to get the lower in-state tuition they have there. Maybe I need to do some thinking…

I’m $150,000 in debt and I think I’m considerably older than you… and I’ve gone into a “low-paying” specialty although it’s hard to say that with a straight face when I anticipate having a six-figure income. That said, I also have a spouse with earning potential and so I always feel like I’ve got a bit of a safety net. If I were incurring this on my own I would probably not be quite so flip about it. Anyway, I mention this simply to say that it is possible to get comfortable with a pile of debt!
You’ve got a bunch of conflicting things to work out. First of all, I do think that being happy where you are is HUGE in medical school and I’d have a hard time putting a price tag on it. I submit that it’s possibly (to quote MasterCard) “priceless,” and if that’s the case, it’s easily worth $100K in loans.
However, I witnessed many classmates whose specialty decisions were driven by their awareness of their debt load. One could hypothesize that they MIGHT be trading future happiness (wanted to be a pediatrician, but went into radiology for the money, say) in order to avoid the big loans. So, taking as much money as you can in order to feel as free as possible when making a specialty decision is a reasonable argument.
There really isn’t a right answer to this. Is it possible for you visit U of C one more time? And I agree with Denise, Chicago is a, hmmm, at least medium-size city, isn’t it?

I’d go to the Univ of Chicago. That’s a $40,000 swing you’re talking about - not an insignificant amount. Also, if you fund that through private loans, it’s going to grow even larger because interest will accrue from day 1. Besides, as far as I know, Chicago is a great med school in its own right…it’s not like you’re going to be bypassing Cornell and going to the Caribbean.
I think it’s a little ridiculous about the whole “we never grant students independent status” too. My mother is retired and 70 years old. I’d be ashamed to ask her to contribute one red cent - and so should a med school’s admin office.
One last point - if you were a particular sort of URM with a slightly above average MCAT score and grades, the same med school that told you to shove it would bend over backwards to see that you attended and that your education was financed.
Ask yourself if you want to be put in the position of not only paying for your medical education but in fact potentially subsidizing someone else’s.

Just throwing in my two cents: my advice is to ‘go with what your gut tells you.’ If you really want Cornell in spite of the money issue then accept their offer of admission and work from there to get the finances worked out…‘try to convince them’ as they suggested.
If you feel too uncomfortable about the money, can’t justify the expense and are TRULY ok about turning the acceptance down for financial reasons, then walk away from their offer (based on your post, I wouldn’t say this is is where you are in your feelings about the situation, tho)
If you feel that you can’t get over their attitude toward you and the whole financial aid communication situation, walk away.
As an aside, one of my younger sisters was accepted by Univ of Miami law school but was given no financial aid. She turned them down for that reason. When the law school received her decline of their offer of admission, the Dean called her to ask why. She said it was because they offered her no money while Florida State law school offered her a free ride. The UM Dean then countered with a free ride at UM. So, now my sister is a graduate of the University of Miami School of Law. – I don’t advise declining the Cornell offer as a strategy to get financial aid (my sister didn’t do that to UM; she declined their offer and began packing for a move to Tallahassee). But, if you follow your gut then you might be amazed at the doors that open once you’ve made a decision.
Good luck.

Thanks everyone! Mary R–I am glad to hear you are at peace with the amount of debt you have. I hope that I could also feel that way in the future.

I think this is really about how happy I’ll be each day when I walk outside and look around me. I lived in New York for 2 years and I love how crowded and exciting it is. I know Chicago’s a great city, but it’s so sprawling. I’ve never gotten excited about it. No offense of course to anyone who’s from there! I just know that I get annoyed by the kind of things that go with living in a sprawling city–such as having to rely on a car, shop in huge supermarkets, etc. Also I am ready to live somewhere besides the Midwest for now.

But still I am not experienced enough with financial matters to know how a difference of 100,000 would affect me over time. Part of me is thinking I can just live cheaply for my first few years after residency and pay it off, but another part of me is listening to people who say it’s not worth it to go that much in debt.

I don’t mind the redistribution of wealth that is supposed to be occurring with these policies–I just don’t think it is seems fair to place the burden of debt SO heavily on a small handful of students. I’d be owing TWICE the average student debt at Cornell.

Re: independent status: if your dad is thinking about retiring it could change the picture as they can’t consider retirement income (although they can consider investments, assets, etc). Also, there is always next year; my school has changed policy about this while I’ve been here.
I personally made a choice to eat 40-65K in financial aid difference to go to where I’m going and I feel like it was the right choice. But it does kinda hurt sometimes.