I have a family (including 2 kids), so 2 years with no income is a daunting idea. Fortunately, business school is going to be a bit cheaper for me than most. A couple years ago, congress upgraded the GI Bill education benefits which have put my MBA dream on clearance. My benefits will cover the undergrad rate of the most expensive public university in each state. Additionally, the Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary program where private schools can offer additional benefits so that veterans can afford the higher cost of tuition of private schools. Lastly, the new GI Bill pays the qualifying vet a housing allowance which is a substantial load off of the financial requirement of 2 years sans income. This benefit ranges from about $1000 to $3000/month based on the cost of living of the city.
This brings the cost of tuition and fees down significantly – down to, and including, free. The preliminary list of schools I could attend tuition free includes Wharton, Tuck, Ross, Fuqua, Johnson, and GA Tech, among others, and this doesn’t even take the housing stipend into account.
So that means the world is my oyster right? Well… kinda. My parents are finishing their 1500sf basement in Atlanta and they’ve offered to let us live there rent-free for 2 years. So now we’re in the realm of being able to survive the entire 2 years without my wife having to work and without taking 1 cent in student loans. This is a very enticing possibility, but the huge question that I need to answer for myself is this: is that financial freedom worth giving up on the “better” business schools elsewhere?
Savings realized by living in Atlanta include:
Rent: 1000-2500/mo (remember: wife, 2 kids, 80 lb dog)
Efficiencies from combining meals w family: 200/mo
Free babysitting: priceless
I estimate that the total savings from living in Atlanta over the 2 years will be between $35K (in a low rent area like Duke or UVA) and $75K (in a high-rent area like Boston, Philadelphia, NYC, etc). This doesn’t even include the additional cost of tuition if I chose a school not on the “free list”. Harvard would be $25K/year extra bringing the total to $125K.
In pure financial terms, Harvard would almost definitely be worth $125K more than Emory or GA Tech, and Wharton would undoubtedly be worth $75K more. The lifetime earning potential for a top3 grad could easily be $1 million more than Emory/GA Tech. But there is also added non-financial benefits such as company for my wife when I’m working on projects late and on weekends, plentiful childcare making life easier, easier Christmas scheduling/decreased travel requirements, no need to find an apartment that will accept 80-lb dogs, the happiness associated with being close to extended family (all of our families live in the Southeast) and a myriad of other small problems. In addition, I question the value of a top3 business program if you A) don’t want to live in the northeast and B) don’t want to be a banker or consultant. More on this in a later post.
There are also issues with getting a job in the south from a school in the northeast, but this too I’ll talk about in a later post. I’ve rambled enough for tonight.