And economic realities should tamp any optimism that even the ritziest graduate degree will yield a high-paying job that will make paying off big loans easy. Mass layoffs of attorneys across the country are causing worries among law students and newly minted lawyers. Although graduates of top-flight M.B.A. programs typically repay their loans within nine years, they, too, need to be realistic.
"Students need to consider what is their earning potential when they graduate," says Jack Edwards, director of financial aid for Stanford's Graduate School of Business. A recent study of graduates of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business found that their average starting salary was a healthy $126,000, and, within nine years, the men were earning an average of $400,000. In the same period, the women's salaries averaged $250,000. And 13 percent of women had stopped working altogether, often because of family responsibilities.
Bobbie Daniels, the medical student, says she is counting on an eventual salary in excess of $200,000 to help her pay down her big debts. Borrowing so much is not ideal, she says. "Live as frugally as you can starting out. You can't get that money back," she says. And fix any credit problems before enrolling in graduate school, she advises.
But small financial worries shouldn't stop anyone from pursuing a dream education, she adds. "I don't want to discourage people. I am very happy I will be a doctor. If you can afford to do it, you should."