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Articles / Applying to College / "Dream" College vs. Big Scholarship

"Dream" College vs. Big Scholarship

Sally Rubenstone
Written by Sally Rubenstone | Aug. 12, 2015

Question: I’ve gotten myself into quite the situation, basically this will boil down to: is the wisest option the cheapest option or the one best for my education?

I am offered an incredible scholarship to attend a school which does not have my major (Captive Wildlife Care and Edu.)- they’ve shown me how I could take classes from two different majors (Enviro. Studies & Biology) to try and end up where I want to but it misses what I feel are key classes. I can take the exact course I want at my dream college, but it will be more expensive. Also my dream college is almost 4x farther away from my loved ones than my cheap option. I have to decide fast because my scholarship is available for this fall only, but still lasts the 4 years. I’m so torn between what I could afford and the educational experience I want. One might not get me the education I need and the other could drown me in debt. HELP!  ~thanks a bunch~

It’s irresponsible to advise you without knowing a lot more about you and about the two colleges that you’re choosing between. But I can tell you a couple things that might help you make the choice yourself.


  1. It’s very common for college students to change their major and their career goals once, twice or even three times before finishing college. Thus choosing a college based on a specific major has both pros and cons.

  1. If you go to the debt-free college and take classes in environmental science and biology, you can then look for summer internships (or, depending where your college is located, even school-year internships) in your specific field of interest. When it comes to getting a job after graduation, your internship experience will probably speak more loudly than your course work.  You also may be able to find summer classes in Captive Wildlife Care and Education. And taking one or two summer courses could be a lot less pricey then spending four years at an expensive college, especially when you’ve been offered a big scholarship elsewhere.

Also keep in mind that your chosen field is typically not a high-paying one, so if you are saddled with college debt after graduation, it may plague you for many years thereafter. You also have to factor in travel costs to the expensive school.

Again, I really shouldn’t be counseling you, given how little information I have. But I hope that you’ll consider those two key points as you make your final decision.


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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