I am facing, at the moment, what seems to be the hardest decision I've ever made in life (though that's probably slightly overblown). It is a decision that will, to a great degree, determine the course of my life over the next several years, and perhaps influence my opportunities for years after that as well as helping to shape me into the person I will become.
I have to decide where to go for college.
If you will bear with me, allow me to explain my situation. I have been attending a local community college in lou of high school (being home schooled allowed this course), and have amassed a fair number of credits. As such, I am going to be transferring to whichever school I go to. Although, since the classes I took were not always related to my now intended major, it looks like I'll only be transferring in as a first semester Second year (aka sophomore). My intended major right now is Illustration.
My choices, as I'm sure you know, include the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). As to the former: VCU is a local school, only a couple hours from my (and my parent's) residence. Since I've never lived away from home, having parents nearby may make for a more comfortable first step into the big, bad world. VCU is, admittedly, not the prettiest school, set in downtown Richmond, but has adequte facilities in the arts. VCU is a very good art school, ranked, I believe, as the #1 public art school in the nation. Furthermore, it is within my price range, at about $15k a year. My dad's willing to chip in a small bit, but I would have a manageable load of debt when I graduate. One negative to consider is that the first year, I will not be in the major I wanted to be in. For whatever reason, there are two studio classes in their "Art Foundation" program that I do not have, and thus cannot get into Communication Arts (VCU's version of illustration) until a full year since they only accept applicants in the Fall. The Art Foundation classes look, to be perfectly frank, terrible. I recently toured VCU and was witness to the "art" produced in the Art Foundation program. It was all atrocious, hideous, and hardly the caliber of art that I'm interested in creating. Communication Arts, on the other hand, looks like a rather nice department.
And then, there was RISD. I was wait-listed several weeks ago and had pretty much given up hope on getting in... until yesterday. I got a call offering me a spot in. On one hand, I was thrilled to get in, but on the other, I was put into a place to make a hard decision. RISD looks amazing; everything I've seen of Providence, RI looks beautiful, the classes are exceptional, the facilities and opportunities I would have are unmatched, and the general quality of art from both students and faculty is amazing. A slight, though somewhat easily overlooked issue is distance -- living 8~ hours away from home at the somewhat meek age of 18 does seem daunting. But the major issue comes in the form of money, or the lack thereof. RISD is insanely expensive. At around $45k per year, plus a required $9k~ summer session, I would graduate with a gargantuan amount of debt. Over $100k in debt in my early 20's may just be enough to hinder me, but there could be -- I don't know this with certainty -- an increased income from going to RISD that would help offset that debt.
And lastly, there was the thoughts... of grad school. I am interested in getting a masters, and would love to do that at RISD (or perhaps Yale). Now, if I went to RISD for my undergrad, I would, after grad school, have about $200k in debt. Dang. I could buy a house for that much. Alternatively, if I went to VCU for my undergrad, and then RISD (which would be considerably harder to get in to) I would end up with a little less than $100k in debt, which would at least seem more manageable. VCU was rather scummy with their information and, as it turns out, I wasn't eligible for scholarships that would've been a cakewalk for me to get (grr). RISD has some financial aid, but that is mostly need based, and though my family is not rich (especially now), it probably won't show on my FAFSA form that I'm a needy person. Oh, and because I didn't expect to get into RISD, I only just started to fill out a FAFSA, which cannot be processed till after I have to make my decision.
I need to make a decision by Tuesday.
If any of you have personal experience with either of these schools, or have heard anything, or just want to give me some advice, I'm all ears. For a decision like this, I'd like to have as much advice as I can get, especially from great artists like yourselves.