Ivy League – Was It Worth It?

It was a Tuesday in July and I had just arrived on the unit to start my shift. I remember so clearly, I was in the break room putting my lunch in the fridge. I decided to check my phone one more time before my shift started. I had been checking all day and nothing. I opened my email and there it was. A response back from the CRNA program I had applied to many months before. My heart began to race and I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to open the email right before work. What if it was bad news? I hesitated, then tapped the message. My eyes darted quickly through the email for key words. “Would like to offer you…”, “…starting May”, “We all look forward to…”. I was in. I was actually IN!! I just grinned. I couldn’t believe it. It was finally happening. I shoved my phone back in my bag and left to get report. That night I started my shift knowing that I would one day be a CRNA. Me, a CRNA. I couldn’t stop smiling, even if I wanted to. At the time it was all I wanted and I was on cloud nine.

My Ivy League Experience

I’d like to start by saying that, overall, my experience at my school was a positive one. I got a great education and clinical experience in my program. I earned my second (accelerated) bachelor’s degree and my Master’s from the same ivy league institution. I’m writing this article in hindsight, to look more objectively at the value of my education. Bear with me.

Let’s start with the positives. I had access to a high quality simulation lab run by dedicated faculty members. Our sims were always appropriate to where we were in the program and the scenarios were practical and useful in the OR. We had great clinical rotation sites throughout the city and neighboring states, which gave us ample opportunity to learn. Most of us rotated to at least 3 different hospitals during our program, with the option for more sites if desired. I’m glad I trained at many different hospitals during my program (5 to be exact). I got to experience different environments and OR ‘cultures’, as well as wider range of cases. We had a couple of cadaver experiences, which was useful for going over the anatomy for regional blocks and neuraxial anesthesia.

However, my experience with my ivy league program was not all positive. One of the biggest frustrations I had was the lack of opportunity for regional anesthesia for student nurse anesthetists. I attended block workshops on my own time (Saturdays), in addition to the training provided by my program and still, I struggled to get my numbers. Opportunities were given to residents over SRNAs at my primary site. In fact, I never placed a single peripheral nerve block at my primary site. All of my numbers came from my specialty rotations.

Another negative was the cost. I remember whenever I would make a comment about the cost of my program, I’d get the response, “Well, you’re paying for the name.” So, that begs the question, how much of a premium should one pay for a name? I was paying $5,000 per credit. 

Two Years Later

Fast forward 2 years and I had successfully completed my MSN in Nurse Anesthesia. This was me on my last day of CRNA school. I was on my way out of our lecture building for the very last time.  All tests were done. All papers submitted. I. Was. Done.  As you can see I was (overly) excited. During the next few weeks I began to tie up loose ends. I got my credentialing paperwork submitted for my first job, I got my study calendar together for boards, and I did my loan exit counseling. The latter is what brought me right back down to Earth. I logged in to studentloans.gov and typed in my information. All of my outstanding loans were listed… I had to scroll down to see them all. $119,000. This was not even including all of the interest that had accrued while I was in school. I felt sick to my stomach seeing it all at once.

I had a flashback to the first month of my program. I had just applied for my first round of loans to cover the summer session. I asked my mentor (a senior student) how everyone else was paying for school. She laughed and said “Just keep taking out loans. It’s kind of like monopoly money.” It certainly didn’t feel fake. The word overwhelmed was an understatement for how I felt that day.

My Loans Got me Thinking…

By the end of my CRNA program I had started to  read quite a bit about personal finance. I knew I had a large income increase coming my way and I wanted to do things right. The way I saw it I was in the red. I had a 6-figure negative net worth and I had a long road ahead of me if I wanted to get back to broke. 

After the initial shock of my student loans wore off I could start to think about things more clearly.

  1.  After talking with friends/classmates, I realized I was at the lower end of what people had borrowed during our program. So, there was that.
  2.  I wondered if I had made a mistake attending such an expensive school. I had dreamed of going to this school and I think that dream may have clouded my judgement. Why didn’t anyone stop me?!
  3.  I made a decision to pay my loans off quickly. I wanted them gone, like yesterday.
  4.  I knew I needed a game plan and some discipline if I was going to pay off my loans as quickly as I wanted (I aimed for 2.5 yrs). 
  5.  Truth be told, I currently had a negative net worth, so I felt the money I was earning from my first job really didn’t ‘belong’ to me.
  6.  I couldn’t help to think that if I didn’t pass my boards all of this was for nothing. Banks or the government don’t care if you finish school or pass boards. You still owe them the money. 

In the end, I wrote out a plan to pay back my loans and did so in about 2 years. It felt great (no, AMAZING!) to be debt free but I couldn’t help but wonder… did I need to take out so much money to become a CRNA?

So, Was it Worth It?

Was going to an ivy league school worth it?  What was the value of my education? Did I get a better education, both academically and clinically, by going to an ivy league school? Could I have gotten a comparable education, or even a better one, at another college for less?  

I thought about my answer for quite a long time and came to the conclusion that no, it wasn’t worth it.

I say this because at the end of the day, we all take the same boards. The NBCRNA doesn’t care what your GPA was, or what rank you were among your peers. That’s all the illusion of school. What matters most is that you learned what you needed to learn during your program to pass your boards and to provide safe care to your patients. 

During my program, I met a lot of students from other schools on my rotations and while some programs kept students in class for longer before starting clinical, by the end everything seemed to kind of even out. Students who were weaker clinically at the beginning generally caught up by the end. While students who were behind academically studied harder and improved their scores. Those who didn’t left the program. That’s the thing about CRNA school… it’s kind of ‘self-cleansing’. If you don’t learn what you need to in the time you’re given to learn it, you’ll be asked to leave the program. 

While there is a high standard that every school should meet there must be a point, cost wise, where there’s no longer an increased rate of return.  The extra $40,000- $60,000 you invest in a ‘better, more expensive’ program doesn’t give you that much more of a leg up in your career or better educational value than a less expensive school would.

Take a look at this. I randomly selected 12 schools across the country:

Take a second to look at tuition costs versus pass rates. As you can see they don’t correlate. Spending more money for a program does not guarantee you a better shot at passing the boards. In the end, we all take the same boards and have the same hour and case log requirements. 

Although I may have overpaid for my education, I left my program a strong provider. I’m thankful for that but I can’t help wonder how much farther ahead I might be financially if I had gone to a less expensive school. Food for thought.

Did you attend an ivy league school or purposely avoid attending one? Was cost a major factor in choosing your program?

10 Comments

  • Lillian Resnick

    We are lucky to enter a profession that makes paying off these loans feasible. I agree that paying extra for the Ivy name probably doesn’t get you much return for your investment. However I will say that many of my classmates at a public university came out with debt close to $160,000. So it’s possible to get deep into debt without the Ivy price tag. Congrats on paying yours off so quickly!

    • mycrnalife

      You’re absolutely right! I was amazed to see the costs of some programs. Attending a public state school as a resident of the state seemed to result in the lowest tuition costs. And thank you!! 🙂

  • Stevi D.

    I enjoy reading your blog! I’m a first year SRNA at the University of Kansas Medical Center (Rock chalk!), and I’m content with their cost of education. I do still anticipate six figure debt from the program, but I aspire to pay them off as quickly as I can!

    I did debate spending more time at the ICU bedside before applying to CRNA school to decrease the amount of loans I would require for the program. However, I’ll be happy to graduate at a younger age and contribute heavier funds to my savings in my 20’s!

    • mycrnalife

      Hi! Thanks so much for reading! It’s so great that you have a plan to pay your loans off quickly. You bring up such a great point. The CRNA profession is unique in that from just a 2-3 year investment you can earn a six figure income starting in your 20’s. That’s a game changer for achieving financial independence earlier in your career. Good luck in your program!!

    • mycrnalife

      Hi Wayne, I did not! I certainly wish I had exposure to independent CRNAs during school. My clinical experience was exclusively in the care team model. I think being exposed to independent providers would have changed my perception of what my full scope really was.

      • Leslie Diep

        Hello

        If you can help me answer a few questions, I would appreciate it so much. I anticipate applying to CRNA school next year and want to do everything I can to be a competitive candidate.

        1. If a program does not require applicants to take the GRE or organic chemistry, does it make the program any less? I am curious because some schools are strict and require it for admissions. Will ochem help me significantly if I took it before the program start?

        2. Here are my top choices mainly because they are cheaper schools, take the CCRN over the GRE, and in cities close to home. What are your opinions on these programs?
        – Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences in Minnesota
        – Kaiser Permanente School of Anesthesia in Fullerton
        – Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Washington

        3. I read that a lot of Ivy League or well known CRNA programs do clinicals with med students, and therefore they get priority over CRNA students for the better cases. Is this true? Do you think it makes a difference attending a program where the clinical sites are practicing an all-CRNA model verses ACT model?

        Thanks

        • mycrnalife

          Hi Leslie! Thanks for commenting. It’s great you’re thinking about these things so early on.

          1. Is organic chem absolutely necessary? I would say no. While your understanding of chemistry will be important when you’re learning about volatile anesthetics (anesthesia gases) and commonly administered medications, I feel a college level chemistry course along with the information found in common anesthesia texts is more than enough to help you understand the concepts taught during the program. It’s nothing too complicated in my opinion. You will be tested on the chemical structure of these agents and while organic chemistry would be helpful in giving you a deeper understanding of the characteristics of each volatile, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker. I wouldn’t discredit a school because they don’t require the GRE or organic chemistry. There are many great schools that are steering away from the GRE because it’s not a reliable predictor of how a student will ultimately preform in their program.

          -If anything, the course I felt was most important to master was Advanced Pathophysiology. Having a strong understanding of pathophys helped me tremendously throughout the program. (Side note: – Take as many grad courses ahead of time that the program will allow (mine allowed 4, so I took all 4 and paid undergrad prices for them). Just make sure the courses will transfer to your program of choice before signing up. Doing well in grad courses will show you can handle graduate level studies and that you are a self-motivated candidate likely to succeed in their program.)

          2. I don’t know anyone personally who has attended these programs, so I couldn’t say. Applying to programs is pretty individual since it depends on what you’d like out of the program. There are rating systems like U.S. News to get a more subjective ranking of the programs. If you have a friend who is a CRNA or SRNA you can also ask them to post your choices on the CRNA/SRNA facebook page to get an honest opinion from people who have attended (or know someone who has attended) the program.

          3. I can definitely speak to this one. Any program that you apply to that is adjacent to or integrated with a medical school may result in opportunity taken away from you during clinical. I can attest to this personally. And yes! I wish that I had been exposed to all CRNA practices during school. I was trained in the care team model and kind of wish I had exposure to independent CRNAs during school. I would inquire about the different clinical opportunities you will have during school. This is a generalization but if you apply to schools in larger cities that are around medical schools, chances are the majority of your clinical sites will be care team. More rural programs are training providers to possibly be the sole provider, so naturally, the education and clinical experiences will reflect that.

          Here are a few things I wish I considered before I applied to schools:

          – Where are the locations/hospitals I will do clinical? Will you need to travel? Are they trauma level I or small rural hospitals? What are the kinds of cases will I see and are there residents in the same clinical setting?
          – How strong is the regional program? This was a pretty big disappointment for me during my program. I struggled to get my numbers for regional, let alone get a strong foundation in regional anesthesia. I graduated with a weak foundation in regional and my first job was in a care team model that did not allow CRNAs to do regional. I recently moved to the west coast where I see job posting after job posting requiring regional experience. I can’t help but think how useful it would have been to have graduated with a strong foundation in regional for that reason. With many hospitals moving away from opioid use and turning toward multimodal anesthesia (including regional for pain management) it’s definitely something I would want to have in my toolbox. Food for thought.
          – Will you stay in the same hospital for all clinical rotations (OB, peds, cardiac, trauma) or will you rotate to many different hospitals. There are benefits to both, however, by rotating to different hospitals you will be exposed to different OR cultures, cases, and providers, which I feel makes you a more adaptable clinician.
          – Where is the school located? Is the cost of living high? Will it require you to commute in heavy traffic? I went to school in a big city and I was often caught in rush hour traffic on my way home from clinical and class, which wasn’t ideal.
          – Is there a strong simulation program at the school? Sim was pretty valuable in going over different clinical scenarios and practicing skills. Is there a dedicated person who organizes sims? Try to get a feel for how sim heavy or light the program is.

          I hope this helps you form an idea of what you’re looking for in a program. Good luck and please keep me updated!
          Danielle

  • Anonymous

    Thank you for your post! I agree! I attended an ivy league education (your selfie has a background that looks very familiar) and you were spot on with the peripheral nerve blocks. Because I had the yellow ribbon program, I paid about 1/6th of the cost and still didn’t think it was worth it… except for a couple of amazing courses. If you find the sentiment of pedigree valuable and are planning on studying outside of just your DNP/MSN, then go for it. If you want to think autonomously and like a provider then research states (think rural settings) that would foster this. Again, thanks for your post and this website looks great!

    • myCRNAlife

      Thanks for the comment! It’s definitely something I wish was I was aware of while I was researching schools to apply to. There is something to be said for being exposed to independent providers who practice within their full scope while you are in school. While I had great clinical sites, I was only exposed to the care team model and a limited scope of practice. I believe it may have broadened my horizon as to what was possible within the profession had I been exposed to independent providers. Maybe a good topic for a future post. 🙂

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