As a soon-to-be graduating high school senior in the U.S., I'm going to be facing a tough decision in a few months: which college should I go to? Will it be worth it to go to Cornell or Stanford or Carnegie Mellon (assuming I get in, of course) to get a big-name computer science degree, internships, and connections with professors, while taking on massive debt; or am I better off going to SUNY Binghamton (probably the best state school in New York) and still get a pretty decent education while saving myself from over a hundred-thousand dollars worth of debt? Yes, I know questions like this has been asked before (namely here and here), but please bear with me because I haven't found an answer that fits my particular situation.
I've read the two linked questions above in depth, but they haven't answered what I want to know:
Yes, I understand that going to a big-name college can potentially get me connected with some wonderful professors and leaders in the field, but on average, how does that translate financially? I mean, will good connections pay off so well that I'd be easily getting rid of over a hundred-thousand dollars of debt?
And how does the fact that I can get a fifth-years master's degree at Carnegie Mellon play into the equation? Will the higher degree right off the bat help me get a better-paying job just out of college, or will the extra year only put me further into debt? Not having to go to graduate school to get a comparable degree will, of course, be a great financial relief, but will getting it so early give it any greater worth?
And if I go to SUNY Binghamton, which is far lesser-known than what I've considered (although if there are any alumni out there who want to share their experience, I would greatly appreciate it), would I be closing off doors that would potentially offset my short-term economic gain with long-term benefits? Essentially, is the short-term benefit overweighed by a potential long-term loss?
The answers to these questions all tie in to my final college decision (again, permitting I make it to these schools), so I hope that asking the skilled and knowledgeable people of the field will help me make the right choice (if there is such a thing).
Also, please note: I'm in a rather peculiar situation where I can't pay for college without taking out a bunch of loans, but will be getting little to no financial aid (likely federal or otherwise). I don't want to elaborate on this too much (so take it at face value), but this is mainly the reason I'm asking the question.
Thanks a lot! It means a lot to me.
Edit: Thanks to everyone for your wonderful responses! All thought-out and well-written, and I wish I had the time to write comments on all of them. Hopefully, I'll be able to when I get home from school and work later tonight...
Edit 2: Wow! Unbelievable that I've gotten this many helpful responses in such a short amount of time! I haven't had the time to properly sit down and respond to many of these, but I really appreciate the effort, and I will do so tomorrow. Big thanks to everyone who posted!
Edit 3: For those who are interested, I got into CMU, Cornell, and Binghamton, and decided on Binghamton. CMU and Cornell gave me no financial aid whatsoever, while Binghamton, being a state school costs less than $20,000 a year including room and board. When I got the admission letters, the decision was hard, but after visiting Binghamton and realizing just how good of a school it is (state schools are severely underrated in the United States; it's a terrible problem—for what it's worth, it turns out that Binghamton was even more selective than many of the private schools I applied to, not that that inherently means much, but just as a metric), I couldn't pass up. Besides, I visited on a terrible, rainy day, and was still impressed, so I knew it was the one. ;)
Doing some actual financial analysis, I realized I would never be able to pay off the $60,000 a year required for CMU or Cornell, only making choosing Binghamton feel even better.
While this question is specific to my case, I hope this can help someone else in my position.