I graduated with an MPH from Columbia in 2007. I saw your question and wanted to offer some suggestions based on my experience. Is it crazy to get an MPH, if that means I'll end up with over 6 figures in student loans?
Financially speaking it is a little crazy to take on 6 figures worth of debt for an MPH. I currently work for a federal agency. With their lock and step salary schedule, I earn $52,000 a year based on education and experience. This is not much more than what you are making with a bachelor’s degree. Based on money and mathematics alone, incurring $70,000 to $80,000 worth of debt to boost your salary by $10,000 to $15,000 is a horrible return on investment.
That said if you are absolutely sure that health communications is the career you want to pursue, an MPH will be a valuable credential to have. Those three letters after your name will give you an air of expertise and help you further your career. The benefits from having a solid educational background in biostatistics, epidemiology, health policy, socio-medical sciences, and environmental health will help you craft better communication initiatives.
The way my husband (back then he was just my boyfriend) and I handled my student loans was to not borrow money for anything other than tuition. Living expenses, books, and food were paid for out of pocket. I graduated with $46,000 in loans, which have been paid off. We did this by living only off of his income. All of my take home pay was thrown at the loans till they were gone. A residual bonus to this strategy is that we got used to this lifestyle and still save all of my income.
To make this work the two of you will have to be ridiculously dedicated to getting out of debt. If you two want to go on vacation, or get married, or buy a car, or buy a house, it will have to be with what you can save from his income. You can’t touch yours until the student loans are paid off.Is it crazy to do that, if I'm going to a top-notch school which hopefully would help me make connections and get a strong start to my career, where that much debt could reasonably be paid off?
The connections you make with faculty and peers will be good for your career, but not necessarily your salary. You mentioned that you would like to work for a federal agency. The salaries of government employees are based on education and experience with no room for negotiations. With a master’s degree you would qualify for a GS-9 position. I am not sure how they will account for the experience you are earning with your current job. You can find federal wages here based on location. http://opm.gov/oca/10tables/indexGS.asp
The University of Michigan conducts employment surveys on recent graduates. You can see the results for different specialties here. http://www.sph.umich.edu/careers/job_search/surveys.htmlIs it crazy for me to leave a job I love, that pays me well, in my chosen field, in this economy?
Honestly it sounds like you will have to leave this job eventually. Whether it will be to go to grad school or follow your boyfriend is the only uncertainty. How do I make the decision in a way that respects both my and my boyfriend's hopes and goals?
It sounds like the other two schools are not a good fit for you. If you want to work on national programs, schools that focus on local communities won’t give you the skills you need or the connections. Additionally, it sounds like the other two cities are not a good fit for your boyfriend. If he can’t find a job or has to take one he dislikes so you two can be together while you can go to a school that you dislike, what the heck is all the sacrificing and compromising for? The money saved by going to an ill-fitting school and city will not be worth it if it costs you two your relationship.
I think the best course of action is to have your boyfriend try to find a better job offer in DC or Baltimore. I am assuming your top school is John Hopkins based on your description. If he finds a job, you should jump at the opportunity to go to school and he should accept the job offer.
Plan B: If he can’t find a better job than the one currently offered in your town, you two should stay put, build your resumes, pay down your undergrad loans, save up for grad school and reapply a couple of years down the line. He might be grumpy having to stay a little longer in his hometown, but you have both proven that you can be reasonably content here.
I hope this helps. If you have any questions regarding schools or programs, I would be more than happy to answer. Good luck!