Thanks to all of you who took the time to share your experiences in thoughtful comments on my last post. I guess I should take a few minutes to clarify what it is I hope to be doing with my life. My ultimate goal is a Ph.D. in physics, but I'm not planning to enter graduate school in physics right away. I have a wonderful mentor who does physics education research and is highly involved in efforts to improve science education at both the secondary and university levels. She's been an inspiration and has also given me the opportunity to teach a lab section and discover just how much I enjoy working with students. (Yes, I did enjoy my class, despite the days when they made me want to bang my head against the wall.)
I'm not sure I want to spend the rest of my working life teaching introductory physics to unruly seventeen year olds, but it is something I want to try. Although it might be naive to think so, I hope that by teaching high school I might be able to reach a few kids who would otherwise go through life disinterested in science. If Teach for America accepts me, I'll spend two years teaching wherever they send me. If not, I'll most likely complete the master's program in teaching at my university before entering the classroom.
The out of pocket costs for tuition and fees should be under $3,000 thanks to a scholarship I have lined up. There are other options that might have covered the rest, but I have elected not to pursue them. There's a fabulous new scholarship program for science, math, and engineering majors who want to earn teaching degrees, but scholarship recipients must demonstrate financial need, which I do not have. I could take out student loans offered by my state and then have them forgiven in exchange for years of teaching, but I don't want to be tied to my home state for that long.
As I start my adult life, I want the freedom to start making big decisions for myself, including where to live and how to earn my bread. I'd like to be able to move across the country and start over in a new town or to get a job in a DoD school and teach in Europe or Japan; even if I don't end up doing any of those things, I want to know that I could. A big part of the reason I save money and avoid debt is to allow myself the luxury of more options in life.