For the love, go to Duke. Yes, NYC is hard to live in even with disposable funds. Given your focus on money and debt, you would probably choose not to live in Manhattan, opting instead for somewhere way out in Brooklyn or Jersey City or Hoboken. At that point, you've missed the boat on the ability to say "I lived in NYC." And no, the prestige difference isn't THAT great. When comparing such similar alternatives, what really matters is your comfort at the place you choose so that your performance is the best it can be. You sound like you'd be more comfortable at Duke, so this seems like a no-brainer. That said, stop asking people that have just as little experience, insight, and perspective as you do about such a huge, important decision and come to your own conclusion.