Affordable College: A Reality Check

I took part in many cocktail party conversations about where our children were setting their sights on college, but as the time came near to finance this looming expense, economic reality began to slap me in the face. I sought the wisdom of a seasoned parent who was putting her second child through college who gave me the not-so-mathematically-based advice, “you just do it.”

There are many resources out there on funding an education, and how to save money in the process (e.g., click here.), but my nightly dreams were filled with dread of burying my child in student debt and not getting return on the investment. I knew I had to separate the emotional side of college admissions (“my child got into Princeton” from the practical side of why pursue higher education in the first place?

What’s a Parent to Do?

– Look into your state school and community college. I am fortunate to reside in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Rutgers University and Brookdale Community College are both within commuting distance. Have that realistic conversation with your child that out-of-state does not always mean better. Weigh the pros and cons of going away with the reality of the cost of room and board.

– Use the free tools available to help you avoid sticker shock. The College Affordability and Transparency Center provides a handy, concise site where you can easily access a college’s net price calculator and College Scorecard provide easy access to comparing schools. Payscale.com helps parents to see what recent graduates are making and helps bring a realistic answer to the question, “is this worth it?”

– Talk to your son or daughter about debt, but realize their teenaged brains are not really processing what that debt will feel like four or five years down the road when they may want to move out or go on for a higher degree. Do your homework and keep the conversations light. Let your child know you support them and communicate that you believe that college is a match to be made, not a prize to be won. Competitive schools are great, but they may or may not be the best fit for your child.