We all know that college or trade school is mandatory for most professions these days. So why are we all walking around with sad faces over how much it costs? I think it is because we have not yet accepted it, so today I will ask you to do so. Let’s get real about the cost of college before it is too late. No matter how you slice it, graduating from high school means the beginning of payments (or borrowings) for tuition, room and board, books, and other fees.
About two-thirds of college students graduate with loans. The average for those with only a Bachelors degree is about the price of a brand new mid-size car. This reported statistic doesn’t include private loans and credit cards. I went to college on a full academic scholarship, but I still ended up borrowing money for various things because college is expensive. I played sports, so I didn’t work much, but I still had to have cash for all sorts of expenses if I was to have a good shot at a career. I chose to attend the highest ranked Accounting program for graduate school, and it cost me even more. Add to that the uncertainties from moving to a new state, as well as out-of-state tuition. I am proud of my education, and I don’t regret it. I would be nothing without it, and the value I received is such that I am not surprised by my loans.
My assertion that college is for rich people doesn’t say non-rich people can’t or shouldn’t get an education. My point is that they shouldn’t complain about how expensive it is. There is no sense in me buying a Mercedes Benz, and then complaining when the bill comes due.
What You Should Know
I think students and parents should know that college is expensive, but the right education is worth it. They should know that yes, there are many scholarships available, but most are for small amounts that won’t add up to much. Even Division One athletes do not always get a full scholarships, and the best scholarships are incredibly competitive. Athletic scholarships are often for ONE YEAR and so many student-athletes graduate with huge debts if their team needs change. Is your child a high school star? Well, he/she will still find it hard to get scholarships because there are thousands of students all over the country with 3.5 GPAs or higher.
Students and parents should also know that a little over half of all college students will graduate, and less than 70% will graduate in less than six years. They should consider whether working during school will improve their finances – but make sure it doesn’t hurt their academic performance. They should also consider that the trendsetters on a college campus are either rich people’s children or the ones who will be depressed in four or five years by their student loans. Just because the school bookstore is selling iPads doesn’t mean that it is appropriate for a 19-year-old living on loans and hand-outs. So what if the student earned that money? They should buy textbooks or pay some of their tuition – because next year’s financial aid award will be reduced by that income.
Maybe if we can all get real about what college really costs, we can fully weigh it against the benefits. I bet that it doesn’t make sense for at least 20% of the people going into college these days. I would bet also that more than half of each year’s high school graduates should go to college when they are older and less sheepish.
Maybe parents can offer up front to have the child move back home for a year or two after graduating, instead of it being an unfortunate last resort? Maybe children can understand what they are up against, and actually learn something while there? Maybe if parents knew, they would encourage their children to major in subjects where they can earn above a 3.0 GPA – as opposed to whatever pays the most, or feeds their ego? Contrary to popular belief, it is better to be a super marketable janitor than a doctor nobody wants to hire.
We all know that there are two ways to start anything – cash or loans. If something is worth paying a certain amount of money for, chances are that it is worth it to borrow the same amount. Unfortunately, most of us remain overly optimistic about our ability to fund a college education. We think we’ll get scholarships, but don’t study or play sports at a level that will beat the competition (and there are many).
Parents still don’t tell children explicitly how much exactly they can contribute in cash and kind each year…some say “you’re on your own”, while others quietly hope that the 529 plan will grow into thousands or scholarships will appear.
If you don’t get real, you can’t plan. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. The choice is yours – what will you do?