Now that my second child is on their way to college, I think my wife and I have narrowed in on an approach to higher education that is sustainable. Here are the principles we’ve been teaching and doing with our children.
Go to a school that is affordable.
It would be great fun to drive a Ferrari 458. Really great fun. But until I win the lottery, it’s just not realistic to own a $250,000 car. Instead I drive a low-end Acura. The Ferrari is literally 10 times the cost of my Acura. Does that make it 10 times better to drive during my daily commute? The Acura serves me very well. There are way better things to spend my limited money on. The same concept applies to schools. Is the small class size and name and some extra networking opportunities really 10 times better than a qualified school with in-state tuition? Perhaps better, but 10 times better? I think you have better things to spend your limited money on. If you can get scholarships or tuition reduction, then go for it. If your money is unlimited, then go for it. Want to take out loans for the expensive school? Read the next item.
Do not go into debt.
I hear people talking about exiting school with a degree and 50 or 100 or 200 thousand dollars in debt. I find that crazy. It’s a mortgage that you can’t live in that will take 30 years to pay off. Do you really want to burden your existing or future family with that much debt? It does not have to be that way. Pay as you go. If you need to take a semester or a year off of school to earn money to carry you through the next period, do that. There is absolutely no shame in that. You need to go at the right pace so you exit school with zero debt. And don’t go into a crazy-expensive private school – there is no shame in a public university.
As parents, we will match whatever you can get.
I can help because it is expensive, but I want you to have financial skin in the game. So we will do a 1-for-1 match of whatever income or cost offset you can get. Get a job and earn some money, and we’ll kick in a matching amount. Play video games and hang with your friends and earn nothing, and we’ll kick in nothing. Now do you have motivation to put it in that scholarship application? My first daughter is earning money to cover her living expenses, and we pay for her tuition, these being roughly equal. I like that arrangement, as she gets quicker feedback on managing her living expenses, those being more variable than her tuition expenses – she learns budgeting and balance.
As parents, we will cover your first semester or year expenses while you get your feet under you.
It can be a tough transition from high school to college. When you get to college you are going to need to apply yourself at a substantially different level than that last year of high school where you breezed through your classes and had a case of senioritis. Although ultimately I want you to be financially responsible for your education, more importantly I want you to be successful in your education. In the beginning I want the transition to college to be successful. I don’t want the first year or semester to be a failure when you combine tougher school with a job, which may also be the first time you’ve done this combination. So focus on school for the first semester or year, figure it out, and I will cover your tuition and living expenses. I’m not going to cover your playing expenses: learn to be frugal and figure that out on your own.
Although we are helping financially, you are responsible for getting the bills paid.
Is tuition or rent or meal plan payment due? I’ll transfer my contribution to your bank account. But you need to go to the tuition office and write the check or set up the draft, make sure the funds are in the account, and keep track of the due date and get it in on time. That’s just part of being an adult. And you’ll be doing these kinds of things the rest of your life, so you better know how to do it now, because they are really important.
I don’t want to sound judgmental, but having parents pay for everything and the kids not having any responsibility was not how we wanted to do it. I love my kids and I want to help them grow, be responsible, and independent. This is part of our path in getting there.