Getting Real: We Can’t Pay for College

Getting Real: We Can’t Pay for College


$104,400. That’s the average of a four-year degree at a private college, according to CNN Money. That amount of money can act as a stark dividing line between the “haves” and the “have-nots” when it comes to funding the education of their children. While 70% of parents surveyed said they intended to pay for the kids’ education, only 29% reported being on track to meet their goal. That leaves 71% of families in need of a Plan B--and a candid conversation.

For many parents, it’s a conversation they dread. They worry that their lack of savings will prevent their children from going to the schools they dream of, or worse, fulfilling their destinies. But the reality is that most families are in this camp. And the lessons gained by a student who to creates their own path to a degree can be more valuable than any gift or fund. The key to facilitating a productive conversation on the topic is being clear about the resources at hand, costs on the horizon, and options before them.

Fleshing Out the Family Funds

Akin to ripping off a Band-Aid, being explicit about what is--and isn’t--set aside for college won’t grow easier with time. Be clear but reassuring about your family’s situation, the care that was taken in saving anything that is set aside, and your commitment to doing what you can to help your child search for additional resources.

Crystallizing the Costs of College

To the average high schooler, news of a $5000 bank account with their name on it may sound like a boon. As such, it’s important to marry your briefing with a look at the costs associated with college. According to CNN Money, the average price tags of a full degree look something like this:

  • Two-year community colleges: $15,120
  • Public colleges for residents: $56,840
  • Private non-profit colleges: $104,400

Knocking on Other Doors

At this point, the reality should have set in. It’s going to take more than an acceptance letter to turn collegiate dreams into reality. The great news is that resources for funding education abound--but not all are equally helpful. With the gap between your resources and approximate costs in mind, explore and apply for the resources available to you, including:

  • The FAFSA

  • Merit-Based Scholarships

  • Need-Based Grants

  • University-Specific Scholarships

  • Federal Subsidized Loans

  • Federal Unsubsidized Loans

  • Private Loans (the last resort)

Cutting Costs & Making a Plan B

When all available doors have sufficient been knocked upon, it may become clear than Plan A is simply out of reach. At that point, it’s important to craft a methodical Plan B. There are a number of ways to significantly trim costs without significantly hurting your future prospects. Among them? Living at home. Skipping room and board can easily trim $8,000 or more from an annual bill. Second, consider spending the first two years of your degree at a more affordable community college. Your resume will still list a degree from your final destination, and the savings could be massive. Finally, consider a trade school. Tuition is lower than private universities, while ultimate career paychecks can actually exceed those of more traditional degrees.

Keeping Your Shoulders High

Amidst all the logistics and financial applications, it’s important to keep something in mind: you’re in the same boat as 71% of the country. With the right mindset, the diligence required of a student who independently funds their education--rather than having the resources handed to them--can result in better grades, better attendance, and a higher value for their overall education. It may not be such bad news after all.

For more on the debate over the value of a college degree, check out Biz Kid$ episode, College Bound.


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