No parents want their children to be burdened with a lot of college debt. And the media reports of student’s graduating with $100,000+ in debt is scary. However, they are not accurate, at least for undergraduates. Undergraduate students can only directly take on a maximum of $27,000 in debt ($31,000 if they take a fifth year of college).
It is parents that take on the rest of that debt. And that can be even scarier! A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was titled: The U.S. Makes It Easy for Parents to Get College Loans—Repaying Them Is Another Story. The point of the story is that parents, even those with sub-prime credit, can get college loans and large amounts of it. They are putting off retirement, delaying health expenses, and still many are defaulting. And the debt is almost impossible to eliminate through bankruptcy.
In chapter 9 of Never Pay Retail for College, we talk about choosing “right fit” colleges. Choosing schools where our student will apply has the single biggest impact on the overall cost of college for our son or daughter. If we send our student to a school strictly on prestige or reputation, we will pay retail. If we take the time and do the work, we can spend less money and provide an education that better serves our child, and our future lifestyle (a.k.a. retirement).
In the book, I give a lot of evidence that the prestige of the school our child attends does not determine their future. Of course, they should choose a high-quality school with an education that fits their interests plus desired size and location. It just does not need to be the most prestigious. What our students do with their education has a much bigger impact on their future than the brand name recognition of the school.
When a student attends a school where they are in the top quartile of students attending that college, they typically get a more generous package including merit-based aid. When you only apply to schools where this is the case, then you can compare offer letters from multiple schools in order to choose the school that represents the best value in terms of the academics, environment and financial package.
Let’s be savvy buyers when it comes to choosing a college. We owe it to our children and to ourselves to get the best overall value for their education… not sink into overwhelming debt.