I just completed reading The Price You Pay for College, An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make, by Ron Lieber. This book was released earlier this year post pandemic and provides a tremendous amount of insight into the overall process of selecting a college, the admissions process, acceptance, and ultimately the financial implications of your choice.
There are a number of inputs parents and students have on the college selection process. The output, an acceptance letter, often arriving via email today is what gets most of the attention. This book does a good job presenting the facts and various data points in helping you formulate your own unique philosophy and approach to the application and selection process. Everything is organized well and presented in easy-to-read chapters. I covered the 300+ pages in less than a week. In fact, it was hard to put down once I started reading! This is likely due to the relevance this decision has on my clients and my own family in the not-too-distant future.
I enjoyed the perspective from current and retired college presidents, admission officials, and other decision makers and the advice they offer to students, moms, and dads. One would think that today, in 2021, the process of selecting a college would be more transparent and logical. I’ve learned a lot from my client’s experiences over the past two decades as their children and grandchildren selected colleges, successfully graduated in about four years or so, and then started their professional lives. Even so, there are still more questions than answers and a variety of different approaches to take in selecting and paying for college.
Consider this, the true costs of your college decision are only made available to you after you’ve been offered admission. I can’t imagine agreeing to buy a home, start a business, or make another big commitment before knowing the associated cost in my decision. Welcome to college admissions! You may not know all costs but having a rough idea on what to expect and for how long would be helpful, wouldn’t it? Is this going to cost $25k a year or run closer to $60k? Where’s the money coming from to pay for tuition and housing? Will it be 529 plans, cash flow, investments, or a combination of all of the above? These decisions impact your financial house today, and also when you may repurpose your time tomorrow. It’s only after the acceptance email arrives that parents and students learn more about the financial ramifications of their upcoming decision.
High school students have guidance counselors who assist them through the college section process. These counselors may provide course recommendations in high school and offer a recommendation letter as the college application deadline approaches. It’s great that students have someone advocating for them this early in the process. As a financial planner, I always thought it would helpful if moms and dads had access to a guidance counselor as well (me). This is an enormous financial commitment not to take lightly that will impact all members of your family. You don’t get a “do-over” so getting it right the first time is dependent on asking yourself various questions that you may not have thought of. My job is presenting these questions to parents as they reflect on other financial priorities and goals and their desired timeline.
Everything connects today in the financial landscape as each decision is closer to the next then we may realize. Accepting this is critical to having a financial framework in place that complements the various offer letters and corresponding college costs. Planning margins and having time to sort your choices is paramount.
Every family has a different set of priorities, financial obligations, cash flow, and opinions on what experience may be best for their student. If you’d like to learn more about how your student’s college choices impact your future financial self, reach out and we’d be happy to chat with you.