Q: What advice would you give high school students who want to attend college, but lack financial means, without being discouraging, given the cost of higher education and the debt from student loans?
A: The cost to attend college keeps going up—often, faster than inflation. And the amount of loans taken out to pay for tuition, fees, books and room and board continues to rise. For many families, the cost of higher education is out of reach, while others can manage it only if they take on debt that could take decades to pay off.
I certainly don’t want to discourage someone from getting a college education. But, I do discourage taking on debt to get that education. So, go to school, but just know that to avoid debt, your experience may be different than what so many students have come to expect.
For example, I’ve advocated for a while that, when faced with high education costs, families should not rule out community college. It’s an affordable way to get two years of study under your belt. When the student graduates from community college, he or she can transfer to a four-year university.
If money is tight and your college savings are low or nonexistent, then perhaps having your student live on or near campus or away from home isn’t an option. Take room and board off the table, and college becomes more affordable.
Of course, apply for financial aid and any and all scholarships you can. Make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Take work-study if it’s offered.
Most importantly, don’t be so brand conscious when it comes to selecting a college, especially if it comes with a high price tag. I tell all high school students, as I’ve told my own children, that they determine the type of college experience they will have.