At the beginning of my senior year of high school, we had to fill out a questionnaire for the college adviser. It asked if I wanted to stay close to home or if I wanted to move to the opposite coast, what my interests were, what strengths and weaknesses I had, and o yeah, if finances were going to factor into my decision about where to go to college.
Like many high school seniors, I said that finances were not going to be a major part of the decision making process.
My College Decision Making Process
This is what my decision making process looked like while I was filling out that questionnaire:
- My parents had provided for all my education expenses up until that point
- I had some money saved up for college
- It was more important to go to a good school than to worry about how much it would cost
I had no idea how much my parents had set aside for me, and I had absolutely no concept of money at the time. So why should I care how much college is going to cost?
The Problem With Letting High School Students Make Financial Decisions
At age 17, the difference between $25,000 in student loan debt and $100,000 in student loan debt is really small. Many teenagers look at the options like this:
- In either case, it’s a lot of money that will get paid back eventually.
- With a college education, it won’t take long after graduating to start paying it off.
- Every else goes through the same thing, so I am not any different.
Why are these kids being put in charge of a potentially life-changing decision without being given all the tools to make the best choice?
How High School Students Decide Where To Go To College
Most high school students think more about the social and academic aspects of college than the financial aspects. Some schools are better when it comes to specific disciplines and for the most part, kids are looking at what their lives will be like during college instead of thinking about what their lives will be like after it.
One thing that I was unaware of at the time is that there are websites out there that will match you with your dream school, so that you are not left searching in the dark. For example, Find Your Art School is an excellent way to search through the various schools found in the United States. The website allows students to check if they qualify for financial aid, design their own schedules and network with professionals in the field. It also provides information on online and local campuses, which is great if your parents insist that you spend less on your education.
I went off to the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), and at some point during my junior year, my father told me how much debt I was probably going to graduate with. OK, it was a fact of life that I was going to have to deal with. If he had said $70,000, my reaction would have been the same.
Parents Need To Help Make The Decisions
I’m glad my parents were looking out for me and didn’t allow me to take on more than a reasonable amount of student loan debt. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, and if there hadn’t been any money set aside for my college education, I am confident that I still would have decided to go to the University of Maryland. I consider myself very fortunate that I had help during the entire process.
It’s not fair to make high school students decide between two enormous amount of debt. Parents need to be extremely involved and not only lay out the realities of what life after school will be like, but guide their children because they are much better suited to look at the whole picture.
How much student loan debt did you have when leaving college? As a high school senior, were you able to make an informed financial decision about where to go to school?