****** Disclaimer (Edit): This post is in no way meant to reduce the accomplishment of those who had their parents pay for college for them, nor is it meant to be a compare/contrast of people that pay for their own vs. have it paid for – the purpose of it is to say “great if you can pay for your kids education. But if not, don’t lose too much sleep”. *******
Jefferson recently posted at See Debt Run about the pressures of paying for his three children’s college education. I think it’s very noble that Jefferson and Michelle are trying to pay for their kid’s education; the cost of tuition is only rising, and it’s expensive to get a degree. Some might argue that education isn’t as necessary now as it was a few years ago, but I disagree.
I’m not going to get into the pros and cons of getting educated, but I’m going to talk a little bit about why it’s not necessary to pay for your kid’s college education.
Since I was little I knew I would go to college. My “dream” was to be successful in whatever I did when I was older, and my wonderful mother drilled it into my head that knowledge is important, and education is one way of gaining knowledge.
I also knew from a relatively young age that I would not have any parental help in paying for my post secondary education.
See, my parents divorced when I was eight, and my dad has always been a bit of a financial mess. My mom didn’t have the money to help me as a single parent carrying a mortgage, and paying for two kid’s college wouldn’t ever become a reality.
When I was in high school, I worked two jobs to save up for my first semester. That was, for the most part, a fruitless effort, being that I just spent all of my money, but I was able to take out a loan to pay for it and it worked out fine.
I stopped taking out loans in my second year and have paid for my tuition out of pocket ever since. It takes a lot of hard work, and I had to prolong my education by about a year so that I could work and pay tuition (and living expenses – I moved out in my first year), but it was worth it. I did it all by myself. I learned a few underlying lessons along the way, that I would love to share with everyone, but especially parents who are worried about paying for their kid’s education. Because I’m almost grateful that it wasn’t handed to me.
Here’s what I learned:
Hard Work Pays Off
I have always had to work, whereas many of my peers didn’t have jobs. I go to a college that is known for it’s flexible scheduling, and as such, there are many working individuals who take night classes as well.
My program is based largely around group work, so I have anywhere between 1-4 group assignments (big ones) in any given class I’m in. Usually, my group is very diverse; the instructors set it up this way to give us a broad range of experience with different people.
In my experience, the working individuals – the people who have to work to put themselves through school – get just as good grades – if not better (in most cases) than their more privileged peers.
Because we have to pay for the courses, we actually want to be there. We value every last cent that comes out of our pockets and goes into the program that we’re in, and therefore, we value the knowledge that is given to us (the service we receive).
Some of our peers don’t value it as much because they don’t know how much it takes to pay for a single semester.
You Are Responsible For Yourself
In my first semseter, I worked full-time and took five courses. I failed a course. It sucked. I cried. Then I moved on.
I learned a lesson from that; I learned that I was responsible for myself. My failing a class was due to my own error; I couldn’t blame anyone else for it because I took on too much. It was my fault.
Nobody was going to pick me up and set me on the right path, I had to do it for myself. I have to be responsible for knowing my own limits, knowing what I can and cannot do, and recognizing my strengths and weaknesses.
I learned that if I slipped up and failed a course again, I’d have to pay for it twice. It’s expensive. Plus, if the textbook was updated I’d have to get a new one, and I’d have to relive the same boring course again. I had to be responsible for my own life, my own finances, and my own education.
Living Within My Means
If I didn’t figure this out, there’s a good bet that I would either be in a lot more student loan debt, or not in school at all.
I had a bit of a shopping habit in my first couple of years that got me into a bit of trouble, but then I smartened up with my money once I really sat down, looked at where it was going, and looked at how much debt I’d be in if I kept spending it the way I was while still having to pay for school and living expenses.
Many of my peers who didn’t have to pay for college still don’t truly understand the value of a dollar, because they haven’t had to work their butts off to put themselves through school.
My friend recently told me that she thought it was completely reasonable to spend $20K a year on clothes.
I’m not judging her and I’m sure her statement was somewhat tongue-in-cheek (I hope), but I know that she hates wearing the same article of clothing more than once in a month-long period and when we go shopping, she drops a lot of cash.
Sometimes I want to shake her and scream “do you have any idea how many courses that would pay for?!” but it would be pointless, because she doesn’t, and to be honest I don’t even think she knows how much tuition costs to begin with (she’s in the same program as me).
She’s obviously an extreme example, but forking out a few thousand dollars every few months really teaches a young adult about how to handle money in a way that a lecture from the parentals doesn’t quite accomplish.
You Can Do Anything You’re Willing to Work For
Lots of people think I’m crazy, especially when I’m working full-time and am enrolled as a student full-time. They don’t even know about my blog or side hustle!
I’m not trying to be cheesy, but the fact of the matter is, the amount of pride I feel when I can actually say that I put myself through college .. it’s just a great feeling. I think it’s great when anyone goes to college regardless of who pays for it, but there is something so deeply satisfying and enriching to be able to recognize what you want, and go after it no matter what the obstacle.
It’s very character building, and to be honest, if I didn’t have to pay for my education I almost doubt I’d be as productive and ambitious as I am today (though I guess, if they’re personality traits, they wouldn’t just go away).
I guess it must be similar to how people feel when they run a really long marathon for which they’ve trained for ages, or when they see a company that they’ve built take off (to a much larger/smaller degree). To accomplish something that you’ve put sweat, tears, nervous breakdowns, sleepless nights, and empty savings accounts into (and probably some blood somewhere along the line , but that you’ve really wanted to do no matter the cost (emotionally, financially, and physically) is pretty cool.
What Will I Do?
Obviously, every parent wants to help put their kid through college (if even to just ensure that they go). I hope to be in a financial position to do so, one day. I’ll definitely save up to help them with the expense if it’s feasible, but I probably won’t lose any sleep if it’s not.
I do recognize that I don’t have any kids right now so my opinion might change on the subject when I do. A friend of mine went through her Bachelors degree by paying for it herself, and taking out student loans (a hybrid). She worked her butt off, got through college, learned a lot from the experience, and her parents paid her loan after she graduated successfully (without telling her they were going to).
I like this idea. That way, you set your kid out on the path to independence, they learn a whole lot, and then they don’t have to wallow in student debt.
Plus, if they think they are paying for it, they are less likely to waste your money on a couple of years of a program they have no interest in pursuing before switching.
I’m sure I’ll change my mind a thousand times when I actually have kids, and I’m sure there are a lot of kids who just elected not to go to college because they didn’t have financial support through it (but I have a theory that if they do that, they never really wanted it anyway), but in my experience it’s reasonable – and even in some cases a good idea – to elect not to help children with their education.
What do you think? Did you have financial help through college or did you do it on your own? If you have kids (or want kids), what are you planning on doing?