Should I talk to my teen about the cost of college?
I have a scenario for you to consider. It’s right before the weekend and your teenager comes to you with a question. They want to go bowling. They have never been bowling before. They have considered several bowling alleys but narrowed the decision down to two choices.
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The first bowling alley is much nicer looking than most bowling alleys. It also has some great food they deliver to your lane while you bowl. It’s top notch. It’s the type of place that when you tell people you bowled there; they will be impressed.
The second bowling alley is more traditional. There’s food, but you go to a counter to order and it’s just OK. The location is in a part of town that’s not as convenient. The bowling balls are not as attractive and the music they play was popular at the same time slap bracelets were on the scene.
Since your teen has never been bowling, would you help them decide between these two bowling establishments? Would you point out the pros and cons? Would you bring up the cost of the outing and the likely difference in cost between these choices? Would you be hesitant to look up the cost of bowling at either location and share that price with them?
Is college like this bowling scenario or is it different somehow?
“The greatest legacy one can pass on to one's children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one's life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” Billy Graham
Why do some of us hesitate?
T Rowe Price did a survey on families and money discussions. One of the questions presented a variety of topics and asked how uncomfortable the topic would be to discuss with your kid. Topics like school shootings, drugs, “the talk”, and bullying were all nearly identical to saving for college as a choice on the discomfort scale.
The case against
The reasoning against talking to your college hopeful can take several paths. First, many parents worry about worrying their child. They want their child to choose a school without stressing about the cost. Some parents also worry about their child deciding “solely” on financial considerations. There can also be a general discomfort with talking about anything related to finances with your young person.
The case for
Parents who do choose to have this conversation have a variety of reasons as well. Some parents who plan to pay some or all the cost of college want their child to understand the sacrifice, faith, or “investment” they are making in this educational endeavor. Some parents also want their student to understand the importance of scholarship applications or the gravity of loans. Even more basic, some parents want the cost to be a part of the college selection process in the first place.
The same survey asked children aged 8-14 “Is it my parent’s responsibility to pay for my college education?” 69% said yes. Do you agree with that? Does your student’s answer match your answer? What happens if you get the college acceptance letter and you find out the answer is different between parent and child? What happens then?
‘Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6 ESV
Talk with your teenager about the cost of school
As you’ve probably figured out, I’m in favor of discussing this in your family. This does not mean sitting your kindergartner down and having a talk with charts and graphs about state school vs. private school colleges. This DOES mean talking about higher education costs as a family over a number of years. Help your child understand your family’s position on how to approach college costs.
Remember, this is a big decision and one that likely affects the whole family. Help put all family members in a better position to understand the challenges so you can face them together. Make a time to get started and have the first talk about this. After the first time you broach the subject, do something fun to relieve the awkwardness.
How about going bowling?
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