image for The #1 Mistake Parents Make in the College Search

Share this Post

The #1 Mistake Parents Make in the College Search

Brad Bobb CFP® | March 5, 2018

Searching for the right college for your children is a very overwhelming task. There are many things to consider and address when looking for the right college for your kids, but there is one major mistake that can set up children and their families for an overwhelming financial struggle.

That mistake is allowing your children to control the college search. You may be thinking “Well, college really is for my kids, so why wouldn’t they be the ones to choose where they want to go?” The reality is that teenagers, no matter how mature they may seem, aren’t fully formed adults and this reasoning doesn’t always prevail.

I see two compelling reasons why you don’t want to allow your children to be in total control of where they go to college.

  • The financial devastation of crushing debt
  • The emotional turmoil of disappointment

Putting a Child in the Driver’s Seat

Your child choosing their own school can end up costing an extra $100k to even $200k over a four year time period. Is that something you are willing to pay for? If not, are you comfortable with your child graduating college with $200k of student loans and having to make a payment of $2,000 a month?

What many parents don’t realize is that colleges are businesses and they do their best to make money. Would you casually give your child the keys to a $200k car? No. By the same reasoning, giving a 16 year old the keys to a $200,000 decision is not a good one. Your child should absolutely have some input in the college decision, but the decision process needs to be controlled by the parents.

Setting Your Child Up for Disappointment

When you buy a first car for your 16 year old, are you going to get them their dream car? Most parents don’t, therefore they don’t take their kids to test drive a new Mercedes.

If you won’t qualify for financial aid and you can’t pay the $69,000 annual cost of attendance, then you shouldn’t allow your child to apply to Notre Dame. What would happen in the event that your child gets in to their dream school and then you have to tell them you can’t afford it? This can be devastating for a child.

Many parents think that there is payoff for an elite education which will justify the extra cost. Research does not support this premise. Feel free to do some research on whether or not an elite education is worth the cost and you will probably be surprised by the results. Here is one example. Researchers have found that what you do at school matters more than where you go.

Summary: Don’t Let Your Child Be in Total Control of College Decisions

I can tell you that I have seen and worked with many college graduates saddled with student loan payments of $1,000 or more a month. Not one of these graduates has told me they think their college decision was worth the high loan payment that they are currently repaying. A $500 a month loan payment is high overhead for the average 22 year old graduate. It sets them up for a decade of financial struggle that can delay the other goals they may have, such as saving for a house, starting a family, or saving for retirement.

The college decision is the first major financial decision most children will ever be a part of. Having your child involved isn’t a bad thing; it can teach them financial responsibility and how to exercise proper judgement. Just remember to position them as a passenger, not the driver. If you care how much you spend on college and how much your child accumulates in student loans, DO NOT let your child control the process! At Bobb Financial we help our clients develop a four year funding plan and find schools within their budget. If you would like help with your college planning you are welcome to schedule a call with Brad.

Brad Bobb, CFP® is the owner of Bobb Financial Inc, and an expert in retirement planning for federal employees.