Should parents pay for the entirety of their child’s college tuition? The issue often sparks strong reactions, and there are valid arguments either way. For example, parents paying for college may help kids avoid student loan debt that could easily set them back tens of thousands of dollars.
On the other hand, not paying for their children’s college frees up money for parents to continue working toward their own financial goals, like paying off a mortgage, saving for looming retirement, and more.
My parents did contribute toward my college tuition, fees, and even some living expenses, but I’m glad they didn’t pay for my entire college education. Paying most of my own way through college had a lot of perks. Here’s why:
1. You Appreciate It More When You Pay Your Own Way
I can’t tell you how many times I saw students slacking off in class or failing to show up. These students didn’t take their education seriously. Nine times out of 10, their parents were the ones footing the bill for them to attend college.
Because I was paying most of my own way through college with scholarships and student loans, I was motivated to take my education seriously. While college is a time for fun, making friends, and developing as a person, the main point of it is to get an education. Otherwise, what are you paying for?
While not all students can be put into the same basket, example after example has shown that those who pay for at least part of their education value it more than those who don’t.
2. You’re Free to Make Your Own Decisions
Have you ever heard horror stories from young adults who feel stuck in a career because they “had” to major in a field that they weren’t interested in? This is often because their parents, ready to finance their children’s education, also controlled where their kids went to school, what they studied, where they interned, and more.
Is it unfair for parents to have a say in where their children go to college and what they study if they’re footing the bill? That’s a tough question, but one that you can avoid altogether if you’re paying for college on your own.
3. You Learn Responsibility and Self-Sufficiency
Parents who pay for everything aren’t doing their children any favors when it comes to teaching them about responsibility and self-sufficiency.
Aside from getting an education, another big reason to go to college is to practice for adulthood. College gives students the chance to get some of those messy mistakes, both in life and in their finances, out of the way before they enter the big bad world.
But if parents pay for everything and continually provide with money to fall back on, their children won’t learn anything from their mistakes.
All this does is prolong childhood. Parents should not have to pay college tuition, because it sets students up for a rude awakening the first time they have to handle their money after graduation when they are truly on their own.
It’s far better to learn the limits of your money during college — when you most likely have fewer “real” bills to pay — than afterward, when you could end up losing your home to foreclosure if you don’t pay your mortgage on time.
4. Your Parents May Be Getting Into Debt
Students stepping up and finding ways to pay for their own college education can save parents from setting themselves back financially. If parents are paying for college, chances are high that they’ve diverted that money from being used for their own financial goals, like paying off their mortgage or contributing to their 401(k)s.
“If you have a clearly defined agreement in your family that you take care of the kids through college, then the kids take care of the parents in your retirement, that’s one thing,” says Lauren Bringle Jackson, an accredited financial counselor and content marketing manager with Self Financial. “However, if you have to drain your retirement account to pay for your kid’s school, or take out a second mortgage on your home, consider that you could be putting your own financial health in jeopardy, as well as putting the financial burden of taking care of you down the road on your kids instead.”
“In that case, it’s sometimes better to let your child take on the student loan debt,” says Bringle. “This lets you avoid the costs of taking care of yourself financially down the line.”
College tuition can cost anywhere from $21,950 to $49,879 per year, according to educationdata.org, — sometimes more — depending on where you’re from, where you go, and what you study. That number is not even taking into account graduate school, which can be even more expensive. Plus you need to pay for room and board, textbooks, and various fees.
For most parents to cover this massive cost entirely, they would have to severely change their finances and plans.
Even if they’ve been saving for college since their child was a baby, they probably could’ve used that money for other things at some point in life. Saving for their kids’ college has a lot of opportunity costs associated with it over the years.
Why I Appreciated Paying for College on My Own
Admittedly, having my parents to turn to when I did need financial help during college was a godsend. But I’m still thankful they didn’t try to pay for my entire education. Having to foot most of my own bill helped me learn a lot of tough lessons: lessons that I might not have otherwise learned until later in life, when they would have been much more costly.