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Should I pay for any college my child wants to attend?

No.

Or, more precisely, it depends.

Let me add a few parameters to the question.

I will assume most anyone reading this article lives in suburban Connecticut or some similar location.  While there are a lot of really wealthy parents in this area, I’ll further assume I’m addressing an audience that has concerns about how to pay for college.

The dilemma here usually involves paying for a private college versus a public one. But, it has increasingly also become a debate involving paying for a more prestigious college versus a college perceived – at least by the child/parents – as lower ranked, with the lower ranked school offering merit aid.

Prior to the Great Recession, the pay out for attending a private college/more highly ranked college was the normal course of action for Shoreline, Connecticut parents.  This modus operandi stemmed more from parents of college bound seniors feeling secure about their economic future than return on investment comparative calculus.  Specifically, my conversations with parents about college choice was much more about fit than post-graduate job possibilities.

“Do you think my child will be happy at X college?” was the most common question I was asked.

Now, the question is “do you think X college is worth paying for compared to less expensive Y college?”

This is not an easy question.  It requires career counseling as much as it does college counseling.

My analysis starts with “what are the factors that justify paying more money for X college?”

Potential field of study and career choice is usually the first factor to evaluate.  So, for example, if I am working with a student who is considering becoming an elementary school teacher in Connecticut then at least from an economic standpoint it does not make sense to spend a lot more money at a name brand national school versus a local public school.  From an economic standpoint, it might be worth $5,-10,000 a year more (maybe) but not $30-40,000 more per year.

On the other hand, if a student wants to head into investment banking, then a nationally known name brand school is worth the money, at least from a return on investment standpoint.

Potential career choice is merely one factor among many when considering whether it makes sense to spend a lot more money on one college versus another.

The analysis usually requires future predictions that are nebulous at best.  And, the real answer is almost always “it depends on your situation.”

But, “no’ is the simple answer to the question: should I pay for any college my child wants to attend?