The Worst College Advice I've Ever Heard

There are definitely no guaranteed jobs. But there are definitely kids who are go getters. Often these are the kids who work while in high school and don’t spend their money on frivolous stuff. It seems like these kids are the ones who are unlikely to get caught in the trap of excessive loans and debt.

Parents definitely create the groundwork by spending within their means or being frugal. Or, spending more than one has and going into debt. Kids watch and learn. Anyone regardless of income can spend more than they make.

It’s hard to pay for college for your kids. Kids should appreciate the investments their parents are making in their future.

Agree that a kid who has been hustling in fast food, mowing lawns, babysitting, etc. for spending money and savings while in HS understands that the “career fairy” doesn’t show up in your dorm senior year and bestow a job upon you.

And agree that parents model sensible financial behavior.

Taking on debt to finance a significant portion of the cost of one’s college isn’t generally a good idea for almost any student. There’re some exceptions, but the exceptions are rare. Even in those exceptions, it’s almost impossible to figure out whether the financial investment is good one, because few can be certain what part of their later successes is due to their college education itself.

Screening out colleges that aren’t financial fits should be the very first step for any applicant whose family is financially constrained at all.


@srparent15 I totally agree, people underestimate total costs. I saw in another group where a woman was asking if there were scholarships available to help cover college visits because she couldn’t afford to travel to the colleges where her son was applying; when people pointed out that she would be facing those same expenses if her child went to one of those far away colleges she got pretty salty. There are so many costs that people don’t consider.

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These latest comments are quite enlightening.

Someone asked me “why would a kid looking at average colleges need to use College Confidential?” The most recent posts illustrate at least one reason why: because there are MANY top students who could get into HYPSM, but they can’t afford it. They need merit scholarships, or they want to get into very competitive Honors programs. Their applications have to be great.

Many otherwise well-informed people assume that top students are always looking at the most elite schools. Maybe a lot of them do, but not all of them. Many of those students, or their parents, simply can’t afford $73,000 a year. They may be donut hole families, or have other considerations, as the man I’ll mention below did.

There is a well known and long running thread here on CC by a dad whose D is a Hispanic hockey playing top student. He has a disabled child also, and has to keep money aside for her needs. I believe his D attended a prestigious prep school on a scholarship. She aimed high. She got into Princeton, along with many other schools.

She chose U of S Carolina with the McNair scholarship (if I recall) in the end, because that was the best way for the family to afford her education and for her to study what she wanted to. (If anyone can find the link to that post, please put it here.) He was totally committed to her attending college without going into debt. After weighing up all her options, she chose U of SC.

These students are not uncommon. Not all amazing students want to go to HYPSM. The most stellar students competing for Stamps or Coca Cola Scholarships need to ensure they have stand out applications, regardless of the college they apply to. A Stamps Scholar at U of Oregon is at least as impressive as anyone at Stanford, and maybe more so.


@Lindagaf I hope this link works! It is an awesome thread!


Yes, that’s the thread. I recommend it to all who are interested in how to build a list, to those who might need financial (merit-wise) practical strategies, or just to those who are interested in watching the process work from start to finish. I also think it’s interesting to see the evolution of the dad’s understanding as he gets deeper into it.


Very true, as well as assuming that they will get in to anywhere with great grades and stats. It’s rude awakening for many.

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Setting an example to the kids is not the only result of parental spending habits. The parents who spend below their means will more likely be able to afford to put their kids through college, while those who spend their entire income and more will impose very low financial limits on their kids’ ability to choose or even attend college.


Exactly and to further that, not all care to go to those schools.

We had a girl a few years back get into MIT and ultimately went to Michigan State on a full ride. People were pretty rude asking why on earth anyone would pass up MIT for MSU. Well, there are a lot of reasons. Not everyone can afford it or maybe not everyone wants to spend all that money, or it could simply be about fit. Some prefer to be the big fish in the small pond as opposed to being the small fish in the big pond.

I have one kid in a top Honors program at a large public university. She didn’t care about applying to the Ivies or what others view as the elite schools. Then her twin is at an Ivy. She didn’t care so much about the Ivy but wanted the best program and at the place she liked the best. Ultimately there are huge differences I’ve seen. The one in the honors program is treated like a queen and the Ivy treats everyone the exact same. They don’t care, but for kids who have huge egos and are used to being treated like royalty at their high school or extra special, they better be able to put those egos to the side because they will not get that any longer at the Ivy or Elite as they’re no longer better than anyone there. One thing my daughter at the Ivy really likes though is that everyone is smart and that is not something she necessarily felt with her friend group or others she hung out with in hs other than of course her sister. So for that she loves it and her friends at the Ivy are not at all pretentious. But that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty who are, because there are as are the parents. But like anything, you find your own.

And no one should sell themselves short. Not being a kid that goes to an elite school doesn’t make you any less amazing. Trust me as someone who would never had any opportunity to go to any school like that, I don’t feel any less successful than any of my peers or fellow high school graduations because I was as average as it comes when it came to applying myself in high school. But I do consider myself a successful well-adjusted adult and happy.


I love and agree with this post.

I don’t care how frugal or cheap my kids think I am because it has enabled me to send them to any college of their choice and I know they are very appreciative of it and it is also teaching them fiscal responsibility when I give them a monthly allowance (as I view their job being to focus on school) which is like their paycheck. I was a little surprised though when my daughter yesterday showed me that they each keep track of what they spend each month to the penny to make sure they are able to live within their allowance. So maybe I’ve been a little overkill on showing them my cheapness as I also don’t want them to feel that they can never spend money on nice things either, as I am not so frugal that I don’t do that.

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I’m not a financial aid expert. But comments like this one contradict my experience:

“MANY top students who could get into HYPSM, but they can’t afford it.”

The best schools have the most money. At Stanford, a common conversation topic was how to spread the word to counter statements like the comment above. Top schools actively look to find students who could attend, but can’t afford it. That is their ideal applicant.

UCLA costs about $36,000/year for a CA student.
Stanford costs about $9,000/year for a family making less than $100K. (And even a family making $185K pays less a year on average than UCLA: about $33,000.)
How Aid Works : Stanford University Tuition and Fees | UCLA Undergraduate Admission

I’m surprised “College Confidential conventional wisdom” is to advise students not to apply to schools due to cost. In my experience working with kids from all different income brackets, it’s not difficult to secure a fee waiver. That fee waiver then helps your application: admission officers see it and pull for a student who comes from a low-SES background. Chances for admission go up at top schools. And top schools with huge endowments have the most money to offer in aid.



The vast, vast majority of our low income students don’t have the stats to get into a Top school where they can get that much financial aid. If they do, it’s well known that they can try if they want to go that far to school. Many don’t. And if any student has stats good enough for a Top school, other schools often give them excellent packages too.

But 99% of students aren’t in the Top 1%. At our school usually the Top 1% don’t have Top school stats.

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Sure, those schools have generous aid, but that doesn’t mean that all students get ALL the money they need to make it affordable. In general, the poorest students will get the most aid. Plenty of students will get in but not be able to afford it.

I disagree that conventional wisdom on CC says don’t apply due to cost. Lots of people will ask students if they can afford the colleges they plan to apply to, and if they have run NPC’s. They don’t say “don’t apply.”

However, about half of kids will see parental divorce. Stanford and many other highly selective private universities require both parents’ financials for financial aid, and divorced parents are often uncooperative enough to refuse to give the required information. Even if cooperative, they are often poorer combined than they would have been if they had not divorced.

UCLA’s net price calculator says that a California resident dependent student with one divorced parent earning $100k per year will have a net price of about $25k living on campus. Stanford has better financial aid if you can get it (and get admitted), but its financial aid is inaccessible for a large percentage of students even if they can get admitted.


Yes, and every April, we see those students and others, coming here to try and find a way to afford these colleges.

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A school can be the most generous on average, but not to every student, because each student isn’t an average. Every applicant should run the NPC for each and every school s/he may apply to, before s/he applies. Don’t automatically assume a school will be unaffordable. Such an assumption is just as bad as not considering the affordability issue at all.


@MichaelCShort There are many, many families who don’t qualify for need based aid at a school like Stanford, but are not in a position to spend $80,000 plus per year on tuition, room and board, and other college related expenses. While the family you reference making $185k per year may only pay $33,000, the family making $250k will likely have to pay full price. There are many reasons that amount may not be affordable to a “donut hole” family.


Plenty of families don’t qualify for need based aid but can’t afford a $75K COA.

We see those families posting all the time on this board.


what’s a “donut hole” family?