College Savings 101 - Wheaton,IL

Updated on October 16, 2014
M.M. asks from Wheaton, IL
22 answers

As my girls get older, I can't help but worry about college expenses for 2 girls. What are your plans for college financing? How many kids do you have? Are you putting $ away monthly? Can I be so bold to ask how much? Taboo topic in person.

Anyone seen the documentary, Ivory Tower? Excellent movie on the business on college admissions, student loans and the personal and financial cost of a 4 year degree.

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answers from Beaumont on

We saved with a credit card (Upromise) that offers a percentage of what you charge over the years, to be applied to a college fund. Also a 529. Think we have enough to send them 2 or 3 years to an in state college now and they're in their early teens. They know they'll have to work with whatever we save. They'll have to get a job in college and scholarships to make it through without debt but they're prepared for that. I did both and it was the best thing my parents ever did for me. Taught me to budget both my time and money early on.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Yes, we save for college.
I also think that it's VERY important for the kid to BUY into the experience with money of their own.
I worked my way through school, got some financial aid and some scholarships.
It's important for kids to earn that!
More important than what anyone else does, sit down with a financial planner and make a plan that fits what YOU can do.
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Austin on

We saved a bit but it was not nearly enough for the 4 years at a private college she graduated from. It seemed like something always came up and we could not always pay into the savings.

What helped was that the first year that Texas offered the "Texas Tomorrow fund", my mother decided to pay into that account. If our daughter had attended a Texas college, all of her tuition would have been paid for. This was our daughters Birthday /Holiday gifts for all of those years and our daughter always thanks and gives her grandmother credit for this generous gift.

When our daughter was 4, she asked "How does school work?" What schools will I go to? I explained the neighborhood schools she would attend, her age in each grade and then I told her, The best part about school? After you graduate from High School, you get to go to College! AND you get to live at the school!. She was so excited! I told her about the University of Texas that we passed by all of the time and the other colleges here in Texas. She then pronounced. I want to go to college where it snows! I told her there is a college here in Texas in Lubbock and it snows there.

I explained that since mom and dad do not have much money, she would need to work hard in school so that she would get good grades and get Scholarships and grants. And she did it! She was an excellent student, unlike her parents. She applied to great Colleges up in the Northeast (where it snows) and was granted all sorts of grants and scholarships! Look at colleges that have good endowments and have a good percentage of granting scholarships. Our daughters college grants and scholarships were for all 4 years. So the students do not need to reapply each year.

We still had to take out a few loans, but it has been totally worth it.
The College was really top tier, so she was not able to work during the school year, but did get Internships that her college paid her salary when completed. She also worked during the summers and when she came home for Christmas.

Do what you can. Encourage your children to learn to save money. Encourage them to do a lot of volunteering, and then babysit when old enough. To work summers when old enough and to work hard in school.

There is also a college for every type of student. So they may not end up where you imagine, but they will be able to attend and afford their higher education. .

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

We save quite a bit, but not specifically for college. For our family it's more important for us as parents to make sure we have our financial future completely set so we are never a financial burden to our children, so that's our first goal.

And FWIW, I went to community college for the first two years because I couldn't afford University tuition even with a scholarship. I transferred over after those two years and ended up with doctorate from a great school.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

My daughter is in her freshman year at a private university - pricey but not ivy league expensive. We never thought we'd be able to swing it. My son is in 10th grade so we have his expenses coming up soon too.

yes many colleges are way overpriced. IVy leagues at $60K a year? My nephews both went ivy league and neither of them has a job that would warrent that kind of cost. Our daughter's school is about $30K - but they offer so very much that's inlcuded and the enviroment is conservative Christan (which matches up with our world view) that we really wanted to find a way to afford it when she said she wanted to go there. Most of her classes are small, most of her professors make themselves available to the students via home & cell phones,they have an outstanding leadership program where older students come along side younger students in a mentoring relationship, etc.

Anyway - here's what we did -

We opened 529 accounts online. Depending on your state tax laws contributiions could be tax free - they are in NY - for State tax purposes (still subject to federal tax) and we set up an automatic withdrawal from our checking account to match up with one of our pay cycles. So my pay would be automatically deposited on a Thursday, and on Tuesday the 529 account draws from our account. We now do $100 per paycheck - so $200 a month. Initially we started at a much lower amount - I think $25 or $50 per paycheck. Seems that most families are pretty broke when the kids are young - but any amount is better than nothing. Since it comes out automatically it's like money we never had. With each pay raise we increased the amount (we do the same with our retirement savings).

We originally planned on the frist 2 years at a community college and the secon two years at a good 4 year college - but we fell inlove with the school she wanted to go to.

So - we got to the beginning of freshman year with $30,000 saved for our daughter. If she were going to a state university she'd have almost enough for all 4 years by the time she finished (since we're still depositing $200 a month). But the school she's going to cost about $30,000 a year. SOOOOO - then we move to the next step

Last year we began to search out every dime that the university would provide. They gave a few thousand for students with certain grades (more money for higher grades - our daughter's a solid B+ NOT top of her class) but her grades and her SAT scored were enough for about $5,000 off the $30,000. Then she was eligible for some other amount, we filled out the FAFSA (financial aid form which ties into your tax return) and she as eligible for $5400 in deferred interest student loans per year - so when all was said and done she needs $15K a year instead of the original cost of $30K. So the money we have already saved will get her through 2 years of school. She plans on taking Summer classes at the local community college and by the end of 4 years will ahve taken more than a semester at much lower costs (that we can do on a pay-as-you-go basis). So that leaves us 3 semester that aren't yet covered - one semester will be covered by our ongoing direct deposits. Then, fortuantley, we have a small apartment on the side of our hosue that my mom lived in when she was alive. That rental income will pay for the rest of her education.

All that being said - we have a friend at the same university who is now in his last year, working at the university in order to get free tuition to finish his last semester. After working there 6 months tuitition is free. I haev another friend who works for a local private college and his daughter attended for free so did he.

College expenses seem daunting from a distance. We never thought we'd be able to swing it. But like any other huge thing in life - you just have to take it apart and attack it in small pieces. We also live simply - we don't buy coffee at Starbucks, (or any where else it's so cheap to make at home!), we brown bag our lunches, we stopped eating junk food and our grocery bill dropped dramatically, we buy movie tickets at Costco, etc. Consider that the cost of a few starbucks, or drinks with friends at a bar could fund your child's college account. Now my friends and I meet at the boardwalk or park and walk a few miles and have great conversations.

If it's important you'll find a way to save for it.

Good luck mama!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

We started a "529 college savings plan" for our daughter as soon as she was born. Look up these state-sponsored 529 plans .-- they are tax-free ways to save for college and it's not too late to start one for each of your kids. The fund does have to be used for qualified higher education costs but that does not necessarily mean a standard four-year university. Check it out.

My husband puts away a certain amount from his paycheck every month into the 529 plan. It's seamless and it does add up. .

Even if you don't go the 529 route there are other ways to invest for college or other forms of post-high-school education. You don't need a fancy financial adviser to get info -- go to your usual bank and ask to speak to a banker there about saving for college and they will help you for free if you are a regular customer of the bank! This is what the bankers are there for and it's free advice.

I would be sure to start saving something right now. I know far too many adults who are still carrying college loan debts into their 30s, 40s and 50s. I will do whatever I can to prevent my kid from starting her working life under a mound of debt that drags on for decades. If you can eliminate even a part of that debt by saving just a little each month, do it.

I'm sure someone's going to post that not all kids will end up in college so why bother to save for college - but still, save something so you have the option of telling your kids there IS at least some money set aside to pay for their higher education. If they don't go to college at all, it's your call whether to give them that money at high school graduation, or you could apply it to professional or vocational training programs after high school, or to buying into improved health insurance for your young adult child, or whatever best helps your kids at that time, when it arrives. A 529 plan may not be the right instrument if you think your kids may not go to a college, but again, a banker or your bank's financial services staff can help you think it through and find the right form of savings.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

Our college savings plan requires me to stay at my current job. I work at a state university which currently gives a 50% tuition break to employees and their kids at any state university.

We are also on track to pay off our mortgage 2 years after our oldest starts college ... oops! My plan is to start making higher payments so that we can pay it off BEFORE he starts college. That would absolutely make paying for college more doable.

Also, my parents make contributions each year, so at least my boys have SOMETHING in their college savings accounts.

Community College is a very doable way to start school. The classes there are just as good as at the 4 year universities, and they are much, much cheaper.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Sacramento on

We believe in putting our kids through college as our parents did for us. We don't want them burdened with debt when they graduate. They will still need to work in college to pay for personal expenses and learn responsibility and job skills. I also expect them to pursue internships while in college as I did to help ensure they're marketable when they graduate.

We have two kids and both have 529s. We started when they were born. We were putting away around $200 a month each before I lost most of my job last year. We've since had to reduce it. Even at that decent rate, we know we can't afford a Cal State or Univ. of CA education for four years, because the rate increases have been astronomical. So, most likely our kids will need to go to community college first and then transfer, unless they secure great scholarships or we have an unexpected financial windfall.

ETA: They say if you've gone through the expense of childcare before, college won't be that huge of a shock.

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answers from Pittsburgh on

I have one child. We have put money away since he was born and should have enough for him to attend the college of his choice in 10 years. We are anticipating a cost of ~$350,000. The only thing more expensive than a college education is the lifetime cost of NOT have a college education. There are several recent studies to support this - the difference in lifetime earnings (and actual 'happiness' although of course this is difficult to measure) is immense. We will likely contribute to/pay for his graduate school as well.

I feel very strongly that providing a college education is part of a parent's job - just like providing food and medical care. I personally would not have had a child, if I could not provide such essential things.

I 'get' how people say that they contributed to their own college educations - working summers, vacations and part time school year jobs, applying for scholarships etc. I certainly worked all I could - but an Ivy League education only cost $32,000 total when I went to school.

Can one truly expect an 18 year old unskilled child to be able to make $350,000? I think it completely unrealistic to expect kids to cover their own college today or into the future. If kids could make this much money, then certainly all their parents could.

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answers from Houston on

Our daughter graduated from college in 2011. She is debt free. Our son should graduate December 2015 also debt free. Both worked in school and our son is a member of the military so that helps but not as much as some would think. =(

That is a gift that my husband and I have been able to give our children. We didn't save as much as we should have. We have used bonuses and cut our expenses to pay and done without. It has been hard but so worth it. We roughly pay $15,000 per year. Give or take. So for two, we have paid roughly $130,000 after all is said and done. That is for two kids in two state schools, tuition, room and board. We only had two kids in college for one year. That about did us in!!!!

For our son, he goes to school in Kentucky so his expenses are a little more because of traveling. We do NOT pay out of state. We pay in state because he is in the military. That is where that comes in really handy. However, I am an alumni from the university he attends and he would receive a discount if not for the military. So, again we do NOT pay out of state.

Our daughter is now an HR Generalist for an oil and gas company. She loves her job and has said several times how much she appreciated what we did for her. Her boyfriend had to take out loans so she totally gets it. Our son appreciates us as well. We have awesome kids! They are worth it.

Cost of college? Crazy! Totally pisses me off. It shouldn't be like it is. Community college is a good deal but some state and private schools? Crazy! I don't think it should be free but it shouldn't saddle a kid with such debt that they will never own a home. I also think kids need to really think about their majors.

Hope this helps!

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answers from Boston on

We have 529 plans but honestly haven't saved anywhere near enough. We were on track with all of our financial goals until 2008 and then, like many others, hit a rough patch with a job loss (my husband's, luckily, not mine as I carry the benefits and higher salary), being overextended in our mortgage, etc. etc. So the college savings plans have been on the back burner. We're out of credit card debt now so my plan was to put those payments in to the 529 but we had some other expenses come up.

We have 4 kids and the two oldest are high school juniors. I don't lose sleep over it. One child is a high performer who will most likely want to go to a private college or university. If we can cobble together her tuition and fees with merit scholarships, loans, savings and grandparent contributions, great. If we can't, she would be an attractive candidate for our state university system and would very likely get a very generous financial aid package there and that's where she'll go.

My other HS student is certainly not merit scholarship material and may not be college material. He has turned things around this year and still intends to go to college as his next step. If he goes, it will most likely be to a non-competitive state college, the expense for which we can cover mostly with student loans.

Then 6 & 8 years after them, we can do it all over again...

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answers from Dallas on

I am in a minority on this site for this topic because I feel it is my parental obligation to get my daughter (single child) out of college debt free so that she can start her career not worrying about paying off student loans and such.

I know many people say that children who have the college paid for are not focused and take it for granted. However, in our household, we are very focused on business, college savings, wedding savings, retirement, etc and she has grown up this way. She is on my payroll with our company and has had a 401K for 2 years now. She understands the importance of saving money and investing wisely. We have taught and demonstrated delayed gratification from day 1.

That said, when I found out I was pregnant, we started saving for her college. She is currently in her 2nd year of college and per her choices she is on track to have enough funds to pay for most or all of her graduate degree.

We choose to live below our means and instead of big fancy vacations and things we do not "need" we put those funds into college and retirement.

I see families now with children approaching college freaking out because they haven't planned. I understand that everyone is not a planner as well. My hubby and I are very much planners and have been in the 30 yrs we have been together.

Our daughter is appreciative of our efforts because she sees first hand the struggles of so many students who are trying so hard to maintain grades and jobs. She is very active at her school, a founding mother of a sorority, 2 honor societies (which landed her academic scholarships), and the Dean's list.

I am well aware than some students are not college material and may do better at a trade school or something else. For us, it was a no brainer because we both have higher degrees and it is all she has known.

You do not "have" to have a 529 plan but they are very good. The best thing you can do is to speak with your financial advisor to figure out the best options for your family. We managed what we have done with a lot of effort, practiced delayed gratification and choosing to put our money in college and retirement investments instead.

You do the best you can for your family and don't measure what you do or cannot do based on what others do. Best of luck to you!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

People may think college is overpriced but check out employment rates for college grads vs no college... We are very fortunate that we started 529 plans right after our kids were born and dumped some money in. Saving for college is not a stretch for us so our details aren't really relevant. What I'd say is to save as much as possible. My kids are in elementary and I figure a four year degree from a private college could be as much as $325,000 each by the time they go. That should be a pretty safe estimate. So you back into what you need to save a year to get to that in how many years you have left. Assume some investment gains but be very conservative. And of course, $325k each may be not realistic for you so settle on a number. Right now, the college I graduated from is over $50,000 a year including room and board. Of course there are state colleges that are much less. So decide what you will target. I wouldn't starve myself to be able to pay for private college but I also would cut back on discretionary things and drive old cars etc to be able to pay. That's what my parents did for me and I am forever grateful. I am not entitled or spoiled bc they paid. I have tried to return the favor by buying them things now as an adult. There should be online calculators that help you figure out what to save a month to have $x in z years assuming a certain rate of return on your savings. So pick a number and back into what you need to save... Hopefully investment returns are better than you expect and you can cut down as your kids get older.

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answers from Washington DC on

i think julie's right, we've got a bubble going on here that's completely unsustainable. the educational institutions have blinders on.
college savings were an impossible dream when we had little boys. there was just not enough paycheck at the end of each month. i guess we also didn't emphasize it mentally enough since neither my dh nor i have college degrees, but of course we *wanted* our kids to go.
we put 'em both through community college, and they lived at home (being homeschooled allowed them both to start early, but they didn't finish early due to working and going to school at the same time.) for their undergrad degrees they had to do a combination of loans and grants. my older boy switched majors in his senior year and ended up with what is so derogated below as an 'underwater basket weaving' degree (music performance). he's carrying a lot of debt. i'd be lying if i didn't say it terrifies me.
but they're both making it work. my younger is still working on his undergrad. he's in science, so it's really hard, and he can't take the full load every semester as well as work so he's in it for a long haul. he was smart enough to get a job that has tuition reimbursement, though, so if he can tough it out (and he can), he'll end up with a very marketable degree and less debt than my older son. however, that one now also has a job with tuition reimbursement so he's going for a practical master's degree which may at some point allow him to pay off his undergrad debt. also just a few classes at a time, though, since he works a lot of hours.
i can honestly say that neither of my kids takes their college education for granted!
but it infuriates me to the point of madness that it's so hard for them. that our country doesn't take having a highly educated populace seriously, and that making money is the only goal of our universities. do you know how many young people could have received a full ride for the cost of just one of those F-22s, obsolete before its eventual assembly?

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answers from Kansas City on

We have 3 boys under 10. All have college plans. The older two have a state pre-paid plan. The youngest has a 529. We have saved a lot for them and my in-laws have contributed significantly. My husband and I both graduated debt free from college and hope to help our kids do the same (Hubby got a full ride and his parents gave him the money they saved for college to invest--how awesome is that!!). I appreciated it then--and even more now that I'm 36. Four years of college and 2 years of dorm should be covered for each child--based on our calculations.

I didn't read all of the responses, but some will argue that kids only take college seriously if they're paying for it (or taking out loans). I will disagree 100%. It totally depends on the student. Hubby and I both graduated in 4 years with excellent grades. I did work part time my junior and senior year because I wanted too. I loved not having to work because it allowed me to be very involved on campus and make school the priority! Hubby was not allowed to work in college--school rule.

Many people mentioned community college. I think this is a great option! I went to a state university, but I had friends at the community college in town. One semester a friend and I had the same class (College Algebra), same book, and same teacher! She had 25 kids in her class and I had 300 at the university. I also paid twice as much. She definitely got the better deal. She transferred to my university after 2 years and we graduated together. Both of our degrees said "xxx State University"...nowhere did it mention she did 2 years at CC.

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answers from Chicago on

Yes, my kids got accounts as soon as they were born. We don't save nearly enough. All three get $125 each a month. Ideally, we should be saving 600-800 each. However, my kids are EU citizens, and college is free in a few EU countries. After a short 3 month residency, they can go to Scotland, for instance, and my in-laws live in Ireland, and they will have aunts and uncles they could live with.

I also strongly believe that the system here is a bubble and it will change, or no one will go. If we cannot save enough for college-even if we only had one child-then the system is not going to have students in the future. Hubby makes a good living. Colleges, however, need to rethink how they do things. There is a lot of fat there.

I know a few kids that are going to school in Europe because it's cheaper. If more and more Americans send their kids overseas, the system here will have to start to listen.

So the long and the short of it, I'm going to encourage trades -doubtful that will happen since hubby and I both have multiple grad degrees- but for college, my plan is to have my kids take a lot of college classes at the community college during Highschool-we homeschool-, and then, ship them abroad. I do think our system will have changed by then.

The bulk of our savings goes go retirement. That's our number one priority.

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answers from Norfolk on

There are a multitude of strategies.
First off - yes it's nice if you can save up some money for this for them.
You need to look at a few things.

Not everyone is college material.
If they are not, their grades are not there, they are not interested, then spend your money on trade school - otherwise you might as well throw it out the window.

If they are great students, have them apply for STEM programs.
In many cases kids can earn college credits while they are in high school.
For every college credit they earn there, it reduces the number of credits they need to earn while in college and that saves you money.
In our son's case he's earned 3 college credits in 9th grade and it cost us $200.
This year he will earn 3 more credits and it'll be $225 (price went up a little bit) but it's still a lot better than what it'll cost after graduation.
We expect he will have an associates degree by high school graduation time.

After graduation - what undergrad work can he earn at a local community college?
He might spend a year or two there but the costs will still be less than what they will cost at a 4yr/5 yr school.
We'll have to weigh this against what sort of scholarships he might earn.

After that year or two, he takes his credits and transfers to a 4yr/5yr and finish up his degree and if he's interested it might be worth it for him to go for his masters at that point.

We've saved up roughly 50k for one child.
He might still have take out student loans but we're doing what we can to keep that to a minimum.
We expect he'll get work study jobs but the grades have got to come first.
Once they start working for workings sake, furthering education starts falling by the wayside.

Yeah, I'd have a problem paying for a degree in under water basket weaving.
My husband and I are technical (husband is an electrical engineer and I have a computer science degree) and if our son decided he wanted a liberal arts degree we would be less supportive of it.
Fortunately he seems to be serious about wanting to become an engineer an we are all for that!

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answers from Oklahoma City on

We live paycheck to paycheck because we're older and living on SSDI. We are raising grandchildren though. We absolutely don't have any extra money to put aside for college.

If the kids want to go to college they'll have to apply for financial aid. I have friends who are well off and they put a lot of money in savings for college.

One friend had 7 kids and they paid cash for most everything, even their homes and always vehicles. They put nearly half his pay in savings each payday before he got his deposit. They pay a LOT of money for their kids college at BYU, it's a private college and doesn't accept financial aid.

Their kids got good grades and were expected to apply for every possible scholarship they could get. They all got some too. Whether it was tennis or dance or football, they also got jobs when they were on summer break and that money went to pay for their missions.

So these people paid over $700 per month for each of their kids rent in the dorms plus they paid top dollar for their food programs. They planned ahead and it worked.

I can't imagine having so much money that I was able to put money in savings for college for anyone. If I had that much money I'd feel truly wealthy because as it is right now I worry about having heat this winter and getting tired of eating Great Value mac and cheese some day because that's a staple around here.

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answers from Grand Forks on

We have Registered Education Savings Accounts here in Canada. They are an account you can open specifically to save for your child's education. You don't have to pay taxes on the interest and the government kicks in grants and incentives. I have been putting about $25 a month for each kid since birth. It may not be enough to cover their entire education, but I also believe that the kids should pay for part of their own education anyway.

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answers from Rochester on

Right now we have savings accounts for our 2 kids (5 and 7). My husband has money from his pay check directly deposited every month. We set it up a couple of years ago so I don't remember for sure, but I think it's $25-$50 a month per kid. I think the accounts have enough now to cover books for their first semester! My parents also put money into some CDs a couple of years ago. I think they also have savings accounts for all of the grandkids that they put money into every year at Christmas.

We were advised to not use the College Savings plans. Some require kids to go to schools in state and if they want to go out of state the money is inaccessible or there are huge penalties. Same thing if your child decides to not go to college. Same thing is God forbid you lose your child.

We were told that a Roth IRA was a better investment. There are fewer restrictions on how you can access the money and no restrictions on how you use it. The money is taxed when you start the Roth, so taxes are much less. If your child doesn't go to college, you still have all the money without the restrictions. Maybe we were ill advised, but it makes sense to me.

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answers from New York on

All 4 of my kids have college degrees and I hadn't saved a penny of their education because I had to feed, buy clothes for, provide housing, heat, water, etc for 4 kids. All 4 went to community college. 2 are using the degrees they received from CC for their work (fairly high paying jobs due to specialized training). The other 2 transferred to a 4 yr state university. All their credits transferred because its a special thing the state universities offer. Both have finished their bachelors and 1 received her masters degree.

Community college is around $2000 per year around here including books. I paid for CC but at $2000 a year they could have gotten a part time or seasonal job and covered the expenses themselves. When they transferred to the state university I paid for books.

Both kids took out loans to pay for the last 2 yrs which came to around $15000. Once they graduated they worked full time and 1 took a part time job on top of full time to pay off the loans in 1 yr.

Once the loans were paid off and they decided to get masters degrees my daughter went for advanced placement meaning she would get a masters in 15 months instead of 2 yrs. She moved back home and commuted. My son went to work at a company that reimburses education so his company will be paying for his masters.

I find it funny how these parents let their children sign off on $100,000=$250,000 worth of loans over the course of 4 yrs. What job do they think their kid will get that will allow them to start a life with a house, kids, cars, etc when they have that debit hanging over their heads. And then they get on tv and whine about it. Use your brain and think things through before you bite off that kind of debit. A degree in greek mythology might be your heart's desire however an accounting degree might be what's needed to pay your bills.

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answers from San Francisco on

Yes, college is not for everyone.

It's also sometimes good to take some time off after high school and work, before wasting anyone's money on college when kids just might not be right or ready for it. The college dropout rate is 50%, and no one should take out big loans if there is any uncertainty about whether college is the correct path or not.

That said, we never had any extra money to save for college. So my kids had no savings. Between junior college, minimal loans and working, they are going to college very affordably, and having very successful college careers.

Neither they nor we should be saddled with massive college debt. There is no way we as their parents are able take on the debt for 3 kids in full-time college, and they shouldn't do it either. My kids who are currently in college will exit with less than $15K of debt, and viable careers to be able to pay it off.

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