Where Should Your Teen Go to College? The Answer May Surprise You.

There’s a chill in the air. Time for those campus visits, and time to fill out college applications. Time to zero in on a major course of study, and time to hunt down and apply for scholarships. And don’t forget about the FAFSA.

Fall is the time for falling temperatures, football games, and pumpkin spice everything. (I’ll confess that last year in a moment of weakness I decided to try a package of pumpkin spice M&M’s. What was I thinking?) It’s also the time for high school seniors to think seriously about where they want to go to college.

Choosing the right college or university to attend is a decision that can possibly affect the rest of your life, but not in the way you might be thinking. If you go about it the right way, it can be a stepping stone for your student, a means to an end, which is a rewarding career that pays them well. It can also have an especially bad effect if going to that particular college means you rack up massive amounts of student loan debt.

So which college is right for your student?

Many kids hear from so many sources that their education will be substandard or almost useless if they go to a state school or a community college rather than Harvard, Yale, or some other high profile Ivy League school.

That simply is not true.

There are numerous examples in our own family and circle of friends of people who proudly attended state schools and who have been tremendously successful in their careers and lives. Success hinges fully on what you do rather than where you go to college.

Success hinges fully on what you do rather than where you go to college.

Many times I will bump into a college student that we have known for a number of years. When I ask what they are up to now, some of them look at the ground and say, “Well I’m just going to [the local community college] for my general courses and then I am going to go to [the nearby state university] to finish my studies and to graduate.”

These kids actually appear to be ashamed of the path they have chosen! What a sad commentary. These kids have chosen to move forward and further their education while trying to minimize the financial burden on themselves and their families as much as they can.

There is no shame in that.

I always tell these kids they should hold their heads up and state with confidence what they are doing about going to college. They have every right to be proud of the decisions they’ve made.

Besides, way too much emphasis is made to high school students on where they go to college rather than the quality of a person’s work after college. That’s what counts in the real world.

I have heard Dave Ramsey point out numerous times through the years on his radio show that a person’s college degree, after a point, has diminished value. Instead what becomes important is the quality of a person’s work – what have you actually accomplished?

In the work place, it may shock some teens who are contemplating college choice, and putting so much stock in that choice, to know that very few, if any, people ever evaluate another worker or a potential employee based solely on where he or she went to college. Other than what sports team you pull for, it really doesn’t matter.

The longer a person is out of college, the less impact that college choice has on his or her life and career. Bearing that in mind, here are some criteria a high school student should consider when choosing a college:

  • Does that school have the major or course of study I want to pursue?
  • How much will it cost? (Yes, this is extremely important!)
  • Will the cost of obtaining that degree be worth the job I can get after graduation? In other words, is it worth the investment of time and money?
  • What will it cost me to live on that campus or in that area? Is it more than I can afford?
  • Do I have the grades and ACT or SAT scores that will allow me to be accepted at that college or university?
  • Is it a private school or a state school? (Private schools are considerably more expensive!)
  • If it is a state school, will the tuition be in-state or out-of-state? (Hint, choose IN-STATE whenever possible!)
  • What scholarships and grants can I get? (Squeeze every drop of scholarship money and grant money you can from every source possible. If you want any type of grant aid, you will need to go online and fill out your FAFSA information. Go online to scholarship websites (there are dozens) and apply for as many scholarships as you possibly can. Each dollar you earn or are awarded now is a dollar you will not have to borrow and pay back later with interest – copious interest. For every $1.00 your college student borrows at 6.8% interest, he will have paid back $1.80 at the end of a 20 year loan term, assuming he can make the payments. Ouch! Don’t borrow money to go to college! Read the article Why Teens Should Avoid Student Loan Debt Like the Plague.)

College should be viewed not as a dream, but as I mentioned earlier, as a stepping stone, a tool, an investment in their future that will produce a solid, quantifiable payback.

The upshot is this: your student’s choice of college and major should be viewed as a business decision. Will these choices help me move closer to my life goals and my career aspirations? Will I be able to accomplish my goals without going into crippling debt? These are critical questions to consider. I hope you and your teen will approach this decision wisely.

Are you and your teen struggling with this issue right now? If so, scroll down and leave a comment in the section below telling us what advice you have to share on college and major choices. I would love to hear from you.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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2 thoughts on “Where Should Your Teen Go to College? The Answer May Surprise You.

  1. This is a good article Anna. One important aspect of choice should be that colleges don’t teach skilled trades. That can only be acquired at community colleges. Recently, we called an HVAC repair man. He spent less than thirty minutes at our house and the bill was $240.00. A community college exposure for the MAJORITY of high school graduates would serve them better as working adults.

  2. Hi Anna, I agree wholeheartedly with your idea that local colleges can help set students on the path to a career. My own post-secondary education started with the local community college, which got me a placement and eventually a job. I used that job to finance my university degree in translation, which minimized the debt load I had to pay after graduating. I learned very different things at community college and at university, and both the practical and the theoretical have helped me over the years. My husband switched from university to college, and found the co-op program there more fulfilling. My son is attending university now, with the plan to head to college for a specific program afterwards, in hopes that the degree will give him an edge in the competitive admission process. People can customize their own education plan now, especially if you take into account all the online courses that are available.