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December 21, 2010

How much should you pay for college?

Columbia_U

A hundred thousand? Two hundred? With this year's college application season winding down, there's been another round of scrutiny about how expensive a college education has become. A recent article in the New York Times highlights a couple of studies that try to quantify the costs and benefits of attending the pricier private schools, as the yearly tuition plus cost of living at some selective liberal arts colleges has risen well above $50,000.

Last year the Wall Street Journal also explored the rising costs of higher education. In the article "Rethinking the Costs of Attending an Elite College," the author reports that nearly half the parents surveyed in a 2008 Gallup/Sallie Mae poll said they hadn't ruled out any colleges based on cost, and one parent quoted in the article said her kitchen ceiling was falling in while the family held off on repairs in favor of saving more. Costs at public universities are high too (the annual price tag at many UC campuses is around $30,000).

It's interesting to see the results of these studies, which look solely at dollars and cents, but there's another question we might want to ask: Is a person's salary the best way to measure success? One study mentioned briefly toward the end of the Times piece found that graduates of the most selective colleges tended to be somewhat more dissatisfied with their careers, perhaps because "expectations of elite college graduates ... might have been higher, and thus more subject to disappointment."

What do you think is the most important factor to consider when choosing a college?

Image: Columbia University, Susan NYC/Flickr

Comments

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We've got a high school senior and will be waiting til April to make the decision about where he'll go. The main criteria? Whatever school gives him the most financial aid. That's what it comes down to..

The biggest consideration should heavily weigh the likelihood of a 4 or 5 year graduation rate. We have a college junior with quite a bit of financial aide at a private university who will graduate with two degrees next year. His friends who thought they were saving money by going to a CSU or a UC are now limited to how many units they can take (the local CSU is limiting to 13). Even the community college kids can't get classes.

My son's university *guarantees* a 4-year graduation, which in the long run saves money since he can be in the job market or in grad school without worrying about just trying to get through the semester.

The most important considerations are those which will make your student happy and successful. (And I do not define success as how much money one makes.) Different students have different needs. Some need the competitive environment of an elite school. Some need the support provided by a smaller campus. Some need the opportunity to participate in extra curriculars. But what every student DOES need is a school that provides the opportunity to realize his or her potential.

Certainly costs, graduation rates and program quality factor into the college decision--and you want to consider all of them. But don't discount a school's atmosphere and attitude. It may be the most important factor in the long run.

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