“Sacrifice beyond reasoning”: The Dilemma in Choosing College Prestige vs Cost of Enrollment

 photo by flickr user 401(K) 2013 

A New York Times article recently discussed the dilemma families face in choosing between schools when their student has multiple acceptance letters. While the article mostly focuses on the higher end of schools (making particular focus on a pricy anecdotes for NYU), the general discussion can be helpful for any family facing a decision between two schools where prestige and price are factors.

You should absolutely read the entirety of the article for yourself, but here are some of the highlights:

  • When comparing school cost, make sure to use net price (price after scholarships and grants), not the sticker price. That’s a true apples-to-apples comparison.
  • Be careful not to compare loans versus scholarships and grants. The latter provides a much greater level of financial relief.
  • There’s a perception that, in the economy still recovering from the recession, that only students from elite schools get hired. However, some studies have “found that equally smart students had about the same earnings whether or not they went to top-tier colleges.” Minority and low-income students were the students who benefited most from going to an elite school.
  • Where your student wants to work after college matters. A school that has particular connections to an industry might be worth the extra money. However, many students don’t know their future job hopes when they’re still in high school, which makes this part of the decision more difficult.
  • Check graduation rates. “While taking on a lot of debt is not good, taking on a lot of debt and not graduating from college is even worse.”
  • The key to this decision is not to just “sacrifice beyond reasoning,” but rather, for those who have monetary constraints, to make sure that the decision to spend thousands upon thousands (and possibly tens of thousands) of dollars more for four years is a rational decision.