When I went to college, I qualified for full financial aid. Full. I had a small federal loan to pay back at the end of four years at a state school. Looking back at this from the vantage point I have now, it seems both wonderful and sad. I mean, I qualified for full financial aid because my family didn’t make a lot money each year. My stepfather owed his own business which didn’t always make a profit each fiscal year and my mother worked part time. I was not at all a stellar student so merit scholarships were never going to happen for me. I went to college because my family was poor.
I worked hard, sometimes three jobs, to get through grad school. I had to take out a substantial amount of money in loans to pay for my master’s degree at a private college. There was no financial aid available then and I wasn’t working full time yet. So, I paid back those loans until I was almost 40. I was able to go to graduate school and pay for it by working very hard (and with an additional salary after I got married).
Now, my husband and I are in a good place financially. We’ve made good decisions overall. We have less then 10 years left on our mortgage, we can spend money without worrying too much. We didn’t save a lot of money for our children’s college years but some. We met with my son’s future college financial aid counselor yesterday. It’s a private school and a really good school. He is excited to go there and we are excited for him to go there. We do not qualify for financial aid. He’s getting a good merit scholarship and a small federal loan but the bulk of this college is on him, or us.
My son will have to start his life in debt because his parents worked hard to get to a safe financial status so that they don’t qualify for tuition assistance. It’s frustrating when I think about it like this: I was lucky to go to college because my parents couldn’t afford it but my son is unlucky because his parents can afford it (afford= $60,000+ per year). And before you tell me it’s because it’s a private school, it’s not!! The state schools are also up in cost. Private schools are working hard to compete!
I don’t know how I feel about a lot of things but I do know that the cycle we have in this country of punishing people because they want to get educated is so backward. It almost seems cruel. We will do whatever we need to do to lessen the burden on our son because we can. We won’t risk our own retirements because that doesn’t make sense but we will help for as long as we need to. Then, we’ll add on my daughter in a few years.
Paying for college shouldn’t mean taking on such tremendous debt. It shouldn’t mean that parents need to take on more debt than a house mortgage. It shouldn’t mean that kids are starting out a life with the enormous burden of loans to better themselves and try to be successful in this world. Where’s the sense in this?
We were given mixed advise back when our kids were born. If you save the money for college, they will count that and you’ll get even less aid. If you don’t save, you might qualify for more. We couldn’t save much when they were younger. We lived on one salary while I stayed home to raise them. Other expenses always took precedence. But now, standing on the threshold of college, I wish I could go back and save enough to pay for all of it so that we couldn’t lighten their burden. Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it?