college dream

As students make sense of the admission decisions they’ve received these past few weeks, some families might be feeling not only excitement but dread—excitement for prospective dreams fulfilled, but dread when contemplating the cost. Numbers once considered hypotheticals are now becoming hard and fast expenses. While we’re often told, “pursue the dream and things will take care of themselves,” should we be holding college dreams to the same standard, costs be damned?

No arguments here: College is about making dreams possible. It’s about giving our children the chance to move forward in life, giving them a solid footing from which to launch their ambitions. But there are times when the costs of a college can be so insurmountable, so prohibitive, they hinder the dream, even when they come attached to a degree.

What is Your Dream, Really?

Don’t get me wrong: I understand dreams. I think most people do. Who doesn’t want the classic college experience so often portrayed in pictures and movies? But when unchecked debt creeps into the picture it becomes important to tease out the dream. What exactly is it? Is it a finite four-year period of time spent on a storied college campus, or is it a ticket to future opportunities? Don’t let your campus dream turn into a nightmare upon graduation once the bill comes due, especially if alternatives might allow you to more easily live your idealized post-college life.

Be Realistic

Compare the average salary for your prospective career against any future monthly loan payments. And use a loan calculator! Beyond your payments, will you have enough wiggle room to set aside thirty percent of your salary for housing? Twenty percent for savings? Thirty-five percent for taxes? How about health insurance, food, travel, or automotive expenses? Do the math before signing on the dotted line.

Consider Your Long-Term Goals

I was talking to a high school student from Michigan the other day who is currently dual enrolled at both his high school and Eastern Michigan University. If he pursues his college education at Eastern Michigan, he’ll have enough transfer credit under his belt to finish his degree in two years. His family was so excited at the prospect of saving two years’ worth of tuition. Would he prefer to attend a school that more closely resembles his idealized campus? Perhaps. But he’s got other goals in mind, too: Starting his professional life with little debt in order to make it on his own.

So think about where you want to go. Not just to college, but in life. Will your current options provide you the vehicle needed to get you there? Take a pause, and do the math. Your dreams deserve it.

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Written by Zaragoza Guerra
Zaragoza Guerra is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Zaragoza previously worked as a senior admissions officer at MIT, Caltech, and The Boston Conservatory.