The story is as old as the collegeapplication process itself. As early as your junior year, youbegin researching what college you want to go to, with yourheart already set on University Y. You find out where you canget in, and then decide what would be a good fit for you, andthe result is a pretty broad list. Summer comes along, and youspend weeks visiting colleges. Along the way, you fall more inlove with University Y, its beautiful campus, great socialatmosphere and strong academics.
Fall rolls around andyou have your list, but secretly, you do not care about theothers; you're only applying to them to please your parents.You rush through the other applications, but spend a lot oftime making University Y's perfect.
The responsesfinally come and to your joy, you're accepted to Y. It doesnot matter whether you got into the others; you barely opentheir letters. Gleefully, you tell your friends you're goingto Y next year, the college of your dreams. And then yourparents see Y's expected financial family contribution...
College-bound students could save a lot of griefand heartbreak by having a discussion with their parentsbefore they decide where to apply in order to understand whattheir parents can afford (or are willing to pay). It can be adifficult and even sensitive question, one that most peoplewould rather sweep under the carpet, but one that must beasked. One admissions counselor confirms that many studentsand parents do not discuss the amount parents are willing topay, yet, "Seventy-five percent of the time, money ends upbeing a deciding factor."
So how do you bring up thetopic of money? The first key is, of course, timing anddelivery. If the question is asked in an offhand manner,expect an offhand answer. A request for a sit-down discussion,however, is much more likely to elicit a serious response. Thefirst time, I asked my father in the middle of a footballgame. Not surprisingly, the incoherent reply came betweenyelps of "Fire the coach!" and "Catch the ball!" The secondtime, I came armed with paper, pens and a calculator. I wastaken much more seriously.
The second key is to askmore than once. When I first asked which colleges we couldafford, I got responses ranging from "Oh don't worry about it,we'll pay for any college" to "You know, community collegesaren't so bad these days." With time and persistence, I gotthem to settle on a specific dollar amount.
In all ofthis, though, you must be careful not to push your parents forinformation they may not want to give you. Demanding to seethe amount of your parents' debt is not a good idea, even ifit is a major factor in how much your parents can contribute.However, accepting vague responses such as, "We have enoughmoney," does you no good.
You must be careful tobalance your need to know with your parents' right to privacy.This financial discussion is one of the most important partsof the college application process. In order to be completelyprepared, you should visit colleges, research schools, talk toyour guidance counselor and, perhaps most importantly, findout what your parents are willing to pay.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.