Should You Go To The Best College Regardless of Cost?
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I’ve been interviewing some of the best personal finance bloggers out there to find out some of the worst money advice they’ve ever received. Today, we’re talking about college costs. Bloomberg recently reported that college costs are rising faster than inflation again. Is the name of a prestigious school worth it when comes to cost?
The couple who writes the popular blog Frugalwoods says absolutely not! Mrs. Frugalwoods said that the worst advice she’s ever received came from her high school guidance counselor. In fact, Mr. Frugalwoods received the exact same advice from his too: “Go to the best college you get into, regardless of cost.”
The Frugalwoods couple thought this was terrible advice. Instead, they decided to attend The University of Kansas, a much less expensive state school that was still well respected. As Mrs. Frugalwoods told me, “We did well in undergrad, studied hard, had our share of fun, met each other and kindled our frugal romance, and then graduated with no debt.” (Editor’s note: Go Cats!) 🙂
This lack of educational debt was a factor in their current goal of retiring at the ripe old age of 33. In sum, their best advice was, “Get a solid, but frugal, education.”
When is the Name Worth It?
Interestingly enough for the sake of this discussion, I happened to graduate from one of those really good “best college” type of schools, the College of William and Mary. Last time I checked it was somewhere in the top 30 or so best schools in the country. W&M is actually quite affordable for in state students but being from Louisiana, it was costly.
The question is, was the name recognition and prestige worth the cost for me?
There have been a few moments in my career where I’ve been offered a job or an opportunity because I attended William and Mary. The real benefit though was in the connections I made. Many of my classmates went on to be very successful, and some of them have helped me along the way on various occasions. This could be said of many schools though. Sometimes you never know who your classmates will be or what sort of opportunities will come your way because of them in the future. I’m glad I went to William and Mary, but in retrospect, I think I would have been happy at any other school too.
Consider Specific Careers
It’s important to note that if you have your heart set on a specific law firm, a certain company, or a particular graduate program, you might have to attend certain schools to get there. I advise against trying to plan your life out in this way, but if you’ve always wanted to work at a particular investment bank in NYC and they only take Yale graduates, then it’s something to think about. (Just playing devil’s advocate here!)
Go to the Best College, But Not at any cost
I agree with the Frugalwoods couple on this topic. In fact, I won’t even mind if my kids (gasp) don’t want to attend a traditional 4 year college at all. The costs are really getting out of hand. I’d be equally as proud if they wanted to work abroad, start an amazing business, or do something else. The “experience” of college isn’t what everyone makes it out to be, and it’s completely ridiculous that college costs are so high. It should be something attainable, not crippling, for everyone.
The advice to go to the best college regardless of cost isn’t practical. I would never say that to my kids. Instead I’ll tell them to take whatever is the least expensive school so long as it provides a decent education. The rest is on them to make their own luck and connections. Times have changed since I went to school and they will continue to change. It’s up to us to decide how to handle it for future generations.
Do you think you should go to the best college no matter what it costs? Do you think the name recognition or the connections are worth it? Looking back, if you’re a college graduate, would you go to the same school knowing then what you know now? Do you wish you had gone somewhere else?