Color of Money: Don't spend more than you can afford for your child's college

Michelle Singletary on

WASHINGTON -- The acceptance envelope from Towson State University was pretty cool.

Featuring a picture of the bronze tiger mascot, it simply said in bold lettering, "You're In!"

One down and two more schools to hear from before my daughter Jillian gets to decide where she'll attend college. She's the last of my three children to go off to pursue a degree. And honestly, it can't happen soon enough.

Three times is not a charm when it comes to the anxiety around college selection. I hate the application process. There's so much pressure to stand out. Then there's the wait.

Just before Christmas, a rejection letter for early admission from one university sent my daughter, an honor-roll student, into a funk for several days. The letter said the school recognized her aptitude but that it had "an overwhelming response this year from many academically talented applicants."

It broke my heart to see her so dejected. She didn't care that the admissions committee said it recognized the strength of her academic credentials and offered her encouragement that she'll be considered during the regular decision review.


You want your child to get a good education. But our kids are led to believe that if they don't get into a certain university, their life path will be disastrous. To them, a rejection signals they aren't good enough.

So, when they get an acceptance letter, especially from a prestigious university, parents throw financial caution to the wind. If your kid gets in, how do you not move heaven and earth financially to make his or her dream come true?

Just before the holiday break, during my weekly live chat, I received two college-related questions from parents. Both were pretty telling about the angst young adults are feeling.

Q: I know what you've said about sending one's kids to state university or a combo of community college and State U, and I totally agree. Then stupidly I told my high school senior to apply wherever she wanted and "we'll see where you get in.: Big mistake! She got in everywhere and is begging to be sent to that darn dream school that costs almost three times as much as other choices. I have tried "no" as a complete sentence, but that isn't enough so she really gets it. Can you remind me what to say firmly and lovingly that will help her understand why, and that she'll be just fine at the less expensive school? I will stand firm on not borrowing or mortgaging my home for this! Just want peace in the house.


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