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

Michelle Singletary on

A: If your child did everything you asked and excelled in high school, saying no to her dream school seems like a betrayal.

And yet, you have to be the adult with the foresight to understand it's the student -- not the school -- that matters most.

Get this book: "Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be -- An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania," by Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist. In it, Bruni writes:

"The nature of a student's college experience -- the work that he or she puts into it, the skills that he or she picks up, the self-examination that's undertaken, the resourcefulness that's honed -- matters more than the name of the institution attended. ... Education is indeed everything, but it happens across a spectrum of settings and in infinite ways."

Walk through the numbers and the debt that your daughter will have to take on to go to her top choice. If she still presses you, stay strong. Don't spend more than what you can afford.

Q: My college-age daughter is home for the holidays. The things she has been learning in economics and sociology class are making her sad and depressed. She looks at the trends and sees rising inequality, employment uncertainty, an ever-increasing public debt, a fragile safety net, etc., and concludes that there is no future. I have said, you're not wrong about the problems, but the only hope for the future is to act with hope: Get up, look for work, fight for justice, etc. That doesn't seem to be working. Any suggestions on how I should advise her?

A: If the depression continues, I suggest getting her some therapy. Sometimes life is overwhelming. And there's no shame in seeking professional help.

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Otherwise, I think your advice is spot-on. College is typically a period in your life when your eyes are really opened, sometimes to unsettling realities.

Share the story of your own climb up through adulthood. Tell her what you yourself have done to fight for a better world. And continue to encourage her to have hope in the future. That's the true source of change.


Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group



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