Erin Lowry: I turned down my dream college. More kids should do the same

Erin Lowry, Bloomberg Opinion on

Published in Lifestyles

At the tender age of 18, I made the decision to attend the university that offered me the largest financial aid package, through academic scholarships.

It’s been 17 years since that decision and I’m certain that it was the right call. If I had stuck with my first-choice school, I would have been saddled with nearly $75,000 in student loans by graduation, even after factoring in the university’s financial aid offer and what my parents were willing and able to contribute. My decision to follow the money put me in the position to graduate debt-free and allowed me to take bigger risks earlier in my career.

To put it simply, I gave up going to my dream school so that I could live my dream life.

Choosing a school that enables you to graduate with the least amount of debt, or, even better, with no debt at all, is a message more students need to hear. Many parents and college counselors encourage students to go to the most prestigious college possible, on the mistaken belief that the elite diploma will translate into better opportunities and higher earnings.

Students too often find themselves in over their heads when it comes to paying for college. More than half of students leave school with debt, and those that do owe a median $29,000. Last Monday, President Joe Biden announced a plan to forgive the debt for millions of students. Yet the plan will do nothing for future students facing the same quandary about how to finance their education.

That predicament has gotten a lot tougher this year, thanks to the bungled revamp of the federal form that is the first step toward obtaining financial aid.


The revised Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, went online months late and was beset by technical problems when it eventually did become available. That meant the Department of Education couldn’t get the roughly 6.6 million aid applications to schools in a timely manner.

Many colleges are making the situation worse, by refusing to push back the traditional May 1 deadline for students to accept an offer to attend a school. With only weeks until that deadline, plenty of students are still waiting to hear from colleges and universities about their financial aid offers.

At this point, the schools are the only ones in the position to help. They could start by pushing off their decision deadlines by at least two weeks, if not a month, to enable more applicants to receive all their financial aid offers and make a fully informed decision.

A few schools have taken that step. The entire University of California system set a new May 15 deadline. Other schools have given students until June 1 in light of the FAFSA mess. Shame on the universities who have refused to change their commitment deadlines by at least a couple weeks. Notably, many of them are elite institutions.


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