Dear Roadie: Should I Tell My Daughter Not to Bother Applying to Unaffordable Dream Schools?

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Dear Roadie: Should I Tell My Daughter Not to Bother Applying to Unaffordable Dream Schools?

Published April 26, 2024

Woman dressed in a suit wearing glasses sitting at a desk turning a red piggy bank upside down.

Dear Roadie,

We just returned from visiting a few colleges and I’m feeling deflated.  My daughter is a high-stat student involved in lots of extracurricular activities. She likes many highly competitive schools that are need-meet only and do not award merit aid. Should I tell her not to bother applying and pursue her dreams even if she has a good chance of being accepted because we cannot pay $80,000+ per year? Why do colleges think that middle-class families can afford this price tag? I feel like the Net Price Calculator was invented by people who know nothing about economics and finance.
Deflated and Disappointed

Dear Deflated and Disappointed,

I feel your pain. There’s nothing like being shown a Rolls Royce when all you can afford is a Honda. 

Getting a close-up look at schools where your daughter would fit in is uplifting, but not if it’s marred by the fact that your family can’t afford to have her attend. To be clear, the problem isn’t that you can’t afford $80,000-per-year schools. Most American families can’t. The problem is that you entertained the thought of it in the first place.

To continue with the car analogy, just like you wouldn’t test-drive a car you couldn’t afford, it’s not a good idea to visit schools that are not in your budget. What you and your daughter need right now is a transparent conversation about the realities of your finances and what you’re able to contribute, followed by an honest discussion about the pros and cons of taking on student debt, if she chooses to entertain that option. 

Too many parents wait until their child has fallen in love with a school or a program to discuss the realities of college finances. I get it, money is a sticky subject for people, but the sooner our children learn basic finance principles, the better off they’ll be. To put it simply: What goes out should never exceed what comes in.

Rather than start at the top and work your way backward, I suggest starting from reality and working your way up from there. Checking Net Price Calculators was a good idea, but don’t assume they’re anything near exact. Schools use different data and formulas to calculate net prices, and some use out-of-date figures, so they’re more of a general estimate than an actual cost of attendance. 

If she has high stats and a great resume, is it possible that she may qualify for scholarships and other forms of merit aid somewhere else? Several schools provide automatic scholarships to both in-state and out-of-state students. Have you checked if any of their requirements align with your daughter’s qualifications? Are there schools close by that are more affordable and still check a lot of your daughter’s boxes? Would she be willing to attend community college for her general education requirements and transfer from there? 

All of these questions can be addressed during your conversation as they all provide avenues for your daughter to pursue her dreams affordably, so she won’t end up in debt for the first two decades of her working life.

Learning to live within your means is an important life lesson. The universe is offering you a chance to pass that lesson on to your daughter. Seize the moment.

Have a perplexing college question? Email Dear Roadie for advice at dearroadie@road2college.com

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

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Other Articles You Might Like:

Understanding College Costs: The Role of the Net Price Calculator

Real Parent Advice for When Your Child Is Rejected from Every College

Dear Roadie: Should I Move to a Different State for Free Tuition?

JOIN ONE OF OUR FACEBOOK GROUPS & CONNECT WITH OTHER PARENTS: 

PAYING FOR COLLEGE 101

HOW TO FIND MERIT SCHOLARSHIPS

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