Picking a College 101

Jen Miller

Tess Vigeland: Many families across the country had to make a tough decision this college acceptance season.
They had to tell their kids that they just couldn't afford their first-choice school. Maybe not even their second-choice.

Commentator Jen Miller has some advice for dealing with that dilemma.


Jen Miller: Pick the cheap school.

I had my heart set on Boston University. I was going to study marine biology, then move to Australia to study the coral of the Great Barrier Reef. I saw this as my only path to success and happiness.

That same year, my parents were divorcing. There was no money for BU unless the school offered scholarships or grants. And they didn't.

The University of Tampa, however, did. My parents told me I had no choice: I was Florida-bound.

I was incensed with all the rage a 17-year-old can muster. My parents hated me. The world hated me. I was doomed. I'd never be a successful, coral-studying, Australia-living marine biologist because my parents decided to get divorced instead of letting me go to my dream school.

Did I mention I was 17?

Well, guess what? The world didn't collapse. The sky did not fall. My life, of course, was not ruined. I picked another major, and graduated with a budding writing career. Plus, I had no guillotine of massive student loans hovering over my neck.

So I could take a risk. I pursued a career as a freelance journalist and author. Yes, it was my passion, but it's so much easier to follow your passion when you don't have the equivalent of a mortgage payment for a monthly student loan.

My parents forcing me to go to the cheaper school was the best thing they could have done. Today, I still see so many of my peers in their 30s struggle to get out from under the financial obligations of expensive, old degrees.

If there's no way you can afford $50,000 a year in tuition and fees without jeopardizing your retirement or setting your child up for a life of repayment, there is only one thing you need to know: Pick the cheaper school, even if that means your 17-year-old rants and screams that his or her life is over.

I promise you, they'll thank you for it. Eventually.


Vigeland: Jen Miller is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia. You can find her on Twitter at jerseyshorejen. While you're at it -- follow me at radiotess.

About the author

Jen Miller is a freelance writer and proud denizen of the Garden State. She's the author of "Book a Week with Jen: 1 Year, 52 Books, and the Year of Starting a New Chapter."

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