Having the Hard Talk: 'You Have to Pick a Cheaper School'

Sara Lindberg Updated on March 31, 2018

If you’re worried about having the hard talk with your teen about money and their dream college, you might want to come out from behind the bushes. 

Because, whether you like it or not, this conversation has to take place. Hopefully, sooner, rather than later.

"We can't afford that school …"

If your teen has set their sights on a college that is financially out of reach, you might be wondering how to talk to them about picking a cheaper college. 

While getting into their so-called dream school is the goal for many college-bound teens, the financial repercussions of taking out massive college loans can have lasting consequences. 

You know this, but they don’t. 

So, what should you do when you know the school your teen has chosen is not even close to being affordable? 

Listen first

This is your time to give the direct (yet subtle) message to your teen about not getting in over their head.

Chances are, this is the first time they’ve had to make a major decision that involves such a large amount of money. Remember, this is just as confusing and stressful for them.

Close your eyes and picture your parents having this conversation with you. There’s a good chance you would have wanted them to listen to why you feel so strongly about your choice. Your teen is no different, so acknowledge their feelings.  

Hear them out before you start talking dollars and cents. Then, ask for them to hear YOU out. 

Having a few backup plans and other options laid out prior to talking with your teen will save a lot of headache and heartache. If they were accepted to more than one school, go back and compare the costs. Consider doing a side-by-side comparison to show them the difference.  (More about this below.)

You might also want to use this time to talk about other options such as attending community college for two years. This could allow them to transfer to their dream school and complete their degree without taking on an enormous amount of debt. 

If the school in question is out-of-state or private, discuss going to a state school instead (provided they applied and were accepted to a state school). Often times, this is one of their back-up or safety schools.

Ask them to take a look at this school with a different lens. And remind your child that there is no "perfect college." There will be good and bad experiences at whichever school they choose. Remind your teen that they will get the education they need, as long as they put in the time, dedication, and hard work.

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Work the numbers together

This can be a very emotional conversation. That’s why it’s important to separate facts from feelings. One way to tackle this is to sit down and work the numbers together

Being able to show your teen the amount of student loan debt they could end up with compared to the amount of money they may earn can help open their eyes to what’s ahead. 

This conversation is even more important if your child is going to be even partly financially responsible for college costs. 

When they are expected to cover some of the expenses, your teen needs to see how quickly student loan debt can add up. Our Nitroscore tool can help you itllustrate how student loan debt can affect their future.

Yes, this conversation is hard ... but no one said parenting was easy, right?

One of the best things you can do for your teen is educate them about student loan debt before they head off to college. 

Being able to impart some of your money wisdom while you work through these crucial financial decisions will go a long way with your teen.

See also: Decision Day is Approaching — How to Decide When You Can’t Decide

Published in: How to Pay for College

About the Author
Sara Lindberg

Sara Lindberg, B.S., M.Ed., is a freelance writer specializing in business, finance, health, and wellness. She holds a Bachelor's of Science degree in Exercise Science and a Master's Degree in Counseling. When she’s not writing, Sara can be found at the gym lifting weights, running the back roads to train for her next half-marathon, and spending time with her husband and two children. Read more by Sara Lindberg

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