Finances usually dictate whether a teen goes away to college

By Colleen Wright….
“Should I Stay or Should I Go,” may be a pop rock anthem by British rock band The Clash, but for some high school seniors, this question has been floating around since the beginning of the college admission process. “Should I stay at home and attend college here or should I brave going away and living on my own?”

As a high school senior myself, I’ve talked to several parents about the matter. Some firmly believe that 18 year olds are too young to live on their own while pursuing higher education, and restrict their own kids from leaving until after their second year in college. Others, like my parents for example, believe that college is more than just an academic experience; they believe it’s a whole different way of life, a culture shock, if you will. With my best intentions in mind, my own parents discouraged me from staying home.

But making this highly important decision is easier said than done. Probably the biggest hindrance that keeps kids from leaving home is their financial situation. With the economy still in ruins, families can no longer afford to scrape up large sums of money to send their teen to a prestigious out-of-state university, or even manage to enroll them in an in-state public institution. Although Florida’s public universities are ranked 48th in the nation for lowest in-state tuition, some families are still struggling to give their son or daughter a college education.

Some teens are lucky enough to have a Florida Prepaid Plan which, depending on the plan, covers most of the costs for Florida’s public in-state universities.

Florida Bright Futures’ full and partial scholarships are awarded to those who meet the requirements. Money is everything, and if your child already has college paid for, it’s hard to say no to a debt-free opportunity. The 2006-07 class graduated with $22,700 in student loan debt, a figure you don’t want your child to be counted in.

The current economic situation is not the ideal environment to be taking out student loans. Many post-grad students become mired in heavy debts from loans for a traditional four-year college. Personal finance expert Zac Bissonnette claims that people who graduate from college with significant debt loads are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and are less likely to pursue the careers they want – the whole purpose of college – in favor of those that offer higher starting salaries.

Staying home saves a lot of money: No outrageous dorm payment, no pesky meal plans, no heinous transportation costs, etc. Life would probably continue the same way as it did in high school. Plus your child would always have the security of being around family.

I, however, personally believe that leaving home and maybe even attending a university out of state is an experience like no other. Your child will have to learn how to live independently by cooking, cleaning, doing his or her own laundry, and making his or her own decisions in tough situations. They will have to leave their bubble of Pinecrest, South Miami or what have you, and experience all that a small (or big) college town offers, from the culture to the different types of people on campus. Plus, universities that are not necessarily commuter schools have a wide range of activities and services for freshmen who have just left home for the first time.

You can also consider this for your child: If you’re not so sure about letting your teenager go away so soon, let him or her stay here for the first two or four years. In the mean time you can save up for your son or daughter’s masters degree at a prestigious university, because in today’s workforce, higher education is extremely valued and a well-earned MBA will stand out on your child’s resume when applying for their first job.

The decision is up to you and your child, with academic interests in mind first and your financial situation second. A college education is the most beneficial investment you can make in your teen’s life, not only for his or her career but for their happiness as well. Students who go away to school and come back usually enjoy life on campus and are passionate about pursuing their major. Whether your teen decides to stay home or go away, it’s important to remind them that they will always have your full support no matter how near or far away from home they are.

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