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Answers to Your College Questions

My child has the choice between taking a scholarship to a school she doesn't love or paying too much for her dream school. What should we do?

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Family talking about college finances

Here is something that baffles me. Let’s assume that your son or daughter is one of the best basketball players in the country. You probably know what happens when your child possesses that gift: colleges come calling, willing to offer scholarships if the student chooses their school. Generally, student athletes end up choosing the college that provides the most attractive scholarship offer.

Now, let’s assume that the gift is not athletic in nature. Let’s assume that your child’s gift/talent/strength lies in his or her academic ability. Students’ test scores can make them eligible for numerous scholarships and open the doors to affordable academic opportunities. So why does the potential for considerable scholarship money seem to have little impact on their college choice? In many cases, students tend to get wrapped up in the idea of a “dream school”—causing them to focus on things like academic reputation, social life in the dorms, or the popularity of sports. Students tend to lose sight of the long-term effects of taking on excessive debt, and often find themselves having to make the difficult decision mentioned above.

Although financial aspects should not be the sole reason for a college decision, we do need to consider the long-term benefits of our college choices. Ask yourself: Which of these two options would make more sense in the long run?

  • Option 1: Attend a college that was not your number-one choice, but live the rest of your life without excessive student debt.
  • Option 2: Attend a more attractive college, but spend years trying to pay off your student loans.

In the long term, Option 1 would be the obvious choice. Even in the short term, consider the fact that many more students drop out of college for financial reasons than they do because the fitness center isn’t nice enough or the residence hall isn’t as spacious as they would have liked.  

It has been my experience that many students are not equipped to make these prudent long-term decisions alone. I have often suggested to parents that it is wise to discuss with their children the financial reality of this decision early on. It is important that parents work with their children to choose affordable college options—and potential for scholarship money should be a significant factor in the college search process. The greater number of affordable options a student creates for themselves, the more likely that the final decision will end up being a good one.



At College Countdown, we are convinced that there are affordable college options for every family. Check out the Financial Fit Program on College Countdown to learn how you can find the right college at a price your family can afford.

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Frank Palmasani is a Chicago area high school guidance counselor and former college director of admissions, and creator of Financial Fit. In 1985, Palmasani began delivering seminars on the college financial aid and planning process, and estimates that he has reached more than 200,000 people through his talks. He is a member of NACAC, IACAC, and the College Board. Palmasani has been featured in the Boston Herald, the Chicago Tribune, Yahoo! Finance, WGN-TV, WTTW-TV, CBS’s Monsters and Money in the Morning, and is the author of the forthcoming book Right College, Right Price (Sourcebooks, January 2013).

Palmasani is the founder of Financial Fit, which you can find in the College Countdown bookstore.