The cost of an education

Over the next four years, my parents will shell out tens of thousands of dollars for my education. This burden they intend to take on for my benefit has trickled down to weigh on the decisions I make today and the decisions I will make in the months to come.
Looming college tuition chiefly affects which schools I consider applying to, and which schools I don’t. Lately, I receive a dozen emails a day from colleges hoping for me to apply: from Ivy League univer- sities—like Columbia—to schools I’ve never heard of—like the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. Come again?
The dilemma: the tuition rates of these smaller schools are much lower. Compare Duke University’s $62K asking price to the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign’s $43,000 (www.collegedata. com). Likewise, I’ve received many more scholarship offers from smaller schools than larger ones—probably because the larger are more competitive, and don’t feel pressured to lure consummate students.

Despite the vast difference between the price tags of these two colleges, both are ranked within the top 50 of national universities, as ranked by US News & World Report (http://colleges.usnews. So why am I not perfectly content with applying to the latter? I suppose it’s pride. I’ve always aspired to go to a well-known school: one whose name will impress my audience. Academics are enough to get me accepted at the top-tier universities; my time in high school has been marked by late nights and diligence so that my grades reflect a student worthy of an Ivy League education. If I were to apply to a lower-ranked school, I’d feel that my hard work had been wasted.

But during a four-year period, the price disparity between Duke and Illinois, for example, is $76,000. How incredibly ungrateful of me is it to ask my parents to pay so much more for an education that’s surely not so much better? Couldn’t I learn to be happy in Illinois, for the sake of my parents’ retirement funds?

“We’ll support you wherever you choose to go,” my parents say. “We’ll pay for it.” I’m lucky to be able to afford (liter- ally) such a luxury. That doesn’t mean I’m guilt-free, though; I still have some decisions to make. But perhaps I can assuage my conscience by thinking of my mom’s assurance: that if I do go to a more expensive school, she’ll be moving in with me in 40 years.

More immediately, thoughts of college tuition have made me more aware of my expenditures. I consider all of the money my parents have spent on me in the past 17 years—on clothes, on meals, on trips, on entertainment—and cringe.

Do I have a right to ask for 20 bucks to go to the movies tonight? Is it proper to accept their money so that I can go to dinner with friends? When I hesitate to take the funds my parents offer me, they remind me that my occupation is Student, while they have full-time jobs.

To evade the conflict entirely, I, like several of my peers, have begun working on the weekends. Doing so doesn’t detract much from homework time, and lends me more financial flexibility. When I go to see Gravity, it can be on my own budget.

The college application process has highlighted all the spending my family will be doing in the next four years. Right now, though, it’s my job is to minimize that spending.