The bottom line when picking a university: ‘No debt for our daughter or for us’

Michelle Singletary:

A year ago, I was where many parents are right now. My daughter Olivia was faced with the decision of where to attend college.

I’ll admit I was pretty adamant leading up to the choice that many families have to make by May 1, which is the deadline for accepted students to declare where they will attend college. No student loans. No debt for our daughter or us.

However, when Olivia started looking at schools that were out of our financial comfort zone, my husband and I realized this wasn’t going to be as easy as we thought. Our daughter is a great student. She took advanced placement classes and participated in extracurricular activities. And when she said her “I’ll-be-crushed-if-I-don’t-get-in” school was the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, we began to get anxious.

We didn’t have enough saved to cover all the out-of-state expenses for four years at UNC. Absent any aid, the cost at UNC would have been more than $183,000, including tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies, travel and personal expenses. And that figure doesn’t include the likelihood of price increases.

Still, how could we deny her heart’s desire? She swooned after a tour of the campus. She bought UNC paraphernalia. Even the school color — light blue — is her favorite color.

She didn’t get into her dream school. And honestly, we were relieved.

You might think it’s easy for us now to say we wouldn’t have let her go. Yet, trust me, we would have had to break her heart.

Her rejection made the decision of where she would go easier for us. But what if it’s not as easy for you? What if your child does have a choice, and that choice is beyond your means?