College: Does It Make Sense This Year?

Anthony ONealBy Anthony ONeal4 Minutes

If you have a college-bound teen, you’re probably both a little stressed out right now. And your teen might even be feeling downright sad if their college plans aren’t shaping up the way they’d hoped because of the pandemic. That’s okay. Change can be hard.

I know everything feels up in the air, but don’t stress—you guys can, and will, work it out together. Here are three super important things to talk about with your teen when you’re helping them decide what to do about college this fall.

Education matters most.

When it comes to school starting back up, every college is doing it their own way. Your child’s college might have made the call to go back in person, online or some combination of both, with their own set of rules and guidelines.

Encourage your teen not to give up on college just because it might not be the experience they imagined or hoped for. The purpose of college is to get an education. All the other things they might be worried about missing out on (like living on campus, or being part of Greek life) are just fun extras. At the end of the day, your teen will be getting a degree—and that’s what will set them up for success in the long run.

Online school is a solid option.

I’m willing to bet the last thing your teen wants to do right now is stay home even longer (and you might be dying to get them out of your house). But when you get right down to it, online classes offer a lot of flexibility, and are usually way more affordable than traditional ones. The average online bachelor’s degree from a public, in-state school costs about $38,500—that’s just a little more than one year at a private university.

Think about all the money saved in room and board, books, food, transportation and other expenses. Plus, taking online classes gives your teen more freedom to have a job and pursue other passions they might’ve put on the back burner during their normal, hectic, on-campus life. And let’s be real: They won’t have to worry about getting flak from their friends for living at home with mom and dad to save money, since so many schools are switching to virtual classes.

Go to school debt-free, no matter what.

The most important thing to remember when it comes to getting an education—pandemic or not—is paying for it with cash. Ultimately, your teen should choose the college option that will be most affordable and allow them to graduate with zero debt. When you start thinking about college in terms of affordability and not getting hung up on a “dream school” or ideal “college experience,” decisions become a lot easier.

And remember to reassure your teen that it’s okay to be disappointed when plans change. That change could make way for something even better!