Is $30K Debt for Four Years the Norm These Days?

Question: My daughter has been accepted at our state’s flagship university and at another university out of state. She wants to attend one of these two, even though it will mean that she graduates with about $30,000 of debt. She has received merit scholarships at smaller schools which would allow her to graduate debt-free, but she doesn’t want to go to these schools. Is it “normal” for students to owe $30,000 after four years. It sounds crazy to me!

Sadly, $30K of debt is roughly the national average these days for students who borrow for four years of college (which is about 70% of all U.S. undergraduates).

But if it were MY daughter and she had merit-aid offers that would allow her to attend college without loans, that’s where I’d be directing her. Presumably, your daughter liked the merit aid colleges well enough to apply, so even if they aren’t her top choices, she did pick them out of thousands of schools so they shouldn’t be too heinous for her to attend!

Of course, each family is different, and it’s not really responsible to weigh in on this touchy topic without knowing a lot more about your family. Factors such as your daughter’s choice of major, her graduate school plans, her career goals, and certainly her temperament (e.g., is she shy? Is she a go-getter? Is she well-organized or scatterbrained?) can affect whether taking on this much debt is an okay idea or an awful one. Your own financial situation, number of other children still at home, retirement goals, and extended-family support (e.g., is there a rich uncle waiting in the wings to bail your daughter out, if needed?) are also considerations.

I suggest that you encourage your daughter to check out the accepted-student programs at the merit-aid colleges if any are offered and to visit independently if they’re not. If she goes with an open mind, she may decide to enroll, once she meets fellow prospective students and sees the opportunities available to her. And if she goes with a friend, too, even better. It will boost the odds that she’ll have a good time. 😉

(posted 4/2/2014)

Question about admissions, financial aid, or college search?