ic S/general/checkmark circled Thanks for subscribing! Be on the lookout for our next newsletter.
ic S/general/checkmark circled Saved to Favorites.
Articles / Paying for College / Is $30K Debt for Four Years the Norm These Days?

April 2, 2014

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. 😉


Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

More on Paying for College

5 FAFSA Tips for Applicants With Divorced Parents

5 FAFSA Tips for Applicants With Divorced Parents

Completing your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can be complicated enough, but when you add divorced parents, st…

Webinar Recap: FAFSA and Paying for College 101

FAFSA and Paying for College 101

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for the 2022-2021 academic year opens next week, on October 1, 2021.

For coll…

Is National Merit as Big a Deal as My Parents Say It Is?

Is Being a National Merit Finalist a Big Deal?

I just got back my PSAT scores and it appears I didn't meet the National Merit cutoff. My parents want to appeal because Nat…

Students sitting around a table

Best Deals for Students on Laptops for College

It’s back-to-school shopping time, and college students are on the lookout for deals on the best laptops and electronics for scho…


Money Savings Strategies For College Students, Plus Apps To Keep You On Track

College life is expensive. Between tuition, housing, books, and everyday purchases, it’s easy for costs to pile up if you’re not …

A-Z College Forums

Browse the College Forums

Find Your Best Fit

Find your best fit college and track your favorite colleges.