Providing your child with some sort of assistance is one way towards helping them build a brighter future. To be saddled with debt upon graduation severely restricts a student’s options and risk taking abilities. What a shame it would be to never pursue one’s dreams.

When I was in high school I had a choice between a couple expensive private universities or a couple of dirt cheap public universities. My parents were squarely in the middle class and my older sister already decided to go to not one but a second expensive private university for graduate school. I distinctly remember sitting around the kitchen table hearing my parents say, “We make enough to afford tuition, but we make a little too much to receive any type of need based assistance.

I already knew we weren’t rich because we lived in a modest town house and drove a seven year old Toyota Camry. But to hear these words over breakfast one morning cemented my decision to go to a public university where tuition was under $3,600 a year vs. $24,000 a year for private university back in 1995.


Despite working crap jobs every summer in high school making $3.5-$4.25 an hour, I still didn’t have enough money to pay for even one year’s worth of college tuition. Even then I already felt guilty for my parents forking over so much of their savings or annual salary just so I could attend a private school that wasn’t even really that great because I was never really that smart. If I had gotten into Harvard, OK, maybe I would have let them pay, but I didn’t even apply.

I also knew that if I attended a $24,000 a year private university (~$35,000 a year all-in), I’d have an enormous amount more pressure to succeed afterward. Getting a job after university is not a guarantee, and I didn’t want to feel like an absolute failure if I spent $140,000 of my parents’ money only to get a job that doesn’t even require a high school degree! Perhaps I would have studied my butt off to succeed no matter what, but who knows the future.

By going to public university I not only would save my parents $100,000 over the course of four years, I would also alleviate the pressure to be some huge success after graduation. The calculation was that my parents would spend roughly $45,000 for tuition, room, and board over the entire four years and I would “pay them back” by getting good grades and a job that paid around $45,000 a year. All my parents have ever wanted from me is to be happy and independent.

I felt the $45,000 spent by $45,000 earned formula was fair so I went with my public university choice. I never voiced out my thought process to them as to how I came about choosing a public university, but now they know if they read this post. Besides, they already spent over $100,000 on my sister and that felt like a ludicrous sum to me at the time and still does!


One of the biggest benefits of going to private school are the relationships. Students tend to naturally come from wealthier, more powerful families. You always here of somebody getting a job at XYZ prestigious firm because of their parents or friend’s parents connections. Well, none of my friends in college came from wealth so they couldn’t help. But I didn’t really think about how connections would help me succeed in life because I was determined to succeed on my own. I also had relationships from when I lived overseas. Besides, this was also college, a time to have tons of fun without parental supervision!

Without the huge pressure of private school tuition, I studied as hard as I could to get A’s because it felt like I was gambling with the house’s money. I knew that even in the worst case scenario, I could pay back at least the $3,400 a year in tuition by working at McDonald’s upon graduation. I felt happy that my parents were less financially stretched.

I also enjoy being the underdog and even contemplated going to community college for the first two years and then transferring to a full university to help save my parents money. There’s something about coming from as little as possible that motivates me to do the best possible. It’s kind of like watching the Oakland A’s succeed with their pitiful payroll while the NY Yankees falter.


Investing early in a tax-advantaged 529 savings plan is a no brainer since all withdrawals used for future higher education expenses are except from federal tax. Currently around 12 states also allow one through the 529 plan to prepay tuition based on today’s rates which is also very enticing. Georgia even offers heavily subsidized or even free tuition if you attend Georgia Tech or University of Georgia and you graduate with over a B average.

Canada has a similar education savings fund called a Registered Education Savings Plan. When investing through an RESP, you will be able to take advantage of tax-deferred savings. You will not have to pay taxes on the money that you deposit into the account until the money is ultimately withdrawn. Once the money is withdrawn it will then be taxed in the beneficiary’s name. Since the beneficiary will likely not have any significant form of income, the ultimate tax rate will be lower saving you money in the end.

If you have need and are smart enough, plenty of private schools will provide scholarships for you to attend. I never bothered to apply to more than two because I was already determined to go to public school after listening to my parents fret over tuition assistance.

But if you do want to go to private school, you can always go to graduate school. You still get the benefit of leveraging the alumni community and reputation, but you also get the coziness of smaller classes as well. I chose to go to another public school for business school because Berkeley has a great part-time MBA program nearby to where I was working. UC Berkeley is huge, but my classes were small and I’m still an alumni just like any of the other hundreds of thousands of alumni in existence.

Because of my positive experience with public school – learned a lot, had fun, found a job on Wall St., left Corporate America after 13 years to become a writer – I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to go to public school. Even if you mess up the first time around, there’s a second chance with graduate school.

Readers: For those who went to private school, did you feel an elevated amount of pressure to succeed after graduation? For those who went to public school, how much did thinking about your family’s finances go into making your decision?