At What Point Do College Costs Become “Something You Can’t Afford?”

Adding to our collection of financial advice for college students, the Washington Post gives us a video titled “How to save and spend money at college.”

I have to say, this is pretty solid advice. Watch the video, and you’ll learn about choosing banks with ATMs on campus, getting a checking account that doesn’t charge you fees on low balances, and how to budget your “internship income.” (I said pretty solid advice, not completely solid.)

And then we get to the last piece of advice, which I’ll quote for you:

Don’t do anything that you can’t afford. Your friends might be heading to Europe over Winter Break, but if you can’t pay for it yet, stay home and save money for next year.

If we’re talking about taking a vacation over Winter Break, this makes sense. But stretch “don’t do anything you can’t afford” a little bit further, and you have to ask yourself:

—Should I skip the European choir tour?

—Should I elect not to study abroad?

—Should I not take this unpaid internship?

At some point, “don’t do anything you can’t afford” has larger consequences, and I say that as a person who didn’t do the European choir tour, didn’t study abroad as an undergraduate, and didn’t take that unpaid internship.

And then the reverse, which I have also done at various (non-college) points in my life, is putting it on a credit card and going anyway. Because sometimes doing the thing you can’t afford is important. Sometimes it even gets you a job.

So I guess I’m left with two questions:

Understanding that college is not about getting a job, but that it is also important to build the skills and connections that’ll help you get hired, what college experiences are important enough to do even if you can’t afford them?

Choir tour probably doesn’t make the cut. Does that internship? Does the Winter Break vacation with your friends? It’s so hard to say “stay home” when you know that things are happening somewhere else, and that sometimes the things that are happening will change your life.

And the other question is: at what point does “don’t do anything you can’t afford” include student loans?


This story is part of our College Month series.



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