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I had an insightful chat with a friend who is a successful small business owner. His daughter just turned 17. They are currently in discussion about her college options. This girl is very lucky that my friend has set aside $150,000 college fund for her. He has been saving aggressively since she was born.

Instead of talking about which college she should go to, they changed the conversation to what is the best way to use the $150,000 for her. Here are several of the options they discussed:

Go to an Ivy League schoolIt’s her dream to go to an Ivy League school.Without scholarship, she will graduate with $60-80K loans.
Go to an in-state schoolShe will likely graduate with $30K in her pocket.


No Ivy League experience.
Go to in-state school for 2 years, then transfer to an Ivy League schoolShe still gets the experience (partially).


She will graduate with $0-$15K loans depending on how she manages her expenses.
Go to community college for the first year, then in-state schoolShe can live at home for the first year.

She will graduate with $50K in her pocket.

She misses out the opportunity to be a true freshman.

No Ivy League experience.

Use the money to pay off a house. Rent it out. Use the rental income for her in-state tuition.At the age of 18, she already owns a house.She will need to work to cover the remaining in-state tuition.

She may need to get low-interest student loans or negotiate cash in advance with her parents.

It may take longer than 4 years to graduate, since she will be working.

May need to manage the property herself.

Use the money to start her own businessShe has a distinctive idea that she wants to try. Maybe it’s time to start her business with her dad’s guidance.


Delay or skip college education.

She may end up losing all $150K.


When I had a conversation with my friend, I was amazed how he helped his daughter think outside the box. He is not against college education. He believes college education has its value. Like a successful business owner and a caring dad, he wants his daughter to see various options. Going to college is not the only option. Even if she decides to go to college, there are multiple ways to control the expenses. The conversation did get his daughter to think about college education in a completely different way. She is no longer so adamant about going to an Ivy League school.

My husband and I are also debating the return on investment of college education. We had similar conversations with our sons regarding college costs and career choices, but not as extensive as my friend’s conversation with his daughter.

It may be nice to have a prestigious schools’ diploma and enjoy the unique college campus experience, but the ultimate goal is about learning. Going to college is not the only way to learn anymore. Check out on-line learning options such as edX, MIT, Stanford, Open Course Ware Consortium and more. Learning should not stop there either. If you have a strong desire to learn, you will learn wherever you go.

As the ancient Chinese said: 活到老, 學到老 (Live until old, learn until old.)


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Pam Didner Headshot

Pam Didner

Posted on

March 6, 2014

Personal Journal
  • Sandy Didner

    Online courses may be good for adults, but my college students hate, absolutely hate, the online component of the multiple choice (really multiple guess) grammar course I teach. They much prefer my explanation of what an adverbial prepositional phrase is than the computer’s. Professors teach in community colleges and small 4 year institutions that are not in the Ivy League. At most prestigious universities graduate students manage large undergraduate classrooms while professors engage in research and writing. Most of the students at the Ivy League schools are very bright; they would learn no matter where they go to college or university. A small school or a community college provides an intimate class room experience and easy access to a professor. The online courses do not offer any socialization with other students or reciprocal interaction with a teacher. Knowledge is knowing facts. Wisdom is knowing how to utilize these facts. Wisdom comes from interaction with humans, not machines. Someone told me today that Einstein never used flash cards.

  • Colin Looi

    One option not mentioned is to do 4 years at an in-state school and then a post-graduate degree at an ivy-league.
    Not mentioned is why she wants to go to an Ivy League school. I can give some practical reasons for doing so (having gone to one myself :)) 1) the people you meet 2) the professors are some of the best in their field – matters much more for 3rd and 4th year classes 3) research opportunities for undergraduates because of #2 4) the job placement office 5) brand recognition – companies want to go there to recruit, people instantly respect you. Believe me when I tell people I went to UBC they say, “They have a beautiful campus”, when I tell them I also graduated from Cornell, they say, “Wow! Oh, really!!”. Instant respect. Can’t get that with Podunk State University. Nope. The respect is also global.