The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision your Family Will Ever Make is a helpful guidebook on determining the value of a college for your child.
Ron Lieber offers a comprehensive picture to parents that considers both the financial and emotional aspects of this choice. It starts with a background of how we got here and the system behind the high prices of college, and moves through a way to help you build a plan to navigate paying for college with return-on-investment in mind.
In this book review, we'll break down what each chapter covers and explain who could benefit the most from reading this book.
Choosing a college can change the financial trajectory of a family. With that, there are many costs and emotions to take into consideration.
Throughout The Price You Pay For College, you’ll find practical guidance and a closer look at the inner workings of college finances. Let’s take a closer look at what each chapter covers.
Part 1: The Price And Cost Of College And The Systems Behind It
The first section of the book explores the factors that have raised college tuition costs. You’ll learn more about financial aid, merit aid, and how each has affected rising college prices.
Who Pays What And Why The Price Is So High
Lieber dives into the first chapter with a magnifying glass on the reasons behind rising college costs. He takes a closer look at the true increase in admission prices over the years.
Plus, he sheds light on the common theories of why college costs are rising. You’ll learn that the rising costs may not stem from the sources you expect.
FAFSA and Its Expected Family Contribution Will Probably Make You Furious; Blame the Federal Government's Great Expectations
The FAFSA is a key component to receiving financial aid. However, you might be surprised by your Expected Family Contribution.
You’ll find a breakdown of what is included in the formula. Plus, a real example of how a family navigated the FAFSA.
How (And Why) Merit Aid Became Mainstream
Merit aid can often be a confusing topic for prospective students and their parents. In this chapter of The Price You Pay For College, you’ll learn more about the murky world of merit aid.
With a better understanding of this price reduction strategy, you can get a sense of how this strategy has unfolded at colleges across the nation.
The Billion-Dollar Consultants Who Are Wooing You
Lieber illuminates the data-driven business of merit aid. You learn more about how schools target students with merit aid offers and why schools pursue this strategy.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But you’ll walk away with a better understanding of a problem plaguing college list prices.
But Wait, Isn't Tuition A Bubble, And All Of Higher Education Is Going To Come Apart At The Seams?
As college costs have risen over the decades, some have predicted that the bubble of higher costs will eventually burst. This chapter explores the depths of those propositions with a realistic frame of mind for the future.
Part 2: The Unhelpful Feeling You May Feel
The decision to send your child to college is an emotional experience. Lieber helps sort through the tangle of emotions in Part 2 of The Price You Pay For College.
As you send your child off the college, fear can come into the equation. Lieber explores a variety of studies that highlight potential fears. But he recommends facing any fear you have about your potentially college-bound child.
As a parent, guilt can be a strong motivation to overextend your finances to pay for a particular college. In this chapter, you’ll find the reasons why you shouldn’t feel guilty if you can't afford a particular college.
The real-world example in this chapter explores the decision of a family to choose a more affordable option. Plus, some studies shed light on the potential return on investment across students that attend more selective colleges as opposed to more affordable colleges.
The Pull Of Snobbery And Elitism
The choice of a college goes beyond the simple decision to earn an education. Lieber explores how emotions surrounding snobbery and elitism can come into play. With a variety of statistics, he explores how particular name-brand degrees can affect your child’s future.
Part 3: Value
Colleges deliver value in a variety of ways. In this section of Lieber's book, you’ll uncover ways to find the colleges that can deliver on what you value.
Classrooms Where Experienced Instructors Have Time To Teach (And Actually Want To)
This chapter takes a closer look at the importance of mentorship in the college experience. After diving into the reasons why many colleges struggle to provide this valuable teaching experience, Lieber offers strategies to seek out schools that offer the teaching and mentoring experiences that you believe your child needs.
Schools Where Students Learn (Because Many Of Them Don’t)
Not all schools provide the same learning experience. Lieber shares insights from professionals in the field on the lack of emphasis placed on learning across high education institutions. Additionally, he shares questions to ask potential colleges to assess their value of learning.
Undergraduate Mental Health Centers That Are Not In Crisis
Mental health issues can become an issue on campus whether or not your student has a pre-existing diagnosis. Not all schools are adequately equipped to help your student through these challenges. With that, Lieber explores the crisis and provides insight on how to ask questions about the mental health services of a college.
Peers Worth Friending (Or Marrying)
The social experience can be an important part of your decision-making process. Although it can be difficult to quantify interpersonal relationships formed on campus, you’ll find useful questions to find answers on your campus tours.
The Special Power of Women’s Colleges
Women’s colleges are a unique educational opportunity. But is it right for your student? Leiber explores this option in this chapter of the book.
Diversity In All Its Forms
Diversity in a student body will vary based on the college. Leiber shares how to ask the questions that will inform you about the state of diversity on campuses.
How And When Small School Size Matters
Class size can make a big difference for students. Although larger class sizes can mean lower costs, it could affect the learning potential for your student. You’ll find out more about class sizes and questions to consider in the chapter.
Amenities (But Is A Lazy River A Plus?)
The luxurious amenities offered by a growing number of colleges could sway you or your student’s choice. Lieber explores the growing number of amenities available at colleges across the country.
Genuinely Reinvented Career Counseling Offices
A career is the natural next step after college. But it can be a difficult transition without appropriate guidance that is breaking new ground in career counseling. In this chapter, you’ll learn more about what you need to be aware of in terms of vocational guidance.
Places That Create Better Odds When Applying To Grad School
If your student is interested in pursuing graduate school in a particular field, Lieber recommends doing some research on feeder schools. You might be surprised by what you find.
Better Salaries When You Finish - If You Finish
Finding data about how many students finish their degree program and their post-graduation salaries is more challenging than most would expect. You’ll learn tips on how to get your hands on this data in this chapter.
How The College Of Wooster Puts It All Together
In this chapter of The Price You Pay For College, Lieber shares an example of a college (the College of Wooster) that takes a new approach to several aspects of the college experience. You’ll get a sense for what could be possible at a wider range of colleges in years to come.
Part 4: Money-Saving Hacks That Will Tempt You
There are many strategies that can help you and your student save money on college costs. But, as Lieber explains, not all of the hacks will be right for your situation.
Community Colleges Will Save You Money, But What Might You Lose?
A common way students try to save money on college costs is to spend their first two postgraduate years (or longer) attending a community college. Lieber explores the potential pitfalls of this approach.
Honors Colleges And Programs Make Bigger Schools Smaller - If You Stick With The Program
Honors colleges and programs across the country can provide a more rigorous learning experience. But there are more unknowns with this type of learning strategy.
You’ll find questions that can help you explore the practical benefits of any particular honors program or college you are considering.
Attending College Abroad Is Often Cheaper But You Won’t Get What You Don’t Pay For
American students can attend degree programs abroad. However, they should expect an entirely different experience than U.S. schools. Lieber shares questions worth asking yourself before sending your student to study abroad.
Athletic Scholarships For The Few (And Probably Not In Full Or At Your First-Choice School)
Banking on an athletic scholarship may not be the best strategy. Although there is a slim chance that spending countless hours and dollars honing your child’s athletic skills could pay off, in many cases, it doesn't. With that, Lieber explores a cautious approach to this approach. Get the book.
Gap Years: Great, Sometimes Pricey, Might Help You Get A Better Job Someday
Gap years can be a sticky subject between students and parents. But Lieber makes an excellent case for the value of a gap year for some situations. He provides useful food for thought as you consider this option.
Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard: Decent Money, Big Responsibility
Joining the armed forces can be an effective way to pay for college. But Lieber encourages you to consider the risks of service in addition to the educational benefits.
Skipping College Is Probably Not A Great Idea
Worried that college costs won’t be worth the reward? Lieber walks through the statistics for success in this chapter of the book.
Part 5: The Plans
After learning more about what colleges have to offer, this section works through different ways to apply the knowledge to your plans.
How To Make The Big Financial Plan
Saving for college can seem like an overwhelming task at first glance. Luckily, Lieber lays out thoughtful approaches to saving that balances economic realities and the desire to fund college costs for your children. With several savings strategies provided, you can start down a path that works for your family.
How To Have The College Money Talk With Your Child
Being honest about the financial situation in your family as your child heads to college is important. You’ll learn about what things definitely need to be shared and some strategies on how to broach the conversation.
All Your Questions About Saving For College And 529 Plans
If you have any questions about 529 plans, this chapter will be very helpful. You’ll find a series of questions that dive into the details you want to know about these college savings vehicles.
How To Shop For College (And Where To Find The Juicy Merit Aid Data)
As you and your child are exploring school choices, digging into the data can help tremendously. Lieder shares how to obtain this critical information and breaks down what you should be looking for.
Beyond “the common dataset,” Lieder shares his thoughts on various ranking lists. Plus, he provides questions you may consider asking during your campus tours.
When (And How) To Hire An Independent College Counselor Or Financial Planner
Although you’ve learned a lot in the book, Lieber makes a case for when it makes sense to hire help. If you decide to choose this path, you’ll be prepared to ask the right questions.
How To Appeal Your Financial Aid Award
When you receive your financial award letter, it can be a confusing puzzle to work out. With that, Lieber recommends getting crystal clear about what is in the letter by asking the financial aid office.
If you are unsatisfied with the offering, there is an opportunity to appeal. You’ll find tips on how to craft your appeal letters.
All The Student Loan Basics In One Tidy Place
Student loans are obviously a huge topic when considering college choices. With that, this chapter walks through all of the important information. The knowledge learned can help you make a decision about taking on debt as a family.
One More Feeling: Hope
Lieber wraps up the book on an encouraging note. After reading this book, you’ll be better prepared to tackle the college decision process as a family.
About Ron Lieber
Ron Lieber is a personal finance columnist for the New York Times. He's been the author of the "Your Money" column for The Times since 2008.
Earlier in his career, Lieber authored the “Green Thumb” personal finance column for The Wall Street Journal and helped launched the paper's Personal Journal section.
With a track record of creating compelling bestselling books, The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make will not disappoint.
Who Should Read The Price You Pay For College?
If you're a parent or grandparent considering the potential college costs in your child’s future, The Price You Pay for College is certainly a worthwhile read. Not only does Lieber provide useful strategies, but also dispels many college myths. And all of this is conducted in a smooth writing style.
If you're a student preparing for college, you may not get quite as much out of the book. But you’ll still walk away with the knowledge you need to tackle the college admissions process through the lens of financial value.
At 368 pages, this book conveys important information about the process of paying for college. You will find all of the answers to the questions you already have. Plus, it offers guidance on issues that you may not have considered.
Overall, this is a helpful book for any parent that wants to learn how to make college financial decisions in the coming years. We highly recommend this book to be on the radar of parents with kids in middle school and high school.
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The Price You Pay For College is a book that can help you determine the value of a college for your child and, potentially, lower costs.
Sarah Sharkey is a personal finance writer covering credit cards, mortgages and student loans. She has written for numerous finance publications, including MagnifyMoney, Business Insider and ChooseFI. Her blog, Adventurous Adulting, helps young adults get a handle on their finances.