Q&A on College
Copyright 2007 W. Bruce Cameron
Having a child in college is the best cure I know for some of the
worst symptoms of middle age, such as savings accounts and vacations.
It's sort of the financial equivalent of stepping into an elevator
shaft--except that in this case, at the end of each semester the
elevator takes you back up to the top floor so you can do it again.
For those parents who believe they might accidentally have given
birth to children smart enough to get into college, here's a session
of Bruce the Answer Man to address their concern. ("Concern" in this
case being the same as "panic.")
Q: I've always meant to establish a college fund for my son, but now
he's 19. Does this make me a bad parent?
A: No, it makes you a typical parent.
Q: Please explain the meaning of college "non-discretionary fees."
A: Take tuition, room, and board and subtract it from your net
income. The amount left over is what college will cost you in
Q: But that leaves no money for food, clothing, and shelter!
A: Having a child in college means giving up such luxuries.
Q: What are the steps I should take to obtain a college scholarship
for my child?
A: First, be a professional athlete, and second, marry a professional
Q: At what age should I start saving to send my kid to college?
A: I'd say 16.
Q: What? Won't my kid be in high school by then?
A: You misunderstand me: I don't mean when your kid is 16, I mean
when you are 16. Any later than that and you might as well forget it.
Q: I'm hoping that my daughter can find employment over the summer to
pay at least half of her expenses during the school year. What sort
of job would you recommend for this?
Q: Are student loans a good idea?
A: Student loans are very effective at keeping someone broke long
after graduation. The theory behind them is that your child borrows
money at a low interest rate and then pays it back after he has earned
a degree and is unemployed and living with you.
Q: What is the difference between "in-state tuition" and
A: Your child will want you to pay "out-of-state tuition."
Q: I'd sacrifice everything I have to enable my child to obtain a
A: Well, that's not going to be enough.
Q: How can I mentally prepare myself for having my daughter go off to
A: First, buy a post card with a picture of a Cancun resort hotel on
it. Write "Wish you were here" on the back of the post card. Next,
open a box of pop tarts and remove one of the pastries and set it out
on the table for three days. Then shut down your furnace and turn off
all the lights in your house. Sit there in the gloom, shivering, and
start eating the stale pop tart. When you are halfway finished
chewing your way through the thing, pick up the post card and pretend
your daughter just sent it to you while on spring break.
Q: Now that my son is in college, it seems like the only value I have
to him is that I pay the bills.
A: You see much less of your son now, and when he calls it is very
often to ask for more money, so it is understandable that you feel
this way. But despite the fact that he doesn't express it, I can
assure you, it's not just the money--your son also cares very deeply
about the fact that when he comes home to visit you do his laundry.
Q: I don't get what all the fuss is about: I feel like I have enough
money to send my child to college.
A: It's an honor to get a question from Bill Gates. For everybody
else, I hope this edition of Bruce the Answer Man has been helpful!