Expectations of College Attendance

In Episode 12 of the Two Guys and Your Money Podcast several PF bloggers discussed the financial impact of having children.  They briefly touched on savings for college.  In what kinds of vehicles to save for college is a very popular topic around the PF blogosphere but I was surprised to hear that several of the participants did not plan on saving for their children’s college educations within tax-advantaged education accounts.  More than that, they weren’t even certain that their children would go to college.


Even with all the discussions going on now on the enormous price of a college education, the high unemployment rate of recent college graduates, and all the great jobs/entrepreneurship endeavors that can lead to success without a college degree, I still fully believe that my future kids will go to college (barring developmental disabilities).


I think it boils down to two reasons – our educations and the expectations put on us.


I mean, Kyle and I are on track to get PhDs – it would be super weird for the child of two PhDs to not even get a 4-year degree, right?  That would be a big departure from the family norm we’re setting up.  We obviously highly value education and I would expect that by age 18 our child’s values would probably still be rather close to ours.  Between nature, nurture, and some financial assistance for us, college would be a lock for our future children, I think.


Kyle and I both grew up with the expectation that we would get at least bachelor’s degrees.  We each have a parent with a master’s degree and education was strongly emphasized and encouraged.  I even joke that Kyle has “Asian parents” in the sense that they put a lot of pressure on him to get the best grades (my parents were more of the cheerleader type – everything I did was wonderful).  I don’t know any other kind of expectation to set in a family as far as career preparation goes!


The weird thing, though, is that even though my siblings and I all grew up in the same household, neither of them is on track, as of now, to get a bachelor’s degree.  I though that I had to go to college – no ifs, ands, or buts – but clearly my siblings did not perceive the same edict from our parents!


Anyway I guess I’m sort of a traditionalist and conservative!  I know what the benefits of college are but I don’t know how another path would benefit my child.  Kyle and I do hope to start an educational savings account when we have our first kid, budget/income willing.


I have the same questions for you in poll form so please answer each of them and add your thoughts in the comments as well.


Did your parents expect you to attend college?

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What level of education have you completed?

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What do you expect regarding your (future) children’s educations?

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What were the expectations regarding college in your parents’ home and how does that match up with what you did and what you expect of your (future) children?  Do you think we’re over-the-top with 100% believing that our children, who we don’t even know yet, will go to college?


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23 Responses to "Expectations of College Attendance"

  1. My parents always strongly encouraged college but never forced it. I will do the same with our children. I want them to go but I will never force them to do anything. I just hope they follow my wife and I by example.

    1. Emily says:

      Oh, I think forcing a kid to go to college is really counter-productive. My parents sort of tried that with my siblings. I just 100% believe my kids will want to go. 🙂

  2. AverageJoe says:

    I’m not sure my two votes should count (should have thought about that BEFORE I voted, but I’m a bear of little brain). My kids are both seniors in high school and I know they’re headed to college. It’s been a foregone conclusion, though, since they were about 10 years old that college was the path they were on. So, while we didn’t force them, it’s been the way we’ve headed.
    AverageJoe recently posted..Blog Post of the Fortnight! by Thirty Six Months

    1. Emily says:

      So it wasn’t a foregone conclusion from before age 10? At what age did you start saving?

      Congrats BTW on raising them all the way to the end of high school!

  3. Julia says:

    Have you seen this? http://moneyland.time.com/2012/10/12/why-college-may-be-totally-free-within-10-years/

    I just finished a course (Intro to Finance) on coursera.org as well, and I really loved the experience. On the other hand, as a PhD Candidate as well, I really value the education I’ve received in the traditional ways, and benefit from the “normal” educational system.

    I really need to address the issue, but I’m very interested in the new online mechanisms for education.
    Julia recently posted..Grad Student Life: I got overwhelmed.

    1. Emily says:

      The online education thing is getting tons of attention right now but I’m not convinced the traditional higher educational system will be supplanted within a generation. Half the battle is getting the knowledge and experience and mentorship and the other half is demonstrating competency and creativity. Oh, and peers! I would say my peers were the best thing about my college, after the faculty. Difficult to see how that will be replicated/improved upon. But we’ll see! I really don’t think, though, that the real price of college will continue to inflate as it has in the past few years.

  4. SWR says:

    3/4 of my grandparents had bachelor’s degrees, every member of my parents’ generation has at least a bachelor’s degree (and all but one of them have at least a Masters).

    College was a non-negotiable for my generation. BUT (and this is a big but) our parents paid for our college. That is true for me and for all of my cousins. I expect that all but one of my (able-bodied) cousins and siblings will have at least a Master’s degree- spouses included.

    If my children are physically and mentally able to attend college, they will. And I will pay. It’s how this family works. If I have a child who doesn’t want to follow that path, they are going to have to bear the burden of proving to me why they should be exempted.
    SWR recently posted..And then the car broke

    1. Emily says:

      Dogmatic! But I like it. I think it will be difficult to predict the cost of college far in advance though – unless you are certain your income/lifestyle disparity will be enough to cash flow it? Both of our sets of parents paid for at least a majority of the cost of our college and I would like to pay that forward as well.

      Come to think of it, all of my (of age) cousins are in or have completed college, too, so I guess my siblings are the exception of my extended family as well! And I guess there’s still a chance that they could finish up somewhere – one of my siblings just got re-serious about college and the other has an associate’s and so could finish up without too much more time invested. My mom didn’t start her bachelor’s until she was 21 and didn’t officially graduate until she was, like, 28!

  5. Michelle says:

    I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing. As long as they’re successful, I’ll be happy 🙂 And of course successful can be defined in many ways.
    Michelle recently posted..Avoiding the Commercialization of Christmas

    1. Emily says:

      So maybe it will just depend on the aptitude of the child? Does your boyfriend have any higher ed?

      1. Michelle says:

        No he doesn’t. He takes after his dad in that way. His dad only has his high school degree but is very successful and high up at his company. Even though I have multiple degrees, I believe that experience is better than education.
        Michelle recently posted..Avoiding the Commercialization of Christmas

  6. Emily too says:

    My parents really encouraged it – at the one point when I was really stressed out in high school and said maybe I didn’t want to go, my mom smiled and said sweetly, “Ok, honey. If there is something else you would like to do that is productive and makes a difference in the world, we are 100% behind you and want to support you and help come up with a plan.” I was like, “what? other things? what other things ARE there?!” That makes me think that it’s important to think about other options long before the actual point of decision comes at age 17, since I was not equipped to NOT go. (Not that I regret it – college was awesome, all the careers I’ve ever wanted generally required an MA or PhD, and I am on track to get a childhood dream job. But if I wanted an alternative I would’ve floundered for a long time.)

    For my own kids, I’d probably encourage college, but try to be open to other ideas and be on the lookout for other ways they could use their talents. And either way, I’d do my best to save to help them out, and it would be a lot better to be able to pay tuition if they do go than to have extra money in the bank if they don’t.

    1. Emily says:

      I agree that thinking outside the college box should start far earlier than senior year of high school. I think gap years can be really valuable and now that I’ve been immersed in the PF blogosphere I wish I had thought about side hustles, running a business, or building a personal brand earlier. But I also had no idea there was anything other than getting straight through college!

  7. I expect my children to go to college (and we will pay the entire bill). College isn’t about job training for us; it is a coming of age experience. And I won’t say college was the happiest 4 years of my life (I really like being an adult), but it sure beat most of the previous 17 years.

    Now, if our kids want to drop out sophomore year to pursue other opportunities, sure, they gave it the old college try and probably got what they needed from it.
    nicoleandmaggie recently posted..Is GDP how we should be measuring success: A deliberately controversial post

    1. Emily says:

      I definitely agree that college is a coming of age experience, but I sort of view it as job training as well, at least in engineering. I’m glad I had a liberal arts education.

      Are you saving the full sum in tax-advantaged educational accounts? If so, what will you do if one or more child leaves school early or gets some grant/scholarship money?

      1. An excellent question. Fortunately there’s 5 years between the two kids. http://nicoleandmaggie.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/august-mortgage-update-and-ponderings-on-529-plans/

        Sure, there can be job training in college, though one can still be an engineer with a different undergraduate by getting a masters degree. The job training part is just irrelevant to whether or not I think my kids should go.
        Nicoleandmaggie recently posted..mothers helpers

  8. NoTrustFund says:

    We expect our kids to go to college and are currently saving at a rate that would allow us to pay for all of it. Not only is college important for future job prospects but also for the non-academic aspects of college. Our kids are so little that I haven’t even thought about what we’d do if they didn’t want to attend. I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
    NoTrustFund recently posted..Interview: Reader Kellen

    1. Emily says:

      Paying for all of school definitely takes some pressure off kids. Are you saving for public or private school and how do you predict what you’ll need?

  9. A bit of a problem with the first poll question. Of course the first option is an exaggeration, but there is a big difference between expecting EVERYONE to go to college and expecting YOU to go to college. I can’t remember a time when it wasn’t expected that I go to college, although I’m sure there was a time because I was nearly delayed from starting kindergarten (which would have been really ironic when the offer came for me to skip 6th grade). But there was certainly no expectation that everyone should go, especially since few people in my family have ever attempted college and many of those dropped out after a year.

    Based on my experiences in school, I would say that instead of focusing on outcomes (like going to college) I would focus on the process. Push my kids to do their very best, instead of doing good. If they are academically successful, they will want to go to college themselves and they will be prepared for it. Unlike me who found middle and high school so easy that I never studied and then struggled in college where academic rigor required a skill I had never developed.
    Edward Antrobus recently posted..My Money Pet Peeve: Skipping Frugality Because Earning More is Better

    1. Emily says:

      Yeah my hyperbole in that option got a little away from me! I guess I experienced both when I was a kid – that I thought college was the natural next step after high school for everyone, including me for sure. Definitely I see in your situation it was the “it depends on the kid” and for you the expectation was there.

      I think your point about process goals is a good one. For my life I prefer process goals to out come but I never thought about applying that to kids and college.

      My college apparently perpetually has students like you! The first semester of freshman year is pass/fail so that students who universally did well in high school, in many cases without serious effort, could get accustomed to the workload and intellectual rigor of college and see their first D grades without freaking out over their GPAs.

  10. I hope our daughter will go to college and I will prepare her for that route.If she has no clue about what direction she wants to go, I would rather her figure it out a little bit before going to college just to go to college. My husband went to college right after high school and majored in partying. He flunked out and when he decided what he really wanted to do (become a teacher) in his mid twenties, he had to spend a whole year at community college making up for that lost year before he could start on his degree. I’ve always been a chronic overachiever, so she’ll probably fall somewhere in the middle. We just expect her to be productive, honest, and hard working at whatever she decides to do, but I hope a degree is involved somewhere.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted..Can’t Take My Eyes Off These Blogs #9-Brothel Edition

    1. Emily says:

      It’s probably hard to know when an unfocused teenager is ready for college or should try something else for a while. I bet your child will value college as well since both you and your husband do now.

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