Should Parents Pay for College?

By Carolyn Desalu · December 11, 2023 · 6 minute read

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Should Parents Pay for College?

The question of whether parents should pay for their children’s college education is a complex and multifaceted issue. It involves not only financial issues (namely, can you afford to?) but also ethical and personal considerations. While many parents aspire to pay 100% of their children’s college expenses to allow them to graduate debt-free, others feel that it’s important for kids to have some skin in the game.

If you’re weighing this issue, you’ll want to consider both the reasons for and against paying for your kid’s college education. Here’s a closer look at both sides of the argument.

Why Parents Pay for College

Some parents feel it’s their duty to cover the cost of their child’s college education. Here’s a look at some arguments in support of that viewpoint.

💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Giving Your Child a Head Start

The average student borrows over $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree, according to the Education Data Initiative. That’s no small sum. Students who graduate debt-free generally have a leg-up on achieving their professional and financial goals. They can consider taking a job based on their career aspirations, rather than the one that pays the most. They also have the freedom to put all of their financial resources into other goals, such as building an emergency fund or buying a home.

Helping Your Child Stay in School

When you send your child off to college, you likely expect them to emerge with a bachelor’s degree. But recent research shows that only 62% of college students graduate within six years. Among those who leave school, a significant number cite financial reasons for their decision. Taking the college bill off your child’s plate may help them stick to the program.

Allowing Your Child to Focus

Getting a job can help your child cover some of their tuition costs, but if they have to work too many hours, it can make it difficult for them to focus on their studies. Paying for their education can give them a better chance of getting good grades and possibly qualifying for academic scholarships. They may even be able to take on a bigger course load every semester and graduate early.

Why Parents Don’t Pay for College

While many parents believe they should pay for college, others feel that students should be responsible for investing in their own education. Here’s a look at some reasons why parents shouldn’t pay for college.

It Could Threaten Your Retirement

If you can afford to save for a healthy retirement and pay for college, you’re in good shape. But if you feel like you have to choose between the two, paying for college and not saving for retirement could force you to work longer or leave the workforce with less money than you might need.

There are many different types of student loans available for college, but there’s no such thing as retirement loans to help you get by.

It Builds Responsibility and Accountability

Having your child contribute to their education through part-time jobs and loans can help foster a sense of responsibility and ownership. They may value their education all the more — and work as hard as they can — knowing how much this opportunity costs.

It’s a Good Teaching Moment

Helping your child figure out their college financing and teaching them good financial habits now can help them continue those habits after they graduate. If you cover everything for them, they may have a difficult time transitioning to life after college and may end up coming back to you for help.

How Parents Paying for College Can Get Financing

If you’re interested in footing some or all of the bill for your child’s college education, you have a few different funding options. Here’s a closer look.


One way to help students pay for college is to put some money aside each month in a 529 plan. Even if your child is already in high school, you can still open a 529 plan and take advantage of the federal (and sometimes state) tax benefits. Money in a 529 account grows tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax-free when used for eligible educational expenses. Any amount saved for college will reduce your child’s future student loan debt.

Parent PLUS Loans

The U.S. Department of Education offers PLUS Loans for parents that you can qualify for as long as you don’t have an adverse credit history. Parent PLUS Loans give you access to certain benefits, including the option to defer repayment while your child is enrolled at least half-time and for an additional six months after your child graduates. However, these loans also charge relatively high interest rates and upfront loan fees.

Recommended: Should You or Your Child Take Out a Loan for College?

Private Student Loans

If you have excellent credit and a strong, steady income (and your child doesn’t get enough federal aid), you may want to explore getting a student loan for parents with a private lender. Typically, you can get prequalified with a soft credit check with many lenders online to see what rate you qualify for and compare it to other lenders and Parent PLUS Loan options.

💡 Quick Tip: Parents and sponsors with strong credit and income may find much lower rates on no-fee private parent student loans than federal parent PLUS loans. Federal PLUS loans also come with an origination fee.

Financing Options for Your Child

If you’ve decided that you can’t or don’t want to fully pay for your child’s college education, here are some ways that your child can get the funding they need.

Grants and Scholarships

By completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA ®), your child will automatically be considered for many federal, state, and institutional grants and scholarships. Scholarships are also available through private organizations and companies. To apply for these, your student will likely need to fill out a separate application for each one. To find more “free money” for school, your student may want to use an online scholarship search tool.

Part-Time Job

One good way to pay for school, especially if your child has a full or partial scholarship lined up, is to work part-time while in school. This can help pay for living expenses, books, or possibly even tuition. Working full-time during the summers can help to pay for the next year’s worth of expenses.

Student Loans

College students have a choice between federal and private student loans. In general, federal loans are better-suited for undergraduate students because they don’t require a credit check, have relatively low-interest rates, and offer access to income-driven repayment plans and loan forgiveness programs. Your child can apply for federal student loans by completing the FAFSA.

If federal student loans aren’t enough to cover your child’s full cost of attendance, however, private student loans may be another option. Just keep in mind that you may need to co-sign the loan application to help them get approved.

Carefully Consider All Your Options

There’s no right or wrong answer to the question of whether parents should pay for their child’s college education. It’s important to carefully consider both the benefits and drawbacks, as well as how much you can realistically afford to put towards your child’s college expenses.

The good news is that a school’s “sticker price” (published cost of attendance) often isn’t what you actually pay, since it doesn’t account for financial aid or scholarships that your child may receive. The actual amount students and/or parents need to pay is typically much lower than the published price. Students and parents can also tap federal and private student loans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

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