Should Parents Pay for College?

July 09, 2019 · 5 minute read

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Should Parents Pay for College?

As a parent, you want what’s best for your children. So as they start to grow up, you might be wondering, “should parents pay for college?” The answer to that question, unfortunately, isn’t cut and dried. While doing so can help your child avoid student loan debt, it can have long-lasting consequences on your financial security.

This is far from an exhaustive list and, and we think it goes without saying that what might be right for your unique situation may not be right for someone else and their family. But if you’re thinking about whether you should help your child pay for college, here are some pros and cons to consider.

Why Parents Pay for College

The average student loan debt for Class of 2018 graduates was $29,800 . While it’s possible for your child to reduce how much they have to borrow through scholarships, a cheaper school, and earned income, it may not be easy.

Giving Your Child a Head Start

Graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt is never fun, especially if your child’s first job doesn’t pay as much as they’d like.

Parents paying for college can help their children gain a smooth transition from college to real life without the stress and anxiety that comes with a crippling debt burden.

Helping Your Child Stay in School

College can be expensive, and if the bill gets too high, some students might be tempted to drop out altogether. By helping your child pay their way through school, you can help ensure that they stick it out until they earn their degree.

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. If you’re paying for their education, they have 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 there are some compelling reasons why parents paying for college is a good idea for some, there are others that may cause you to think twice.

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.

Student loans aren’t ideal, but on the other hand, there’s no such thing as retirement loans to help you get by.

Your Child May Not Do as Well

Your child may be more willing to work hard in school if they have skin in the game. In other words, they may not value the experience as much as if they were paying for some or all of the costs associated with it.

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 long 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 seriously considering helping your child pay for college, there are a few different options you might have.

Current Income and Savings

If your income is high enough or you’ve built up significant savings in a 529 plan or another account, you can use those funds.

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 income-contingent repayment plan and generous deferment and forbearance options. However, they also charge relatively high interest rates and upfront loan fees.

Related: 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 qualify for enough federal aid), you may be able to qualify for a student loan 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.

Financing Options for Your Child

If you’ve considered the question, “should parents pay for college?” and decided against it, your child still has several options for paying for their education. Here are just a few.


Whether or not your child gets an academic, athletic, or other type of scholarship from their school, they can still get more money from private organizations. Websites like Fastweb allow your child to search millions of scholarship opportunities that they may qualify for.

Part-Time Job

It’s not ideal, but even a part-time job that only requires your child to work a few hours a week can add up over four years, helping your child to avoid having to borrow as much money.

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.

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 with them 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. As such, it’s important for every parent to carefully consider both the benefits and drawbacks, and how they relate to your individual situation.

It’s also important to understand how much it will cost and what options you and your child have if you can’t make it work financially. As you go through this process, be sure to involve your child in the discussion and help them understand what’s ahead of them.

Things may not turn out exactly how you or they would like, but hopefully you’ll both have a better idea of how to do the right thing for your specific situation.

Find out if Private Student Loans from SoFi are right for you and your child.

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