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Financial Responsibility and Higher Education

College/Career Expert Advice from Carol Carter

Q: I want to teach my son financial responsibility. My wife and are well off and our son has a $60,000 college fund.My wife and I would like our son to make the decision about where he goes to college, but think that we should tell him what we are prepared to do for him financially. We are having trouble deciding whether we should:

1: Tell our son that we will supplement his $60,000 college fund with an additional $20,000 or $40,000 and then he's on his own for college and beyond; or

2: Tell our son that we will get him through undergraduate school or undergraduate and graduate school, supplementing his college fund and earnings during college (we'd expect him to work summers and part-time after his freshman year) with whatever he needs.

What do you think?

A: I believe that today's students have way too much handed to them. I have hired and worked with many graduates who seem to have everything handed to them, which in turns translates to an attitude of entitlement in the workplace.

So, when I hire people, I look closely at the challenges they have had and the ways in which they have risen to those challenges. That is the best way to ensure that someone will have a truly contributing work ethic and really make a difference in your company. I don't believe in doing too much for college students, despite the temptation. It is a careful balance between helping them and enabling them to put off becoming an adult.

It's good that your instincts are telling you to require your son to work after his freshmen year. I would also emphasize the value of internships and other experiences that can really compliment classroom learning. If you opt for the less expensive school, perhaps some of the money can go towards deferring the costs of an internship in a major city. An experience like that will say volumes about your son when he gets ready to interview for a job at the end of his senior year. Maybe he could study for a semester in Asia or South America? Again, I encourage getting students to push through their comfort zones because that's how they grow.

My book, Majoring in the Rest of Your Life: Career Secrets for College Students, shows that the college experience is about much more than where a student goes to school. It is very much about what he does while he's there.

So, in answer to your question, I would give your son a sense of your financial boundaries but I would use it as a much larger opportunity to discuss his passions, motivations, and commitment to his college, career, and life success. I was fortunate enough to have four older brothers address these issues with me and it made all the difference. My friends, who didn't have that benefit but are as smart and as "talented" as I am, struggled far more in the job hunt and in the working world as a whole.

Good luck! Write me in a few months and let me know how you are both doing!

More on: Expert Advice

Carol Carter is the author of many books on college and career planning. She is the cofounder of Lifeskills, Inc., a nonprofit organization that encourages high-school students to explore their goals, career options, and the real world through part-time work and internships. She also gives workshops around the country on career exploration and other issues directly related to helping students succeed in college, career, and life.


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