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It’s Okay To Spend $13k On College Preparation

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Caitlin Pickavance’s parents have spent approximately $12,825 on their daughter to make her a more competitive applicant when she applies for colleges and universities this year. The twelve grand have gone to things such as a private college coach, tutors, prep classes, and two trips abroad: a good-will mission to Belize and summer classes at the University of Salamanca in Spain ($7,000, the bulk of the spending). Now, most people would say that spending close to $13k just to make your child more competitive is ridiculous (that’s why it’s a story on CNN Money), but I say why not?

When it comes down to it, what’s the reason why you earn money in the first place right? You go to work so that you can provide for you and your family. Whether that’s a fancy new car or summer classes at the University of Salamanca in Spain, ultimately you’re doing something for someone that you love. In this particular case, I’d argue that spending the $7k for classes is better than a lot of things you could do with that money.

As for preparation, we’re a competitive society (every society is a competitive society, socialism is dead and hippies smell) and any leg up you can give someone in your family on the competition (everyone else) is one that you try to get. One could easily argue that you don’t need to spend thousands in order to do well (the only SAT prep I had was a $25 Real SATs book, but don’t ask what my score was, I turned out alright :) ) but some people do need that course to help turn on the light bulb, and it’s okay to spend that money.

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18 Responses to “It’s Okay To Spend $13k On College Preparation”

  1. Mary-Frances says:

    I agree that it’s ok to spend it, but many parents are looking at these kinds of “investments” as guarantees. The college frenzy has gotten to the point of being ridiculous. It’s gone so far as to one paid counselor telling kids to intentionally make a mistake on their applications to look more “real.” I’m all for supporting kids in finding a career path that they love. I don’t like the idea of parents thinking that attending a top 10 university is the cure to all of these ills. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure that we are putting on this generation, in addition to a whole lot of debt.

  2. Kevin says:

    That is stupid to spend that money on preparing a kid. That preparation should have been done in her high school. If I were on a committee I would look more favorably on the poor kid who had to get to work every day after school and then volunteered to charities on the weekend than someone who’s parents paid to send their kid to Spain and hire a coach.

    That money would have been better spent on the tuition the college that kid would attend. At the university where I live that would account for 4 semesters of tuition and fees!

  3. KMC says:

    The problem with this girl’s family spending $13K on college prep is that it raises the bar for everyone. What’s smart for one is dumb for all. Right now while few people do this, it works and it makes sense from her point of view. But when this becomes common everyone’s back to square one and a lot of money is being wasted.

  4. Carl says:

    Just look at George Bush. His dad spent millions on him and now he’s president! It works!

    But seriously, I have to agree. And I don’t think it’s “unfair” at all. Her parents sacrificed to save money and spend it on their child’s future.

    So instead of going on vacations and buying a sports car, they decided to spend it on their daughter’s education. Nothing wrong with that.

    (of course now the daughter owes them…)

  5. dong says:

    I think it’s dumb spending that kind of money on college prep. Good students and good parents are qualified to prep themselves. I’m personally appalled by the level of micromanaging that’s occurring these ways with children’s lives. Childhood innocence seems to be lost.

    On a societal note to echo KMC’s thoughts if it takes $13k just for preparation to get into college, what happens to those who come from financially disadvantaged backgrounds? My parents could never have afforded that when i was growing up. Does that mean I don’t deserve to go college? Clearly, I don’t believe you need that but it does make it more difficult for people without the cash to burn.

  6. Flexo says:

    There’s a reason that they chose classes at University of Salamanca rather than the local community college. It’s more than just the college preparation (information delivery) they’re paying for, it’s the *life* preparation and the experiences (and perspective on life) one can gain from studying and living abroad.

    You don’t have to spend that kind of money to get a leg up in college applications. Whether your experiences are in a far-off land or close to home at the local food bank, you’re winning points with admissions. You’ll gain something unique from each of those two situations. If your only goal is to make you appear more attractive to colleges, then you’re spending the money for the wrong reasons.

  7. thisisbeth says:

    In a brief skim of the article, I didn’t see any information on how the parents paid for this. If they’re a wealthy family, and they’d normally just let their daughter have a fun vacation in Mexico, then $13,000 for college prep isn’t unreasonable–and is admirable. If they have no retirement savings/took out loans/etc., then it was stupid. Also, I’d like to know if the daughter did well in school anyway and probably could’ve gotten in on her own, but they decided to give her the slight competitive edge just to make sure.

  8. I agree with thisisbeth. My first thought reading this was “well, did they spend $13K on the kid-but have they been preparing for their own retirement?”

    I have someone close to me who sent each of their kids to the most expensive school they could get into, the kids have never paid a cent back-even when each of them received a very sizeable inheritence, and now the parents are worried that they won’t be able to retire. (oh and the kids became a stay at home mom, a special ed teacher, and an IT guy. . . . )

  9. Paul says:

    Spending money on college prep might bring the parents some satisfaction. Howver, if the parents think that the money spent is a wise investment in their child’s future, then I think they are mistaken. Going to college is a great investment. But I don’t think there is any significant long-term difference between attending a good college compared to an elite college. I agree with this interesting article in which the author argues it doesn’t matter where you go to college. http://paulgraham.com/colleges.html.
    I read another article recently which analyzed where the CEO’s of the fortune 500 went to college. Although the elite colleges were disproportionately represented, they were a small fraction of the total. Most CEO’s went to decent colleges, but not elite colleges.

  10. Posco says:

    I’d argue that it’s rare for a teenager to actually gain a lot by studying abroad. If you’re the average teenager who needs prep courses and a private tutor, that means you’re playing catch-up; you don’t need to travel to Spain to study calculus. However, if you are strongly motivated to study Spanish language and culture, then it may be beneficial. I was on a two-week youth orchestra tour in Europe when I was in high school. It was an amazing experience, but more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I hardly grasped the importance of an American youth orchestra performing in a Communist Czechoslovakia. I was more enamored with autobahns and the idea that I could legally drink! Um, yeah.

    On the other hand, a good family can turn a vacation into an educational experience designed to make their children more “competitive”.

    I also say that many state schools do just as well as prestigious institutions when it comes to undergraduate education.

  11. Mrs. Micah says:

    I the Spain choice was particularly good, if they can afford it. That’ll give her an edge in life, not just college.

  12. the baglady says:

    I think a child’s success still depends very much on the child. I went to public schools all my life and my parents didn’t spent any money on K-12. On the other hand, my hubby and his sister went to private schools all their lives and their parents spent a fortune on them, much much more than just 13k since private secondary schools cost 10 to 20k per year too. We all turned out quite well. The actual success of the child still depends on what the kid does and not on how much money the parents spent. If the children appreciate the efforts their parents are spending on them then that’s great. If the kid is just a bad egg then it doesn’t matter how money is thrown at them, they’ll still be bad.

  13. Jeff says:

    Unless you are planning on going into a super competitive industry like law where you want to work at one of the top big law firms in a major city or investment banking — where getting those jobs is pretty much dependent on having gone to a very elite university — why on earth would you spend that kind of money on just preparing to get into a school?

    What is way more important than what school you go to, for most people in my experience, is getting some good “real world” working experience while your in school and being pro-active about looking for opportunities.

  14. Minimum Wagec says:

    Welcome to Two Americas, and goodbye to the myth that success in this country is based on merit.

    I was accepted by a number of excellent colleges but I couldn’t afford to actually attend them.

  15. Foobarista says:

    This sort of thing will move her from one college pool to the next higher one, and will likely make it much easier for her to get her first job at a top employer – or if she does well in college, to go to a better grad school.

    Clearly if you want to climb the social ladder, “educational signaling” is important. The “millionaire next door” strategy works for many, and there are a few Bill Gates figures out there, but the most straightforward path to success for a reasonably ambitious and bright kid starts at a more highly regarded college.

  16. Minimum Wage says:

    So success in this country is more about winning the parent lottery than about individual merit. Got it.

  17. Foobarista says:

    Not so much “this country”. Try “this planet”.

    If you’ve been to other countries, the “parent lottery” matters even more than it does here. Try being a Chinese kid born in the countryside versus being born to professional in Shanghai. There are many countryside kids who do well in gross numbers, but they are literally one in ten thousand. A kid born to well-off parents in Shanghai will have a far better chance in life, and won’t need quite so much luck and determination to make it.

    If you want to equalize things in the US, work for school vouchers. Crappy schools in badly run school districts are keeping poor kids down as much as anything else.

    But richer parents will always be able to offer intangibles to their kids that poor parents can’t or simply don’t know how to or aren’t aware of, starting with the idea that screwing up early is a bad thing and creates big hurdles that are hard to overcome.

    When I was a kid, I grew up in a neighborhood with numerous Vietnamese immigrants. The ones that were educated professionals in Vietnam drove their kids to achieve massively, even though they didn’t have any money to start with. The ones that were from the lower classes in Vietnam did less well, although they still often did better than others. Since they all started out with $0, it was clearly about more than money – a lot of it was about knowing that there is a game to be played and education is a big part of it.

  18. Minimum Wage says:

    Yes, I understand the rest of the world is like that. I was taught that America was different.


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