What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

Should Parents Pay for College? Pros and Cons

What’s Covered


It’s no secret college is expensive, and the price tag is only going up—according to the Education Data Initiative, between 2010 and 2020, college tuition inflation averaged 4.63% annually. Since 1963, college tuition has increased by nearly 750% after adjusting for inflation. The result of ever-rising college costs is that they’ve become an enormous financial burden for students and begs the question should parents pay for college?


How Much Does College Cost?


According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of college—including books, supplies, and living expenses—is $35,551. That said, the true cost of college varies depending on a host of factors, including the type of institution a student attends; some options, like community colleges, are very affordable (or even free) while others, like private four-year universities, are often pricey.


The average cost of tuition at different types of institutions is:


Institution Type

Cost of Tuition

Two-year, in-state public


Four-year, in-state public


Four-year, out-of-state public


Four-year, non-profit private


Four-year, for-profit private



The above are only averages and don’t reflect all the variables that influence what an individual will pay for college. For example, many private four-year, not-for-profit schools offer generous aid packages which can bring their cost below other options—just be aware that every school on CollegeVine’s list of colleges that award the most merit aid are all private, four-year, non-profit institutions.


Public colleges present an economical option for students seeking higher education, especially for in-state students. For example, the average cost of tuition to earn a degree at a four-year in-state public school is $37,508 (a bargain compared to the $150,564 it costs at four-year, not-for-profit institutions). But remember, you only get that in-state sticker price if you live in the same state as the public school.


Another factor that can affect how much college ultimately costs is loan type. There are two types of student loans to pay for college: federal and private. Federal student loans offer lower interest rates and borrowing limits, and more flexible repayment options, than their private counterparts, making them a more affordable option. Some federal student loans are even subsidized, meaning that interest on the loan isn’t charged while a student is enrolled in school.


Reasons Parents Should Pay for College


It is often a commonly held belief that a student’s parents or guardians should pay for college. Let’s look at some of the arguments for that: 


Higher Student Degree Completion


Students relieved of the financial burden of paying for college can focus their energy on their schoolwork, allowing them to complete their degrees in a more timely and cost-effective manner. While most parents and students think of college as a four-year proposition, the reality is that most students don’t graduate in four years—according to NBC News, less than half earn their degree in just four years. The more time a student spends at college, the greater the expense.


The picture is particularly bleak for students who accrue student loan debt and don’t graduate. According to USA Today, they’re four times more likely to default on their student loans than students who graduate and represent 63% of defaults.


Students Can Graduate Debt Free


Students who graduate without debt have a head start on achieving their professional and financial goals. They can consider positions based on their career path and their big-picture aspirations, rather than the highest-paying positions. They can also focus their financial resources toward economic objectives like home ownership or maxing out retirement plans.


The burden of student loan debt can follow a person throughout their lifetime. While it’s easy to think of student loans as a young-person problem, according to Marketplace, about 20% of student loan holders are 50 and older and the fastest-growing population of U.S. citizens carrying student loan debt are people over 65.


Students Can Focus on School


Students with parents who pay for college can focus more on academic pursuits ranging from coursework to research to studying abroad than students worrying about how to pay for college. They also have more opportunities to pursue out-of-the-classroom activities like community service and participate in on-campus organizations. All of the above can help students bolster their credentials, build networks, and expand their professional opportunities.


Reasons Parents Should Not Pay for College


While many parents believe they should pay for college, others feel that students should make their own investments in their education. Some reasons why parents shouldn’t pay for college include:


Students Will Learn Responsibility


College is a time to learn; parents who think students should pay for their own education think learning extends outside of the classroom. Making students financially responsible for their education provides them with real-world lessons in personal finance, the value of a dollar, and fiscal responsibility.


When parents don’t pay for college, they can also teach lessons in decision-making. College students have to think about a variety of factors when building their college list, including the cost and how they will afford different schools. 


Students Have Skin in the Game


According to a 2013 report from the American Sociological Review, undergraduates with financial support from their parents are more likely than others to let their grades slip. One takeaway from this is that students who are paying for college themselves have a lot at stake and are incentivized to succeed.


Simply put, students who pay their own way are more likely to understand the value of education while those who have their college costs covered may see earning a degree as a right rather than a responsibility.


Parents Need to Consider Their Retirement


While college-bound students eye their future college experiences, many parents have begun thinking about retirement. Students have a variety of loan options to cover their college expenses, but there is no borrowing mechanism for retirement. Before deciding on whether or not to pay for college or how much to pay for college, parents must also consider their own financial futures.


Reasons Parents and Students Should Split College Costs


While some parents believe they should pay for college and others think that parents shouldn’t pay for college, a third group is of the opinion that the answer isn’t black and white, but rather a compromise. Many parents either can’t afford to pay for college and/or feel that there’s some value to a student making an investment in their own education and agree to provide some financial support, such as splitting tuition or covering room and board.


This approach provides both the benefits gained by students with no financial obligation to pay for college and the advantages of students paying for college themselves:


Students Receive an Academic and a Financial Education


When a good chunk of their college costs are covered by their parents, students can put more time towards their studies and extracurricular activities because they aren’t as worried about working extra jobs or saving money to pay for school. However, paying for some of their college will teach them important lessons about being responsible with money. 


Even if students only cover part of the cost, it’s never too early to start learning about the importance of saving, budgeting, and investing, so this is a great way for parents to teach their children “real world” lessons while they are still in school.


Students’ Debt Burden is Lessened


Although students might still have to apply for loans and take on debt, if their parents help cover some costs, the amount of debt they acquire will be less than if the student had to pay it all themselves. This can make a huge difference for students later on in life. Interest rates for college loans are no joke and many people find themselves struggling to pay them off decades past graduation. Parents can help their children get a leg up post-grad by reducing the amount of loans students need to take out.


Parents Can Set Their Kids Up For Success


It’s safe to say all any parent wants is for their child to be happy and successful. Helping out with the cost of college is one of the biggest ways parents can provide their children with a whole range of future opportunities without sacrificing their financial security. The typical earnings for bachelor’s degree holders are 84% higher than those whose highest degree is a high school diploma, so supporting a child’s college education will open hundreds of doors for them.


Parents and Kids Can Stay Connected


College can be scary for both students and parents as it’s likely the first time you’ve been separated from each other for this long in 18 years. Even if it’s not a drastic physical separation, the idea of growing up and becoming an adult is typically associated with going to college, which can sometimes put a strain on family relationships.


 When both the student and the parents are involved in paying for college, it creates a common force to unite the pair. Paying for college shouldn’t become a way to blackmail kids into facetiming their parents more, but it does open up a channel for more communication and a shared interest in the student’s education.


How Much Should Parents Pay?


The question beyond should parents pay then becomes how much should parents pay? Obviously, the amount they can afford figures into the equation. The 2013 report from the American Sociological Review found that both students with financial support from their parents and those taking out loans let their grades slip and the group with the most success were students with scholarships and grants. The theory behind these findings suggest that the performance requirements tied to many scholarships and grants incentivized students to work harder.


Provided parents can afford it, perhaps the best answer to how much should parents pay for college? is best tied to how a student performs in college. The better grades a student brings home, the larger percentage of the bill parents pick up.


How Your Family Can Plan for College Costs


The rising cost of college shows no signs of slowing down and the sooner parents and children alike start planning for the expense, the better. Below are a few tried-and-true methods for controlling college costs.




More than $6 billion is awarded in scholarship dollars annually for everything from academic achievement to athletic ability to extracurriculars. Researching, applying for, and winning scholarships is a step students can take to lower the expense of college.


Start Saving


A 529 Plan is a tax-advantaged savings account that provides parents a way to help students pay for college. Money in a 529 Plan grows tax-deferred and withdrawals are tax-free when used for eligible educational expenses. Even small contributions to a 529 Plan can accumulate quickly—just think, depositing $10 a week can add up to a few thousand dollars over a high school career.


College Choice


Where a student decides to go to college will have an enormous influence on college expenses. Community college offers an extremely affordable option to cost-conscious college-bound students. A popular cost-cutting strategy is for students to begin their college careers at community colleges and fulfill their general education requirements before completing their degree at a more expensive four-year college.


A number of four-year colleges have also taken steps to ease the financial burden placed on students and their families. Some colleges now offer students financial aid packages that don’t include student loans—instead, they rely on grants and scholarships (which don’t require repayment) along with work-study to meet the financial need of students. Other schools guarantee to meet 100% of the financial need of students, although the financial aid packages they offer may include loans.


In general, colleges and universities that provide no-loan financial aid packages and guarantee to meet all of their students’ financial needs are highly selective. Applying to less selective schools where a student’s profile is particularly strong is a smart strategy for receiving a generous amount of merit aid and ultimately lowering the cost of college.

CollegeVine’s free chancing engine can help you better understand your odds of admission at hundreds of schools across the county—estimating your odds of acceptance at schools with no-loan policies and providing you with insight into what schools might offer a handsome amount of merit aid. Our chancing calculator can even show how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile, regardless of whether your parents are paying for college or not.

Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.