A College Student’s Viewpoint: The Game of Life, Riding a Bike and the Decision to Go to College by Brian Zdrowak and Jessie Zdrowak

When you were a child, did you ever play the board game Life? In the very beginning of the game, each player has a decision to make:  Do they enroll in college, or head off into the work world? Heading into the work world meant making money right away, however, college meant student loans and debt. As a child, what was your choice? Did you stay away from college because it seemed alarming to go into debt, so early on in the game?

Even as children, we learn the importance of money, however, it is also necessary to learn the significance of managing money. Debt is not an awful implementation if it is controlled, which is something that college students need to understand. College is an investment, a life investment. However, for some families, college is no longer an automatic decision because like a child sees losing the game of Life as a difficulty, an adult sees going into debt as a risk.

Your parent didn’t take off your training wheels until they were satisfied that you were confident in yourself. They knew you understood that you may fall down a few times, but if you could accept that, so could they. Your parents may seem like they are constantly on your back about college, when really they just want to have confidence in you. To gain their trust and an optimistic outlook, it is important to communicate with your parents. If you are determined to go to college, tell them. Tell them you understand that you will be in debt and that you may fall off your bike a few times along the way, but that is life (the real life, not the board game).

Riding a bike is a team effort in the beginning. Your parent has to hold onto your bike until you are ready. Make the college-selection process a team effort. Ask your parents to research the financing of college costs and loans while you research items like the student population, meal plans, dorm life, etc. Make a list of your dream schools. Even if one or two may seem impossible, put them down anyway, it is never bad to have goals. Consult with your parents once you have all completed your research. The more you work as a team, the more willing they will be to let go as you ride for the first time without training wheels.

It is also important to match your major or career goal to your college search and the cost of the degree.  Look at the payback that a job in your career field can provide, especially being able to repay student loans.

Parents also need to be encouraging and supportive. Even if your child’s dream seems financially out of the picture, don’t completely shut it down. Instead work around the obstacle, and see if together you are able to find a happy medium. Complete the FASFA form, regardless of your family’s financial situation, this is the first step for schools in determining financial aid. Other financial areas to explore include work-study, scholarships, grants and the schools financial aid package (to determine if the loans are federal or private as an alternative).

Today, the average college graduate has $29,400 in student loans, according to the Project on Student Debt at The Institute for College Access & Success. Assuming private loans with an interest rate of 8 percent paying back in 10 years (most students would be 32 years old), the monthly payment on this debt would be $356.70, or $42,804 total repayment.

It is important for prospective students to realize that the obligation of repaying this debt limits their financial independence.  Financial independence is the ability to make financial decisions within personal constraints. For a graduate with monthly loan payments of $357, this may mean purchasing a less expensive car, renting a place to live longer than intended, or reducing the ability for travel and/or entertainment.

You took a chance riding a bike without training wheels and trusting your parents when they let go. When you played the game of Life you were already aware that going to college put you at a financial setback, but had the potential to get you a high paying job. The decision to go to college means understanding the setbacks and having self-confidence. Believe in yourself and prepare as best as you can.

About the Authors

Brian Zdrowak, CPA, CFP® is an investment advisor for Dopkins Wealth Management, LLC, an independent member of the BAM ALLIANCE.

Brian joined Dopkins in 2005. He provides financial solutions to individuals, trusts, small business owners and employee benefit plans. Prior to joining Dopkins, Brian worked for 17 years with a Fortune 500 national marketer and distributor of food service products.

Brian and his wife Debbie have three children. On the weekends, Brian and Debbie enjoy renovating their 1870 OrchardPark home. In the community, Brian is involved with the Advisory Board for the Orchard Park High School Academy of Finance and the Key Communicators Group for OrchardParkSchool District.

Brian holds a master’s degree from CanisiusCollege and a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

Jessie Zdrowak is a full-time student at SUNY Cortland and an ROTC cadet.

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