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Musings about Kids and College

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I was in a conversation the other day with someone who seemed really intelligent an accomplished. I was quite enjoying it, but when the conversation turned to their kids and college, I was surprised by this person's philosophy. She said something to the effect of:

I told my daughter to just take the classes that interest her. There's no need to focus on a direction.

I'm paraphrasing, but that's how I remember it. (Some amount of wine may have been involved.) I found this really surprising, but I was in a situation where I was trying to be on my very best behavior so I didn't stir the pot and call attention to it. I was surprised that the topic went in that direction because my wife and I had a similar conversation a couple days before. We both agreed that if we have a Lazy Man Jr. (or juniorette) and that person is going to receive any financial aid from us, there should be a definitive college plan in place.

What kind of college plan? Our thought is that the student should earn a degree in a field that leads to being able to pay off the cost of college - and makes it worthwhile. Personally, I'd prefer STEM fields - (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). My wife went to pharmacy, partially because it does pay well for amount of school required. That was certainly one my thoughts when I went into computer science. There will always be a demand for those able to work in information security, since an increasing number of businesses are updating their security software and using technology daily. I do not necessary have to work with an IT firm, as nearly every major company in the country now hires its own IT staff. My current degree can lead me into the public sector, perhaps working with government or police agencies, or private sector with a multinational corporation. It is estimated that over 3 million jobs will be available in the industry by 2018, making it an excellent degree for those looking for job security. I met a mortician once who said that the literally did the cost-benefit analysis of every profession he could think of and found that morticians are paid extremely well for the amount of study. I had to hand it to him, that seemed extremely smart.

On the other hand, I know a person with a Ph.D. from a top 10 university, and her career doesn't use that skill. It's one of those fields that you ask, "What can you do with that?" And the answer is usually, "Well, I can teach others it." I don't know what her current job pays, but I wonder if it covers the 10-12 years of school. I can't imagine it does. Fortunately, I don't think money is an issue for the family.

My wife and I were talking about this and she mentioned she saw a news report on TV that a kids are moving back home with their parents after college. That's what happens if you don't have a job that's in demand in a down economy. I'm sure there are many out there STEM degrees who can find jobs, but I believe that it's much tougher out there for the history major to find a job than the software engineer.

We thought about what we'd do if we were ever in such a situation (talk about putting the cart before the horse, eh?) The news report suggested that it may be best to pay first month's rent and a deposit to push the son or daughter out of the nest. (Presumably they have a job and can afford it and aren't just staying home to save tons of money.) My thought was to pair that incentive with another one that makes it more difficult to stay. My wife and I agreed that the child would have to pay rent upon coming back home after college. My thought was that the rent should start off cheap (maybe $250, but this depends on the area where you live), but set it so that it increases 5% every month. (I am picking 5% at random, choose a number that best suits your timeline for getting the leech loved one out of your house.) By the end of the year they are paying nearly $450. At the end of the second year it is $806 a month. The idea is to make it fiscally beneficial for a move and to take away the incentive for staying at home.

Have some disjointed thoughts about kids and college? I'd love to read them in the comments.

Last updated on August 22, 2014.

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13 Responses to “Musings about Kids and College”

  1. I’m a first generation college student (and the only of 8 kids in my family to have a degree) and really had no clue what I was getting into.

    I didn’t declare my eventual primary major until mid-way through my sophomore year (I ended up with a dual BS). My degree got me my job, although I’ve drifted into a different field within the same company.

    I didn’t receive any direction from my family, nor did I receive financial assistance (they couldn’t have afforded to help, even if they had wanted to).

    On the bright side, 100% of my college decisions were MY decision. My money, my decision. As a result, I learned a lot in college. I have dual degrees in Accounting and Marketing with a minor in English (focus on pre-19th century British Literature). The mixture of course – and more importantly, interaction with a diverse mixture of students – allowed me to gain a lot of interesting insights.

    So I’m a bit of a fan of having kids find their own way. For my own kids, I’ll give advice when asked, but won’t try to push them any particular direction.

  2. I think I would let my kids find their own way, with a healthy dose of guidance from me! STEM fields are great, but they are not for everyone, nor does graduating in STEM means you are successful and not graduating in STEM doom you to a life of penury. The funny thing is that when you first graduate, “technical” or “quantitative” skills are the most important, but as you move up the “relational” and “personal” skills take over. Not to say that STEM folks don’t have relationship skills, but sometimes I wonder about our disregard/distain for liberal arts studies. I had an liberal arts education, and I feel that type of education has value, just as STEM education has value. We shouldn’t pit one against the other.

  3. Jade says:

    I just graduated university this year – with a dual major in Computer Science and English Literature. I agree with you, but I also agree with Commentor #2 – my first major got me a job, no problem (although you realllllllly have to love mathematics – and long stints at a PC – to succeed at CSci ;-) it’s not for everyone!) But it’s my second major that taught me how to think about the world, by exposing me to hundreds of years of our best minds.
    IMO, they both have value… I wouldn’t want to have done either without the other.

    • Lazy Man says:

      Thanks for the comments.

      I had some thoughts that accidentally got cut on the in the editing process:

      1) As a parent who has 18 years of experience raising your own child, you probably know your own child better. I’m not a parent and have no parenting experience, it may be wise to take this entire post with a healthy dose of salt (rather than just a grain).
      2) Like other people have commented, I’m not exactly a software engineer any more, but I still do use those skills
      3) My thoughts After watching this week’s Glee (always a great source of insight, right?) where character Mike Chang wanted to pursue his gift of dance and his father wanted him to be a doctor, I’m sure there are cases where pursuing a STEM degree isn’t the best answer.

  4. There are really two reasons to take post secondary education:

    1) For interest. Obvious, the best reason. To become an expert at a field.

    2) For a job. This is a tricky one because you have to know what the jobs situation will be like in 4 years, and you have to pick a field that you can endure at least if not love for a lifetime. I’m getting to the point of thinking that university for a job is a bad idea. It’s just a huge time and money investment with uncertain outcomes. For uncertain outcomes it may be just as good to take a quick technical program.

    It has to do with life philosophy. Selecting a lifelong career is a pretty big choice and I think it’s better to make one that is less expensive to “repair”. If people keep their lifestyles in check then there is a lot of freedom to go back to school later, etc.

  5. Cassie says:


    A ton of what you learn in school is simply how to learn. Lots of non-STEM majors are hugely successful in business because they have learned to read, write and persuade. You learn best when you are most interested in the subject matter so major in what you love.

    UNLESS you are borrowing money to go to school. Then the choices of what to study must be treated as an investment decision with carefully calculated ROI.

    As for returning home after graduating, it is my experience that not including special cases of illness or true economic hardship, kids that were raised to value competence and independence are much happier in their own tiny cheap apartment then in mom’s basement.

    Most of the time kids who move back home, move home to parents that are more then happy to have them there. And that’s ok by me.

    It sounds like you and your wife would want your child to value independence and chances are if you expressed that throughout their formative years there would never be a reason to cook up a rental scheme to try and teach that value at 22.

  6. Revanche says:

    Funnily enough, PiC and I were talking about careers again and he seems to think that my non STEM background will yield higher earnings over time than his STEM career. We’ll see, of course, but it did strike me as off the normal track of thinking. Then again, there is certainly a glut of PhDs in the STEM fields who are having a very hard time getting hired, and I can only imagine that those who “only” have Masters degrees likely have as difficult or worse a time of it.

    On the topic of education, I can’t imagine letting my kid be terribly experimental or wandery on my dime. At the same time, I know that expecting someone to be totally certain and make the right decision at that age isn’t always realistic. I figure if we have kids, the financial support would be limited and they would have to make up their minds fairly soon what course of education to pursue and be aware well in adevance that they would need to financially independent soon after graduation so they could plan ahead,

  7. I certainly wish I would have known about STEM fields before going to college. I didn’t really have a direction when I started. It’s the very reason that I have two undergraduate degrees. I finished with a Spanish degree and did a little research and realized it wasn’t enough. So then I did a little more research and found that I needed to be where the money was, namely finance. I made the decision that I would only take on more student loans if my first year’s salary could wipe them out. And looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

  8. […] Musings about Kids and College […]

  9. Damian says:

    Damian from Intuit here. In my opinon, a degree or an area of focus in college never, ever guarantees a good-paying job. Someone can graduate from school with a computer science degree and still have a hard time finding work. Or worse, someone can hate computer science but study it because s/he believes the pay will be good, get a good job, hate his/her life and wake up 30 years later wondering why s/he wasted time in a career s/he hated. Do what you love, become good at it, work hard, and the money will come. That starts with studying what you love, no matter what your parents say.

  10. Yes, it is extremely common for college graduates to move back in with their parents. Depending on the situation, this may or may not work out well for both parties. If you get along and give the grad some space, it can prevent them from plunging head-first into debt like most new members of the workforce

  11. Big-D says:

    I have a boy that is about to go to school so I have thought a lot about this. I setup a UGMA/UTMA account for him and that is his college fund. If he blows through it – he is screwed. That is all he is getting from me. It is enough for him to go to school, and live on campus for a local state 4 year school and books. So he has to pick a degree and move on. If he can get scholarships, then he can use those and keep the money for after school (and let it stay invested). He is currently looking to go to school to be a financial advisor.

    As for school choice. We are looking at a local community college for the first two years as it is much cheaper than the major university it feeds, and it is closer to home, and all he has to do is commute, smaller class sizes, and more focus on him (which is better for him). After getting the AA, he will transfer to the main campus (in Indiana, the schools are required to take students from the satellite campuses if they have a degree).

    As for living at home. He can live at home, rent free as long as he is going to school and pays his own expenses. I will not be purchasing gas or anything for him, he needs to work for his gas money, and food money, etc. I will not charge rent however, and family meals will be provided if her is home for them.

    Once school is done, or if he quits, he has 6 months to find his own place, or I will charge rent. It will be something like 1/3 my mortgage (currently $1100 which is a 10 year mortgage). If after a year, he has not moved on, the price will increase to full 50/50 on all bills and mortgage in the house. He should have moved on by that point. I am a single dad, and he lives primarily with me, should he decide he wants to live with dear old dad, then he has to realize the expenses to live my lifestyle … plus then I might retire earlier if I have him helping me pay off the mortgage :)

  12. […] Man presents Musings about Kids and College posted at Lazy Man and Money, saying, I was in a conversation the other day with someone who seemed […]

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