Parents weigh daughter's college choices, debt

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Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: Like many high school seniors, our daughter has a few more weeks to choose what college she'll attend. Her choice is between two colleges. College A has offered her a full scholarship for four years, and College B is an excellent, yet expensive school. Both are good academic choices, with B being a better all-around fit (better academic reputation, closer to home, better chance for after-school job, friends attending) for our daughter. We can manage the cost of B, but it will take school loans and watching expenses very closely. My husband and I are in our early 60s, so we also are trying to save for retirement. I don't want my daughter to be saddled with debt after she graduates, but I also want her to go to a school that she wants to attend. If we insist on the cost-free school, will she resent that?

-- Worried

DEAR WORRIED: Your daughter should go to the best school she can afford. Taking on some debt for this is actually a pretty good long-term investment for her to make, but she must not mortgage her future.

This conversation must include her. If she chooses the more expensive school, she should exhaust every possible grant and scholarship she can obtain before turning to loans. She should work -- over the summer and during school.

She should choose federally backed loans, borrow the minimum and avoid the lure of private loans. There is a lot of information at the helpful site: studentloans.gov.

I took on debt for my college education, but the experience opened many doors and made my career possible -- through the education, experiences and confidence I gained. Graduating with debt forced me as a young graduate to plunge into the workforce to make payments. Grad school was out, and so was contemplating the color of my parachute from my childhood bedroom. It took 10 years to pay back this debt, and with every payment I was still aware of the valuable opportunity it represented.