College Decisions Sometimes Require Sacrifice

by Diana Drake

During Financial Literacy Month in the U.S. in April, Knowledge@Wharton High School highlighted a few global personal-finance champions, including Britain’s Jordan Cox and Romania’s Mara Steiu. As the month drew to a close, another important date for teens loomed large – May 1, college decision day. Students faced with multiple acceptances must typically decide (under regular admission guidelines) where they want to pursue their higher education on or by May 1.

Around that time, we heard from Emily K., a senior at Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School in Southwest Ranches, Florida. While Emily, who was accepted by more than 20 schools, made that all-important decision in plenty of time, she did so with the heart and mind of a true financial-literacy champion. Effective money management often involves sacrifice: passing up that new pair of jeans to put money in your savings account; living below your means to have a secure financial future; working two jobs rather than hanging out with friends in order to pay off debt.

KWHS spoke with Emily to find out more about her recent life lesson in financial responsibility and tradeoffs – and why she wouldn’t change a thing.

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Have you always been financially responsible?

Emily K.: Many teenagers and young adults do not understand the importance of financial responsibility until it is too late. Fortunately, I have been given the opportunity to take a personal finance course as a high school senior. I had a basic understanding of smart spending and saving, but this course has better prepared me to have a financially sound future.

KWHS: How do you feel better prepared financially for your future?

Emily: This class overlapped with the period in which I had to make a decision on which college I would attend in the fall. I was granted acceptance to several notable universities that all met and exceeded my idea of the perfect school. I absolutely love New England, and I wanted to go to school there. My top choices were St. John’s University, Xavier University, Fordham University, University of New Haven, and University of Hartford. I wanted so badly to move up North to start my college education, but even with the scholarships I was granted, I would be burdened with nearly $100,000 in debt upon graduation. Without the deeper understanding of financial responsibility that I have obtained as a result of my personal finance class, I could have made a decision that would greatly impact my future without the blink of an eye.

KWHS: So, what did you decide?

Emily: I was also accepted to a small private school near Tampa with nearly a full ride. After much thought, I decided to take advantage of a nearly free education.  I have committed to Saint Leo University in San Antonio, Florida. Saint Leo is a great school, but it is not in the location I really wanted and it is about the same size as my high school. I’m keeping a positive outlook because I am very grateful with the opportunities they have presented to me. I was awarded a total of more than $1.7 million in scholarships from all of the schools, but Saint Leo was the school that was the most affordable. It was not my top choice, but I knew that I would benefit from a debt-free future.

KWHS: Why is it so important for you to be debt-free?

Emily: Coming out of college with a quarter of a million dollars in debt is not something that anybody really wants. Debt is nothing but a burden. When I graduate college, I won’t be weighed down with student loans to pay back. I will be able to save a couple extra dollars a month instead of having to put that towards my student loans. It honestly feels like a weight was lifted from my shoulders before the weight was ever placed.

KWHS: What do you plan to study in college?

Emily: This semester was the first time that I ever took a business or economics class. I am currently taking economics with financial literacy and business and personal finance. Prior to these two classes, I was never interested in business. Now, I am considering studying business. Another area that interests me is forensic science and criminology. I have taken more than 30 college credits in my high school’s dual-enrollment program, so I will have the freedom to feel around by taking different classes and still be able to graduate on time.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

Emily’s choice to attend Saint Leo required her to make a big sacrifice. Despite her acceptance to 19 other schools, many in her dream location of New England, she settled for something less than she had hoped. Money was the motivating factor. Do you agree with Emily’s decision? Why or why not? Debate the pros and cons of her decision with a group, keeping in mind the broader context of financial responsibility. How might this decision help her in the long run? How might it hurt her, if at all?

What exactly is debt? Research the related KWHS articles and links for a deeper understanding of debt and how it impacts your finances.

Emily mentions taking part in her school’s dual-enrollment program. What is this and how is it useful? Research the KWHS article on dual enrollment in the related articles tab to find out more about this type of program and how it can save you money on hour higher education.

12 comments on “College Decisions Sometimes Require Sacrifice

  1. Debt is something most college students today have to deal with. Most students are getting into good colleges and striving to reach their goals, yet their debt follows them around. I think Emily was smart to choose the more affordable option even if it wasn’t what she wanted. It’s also obvious that her personal finance course in high school really prepared her for her future. If she had chosen the school of her dreams she would have to worry about money and finances rather than focusing on her education. By preparing early, she can get the education she wants without the crippling debt later.

  2. Although Emily made a great sacrifice in choosing to go to college in Florida, I believe that this was probably the best decision she could have made. Staying debt free is not an easily achieved goal for those in college. I find it extremely admirable that she was able to put aside idealism and attend a University that would ultimately benefit her greatly in the long run. Reading this article has given me a bit of insight as well. Currently being a junior in high school, I’m realizing that it’s time for me to really consider the pros and cons of attending different colleges. I’m similar to Emily in the sense that money is going to play a huge role in my decision making process. I hope that I’ll be able to take a different perspective, as Emily did, and think in terms of the future rather than in terms of the present.

  3. I believe Emily made a good move by choosing to attend community college for the first two years of her college career. By choosing the more affordable option and going to community college at first, she was able to begin putting some money away early. This allowed compound interest to build and increase her wealth over time. This worked well for Emily because by the time she finished college and graduated from the more prominent college, she was able to take on the debt from saving for the first couple years. I think that this was a great way to make in through college with a small amount of debt and I will likely follow Emily’s path.

  4. Debt is what a lot of collage kids have to try and over come. A lot of students want to go to the best collage out there. But there is a consequence of going to them good collages with no scholarships DEPT. Dept is a hard thing to get out of it takes years and a lot of money out of your paycheck. I think it was a good idea for Emily to go to the collage that offers to pay for her to go because now she will still get a degree and she wont have to take years to pay off collage dept.

  5. Emily made the right decision by choosing the community college. What’s positive about a community college is that it’s close to home and you’re saving yourself money. You can be able to save money instead of putting it towards student loans.

  6. Between debt and a free education can be a very easy decision based upon you looking into how successful you want your future to be. When Emily explains how much total money she has received compared to how much money in debt she would have when she graduates crushes the status on scholarships and loans to go away to school. Emily choosing a nearly free education will help her in the long run with her future. Emily is receiving the same education for free as she would to be going away and paying a boat load of loans.

  7. Emily’s decision to go to a school closer to home was a very smart idea. It was close to her, so the cost of travel would be way down. Plus, the school was offering a full ride so the education itself was nearly free. She made the correct choice because college is so expensive, that once a student finishes college, they owe the bank hundreds of thousands of dollars for an education they deserve. Now, the school she went to wasn’t her dream school or that much better or bigger than her high school, but I feel the sacrifice was a necessary one. Id personally rather go to a small college that’s close to home then a bigger, more expensive college across the United States. So really, Emily was just being very responsible with her money while also getting a good education basically for free. So in the end, I think she made the right choice and would have personally made the same one if I were in her situation.

    • I agree with you Christian… Emily indeed made a smart choice that will have a positive outcome for her future. All too often, I see students get wrapped up in the hype and hope of attending that “noted” University as an extension of their worth. But is it really “worth” it? Medical school or Law school is one thing to accumulate debt from… it’s somewhat of an investment, because the average future income can often-times be a positive result of that debt. My best advice would be to take dual enrollment courses in high school, go to community college for the first 2 years of general ed. and then a public University thereafter; unless of course you have a full ride like Emily! Thanks for responding to Emily’s article… I happen to be her finance teacher and am very honored to have had her in my class. Good luck to all of you who read about her decision making process!

  8. The most important thing when considering college is money. Money plays a huge factor in the college planning process. Students that are attending a college they can’t afford have to take out thousands of dollars from the bank they can give them huge debt in the future because they have to pay it back to the bank, with interest. Deciding on a college they works for you and your budget is very important because college debt is not good for after graduating because you need to worry about paying it back. If you don’t have debt, you don’t need to worry about paying it off. Instead of worrying about college debt from an expensive college, you can worry about saving your money you earn right out of college to save and earn interest throughout your life.

  9. I think the only way to actually get through the college life an even any part of life is to save as much as money as possible for the longest amount of time. So if you sacrifice before college and even some after you can make it easy through the financial life in collage. When Emily explains how much total money she has received compared to how much money in debt she would have when she graduates crushes the status on scholarships and loans to go away to school. Students that are attending a college they can’t afford have to pay large amounts of money, and they have to take out hundreds of dollars from the bank which can give them huge debt in the future because they have to pay it back to the bank. And that’s why college students need to start saving soon to pay off any debt or future debt.

  10. Getting oneself into debt is a big issue for most high school students who are considering going to college. Overall community college is no better than a large school such as Rowen or Harvard. Debt is owing money to someone or towards something and people can get into millions of dollars’ worth of students loans. This debt also has a high interest amount that builds over time putting a person farther into debt. That is why I think Emily Krings’ choice to take up the community colleges full ride scholarship was smart. None of the other schools were going to pay for all 4 years of her college but the community college Saint Leo. This decision will help her in the long run by helping her stay out of debt and being able to have and invest more money in the future by not having to pay off the student loans. In conclusion I think there is no difference between a small community college and a big college beside the price and it’s smart to not want student loans to be hanging over your head for the rest of your life.

    • Hey Kylie!

      Looks like you have an interesting stance on this! I wholeheartedly agree with you when you say that debt is a major burden on someone, since you’re chained to high interest rates and monthly payments for the rest of your life. However, I must say, comparing a local community college to an institution like Harvard which has world-class professors who are leaders of their industries, Olympic athletes, former CEO’s and Presidents of global companies and corporations, and has bred plenty of well-known celebrities and successful people, seems like a bit of an overstatement to me.
      Let me ask you this: If all of these people lived a few blocks away from you, or perhaps in your housing complex, wouldn’t you want to reach out and network with them? Wouldn’t you want to have a nice coffee and learn about their passion-filled, adventurous journey in whatever they’ve tried to perfect and master for years? Wouldn’t you want them to connect you with internship opportunities at big banks and engineering firms, or research opportunities at places like NASA?
      I’m not just trying to brag about the prestige of universities here. So that being said, let’s take this situation from a financial literacy standpoint (my favorite)! Harvard meets 100% of demonstrated aid for their incoming undergraduate students. In fact, any family making under $70,000 gets full tuition paid. Even at higher levels of income, there’s plenty of aid available to try and graduate debt-free. Of course, it matters a lot on your family’s circumstance, but a very common misconception thrown around about top schools like Harvard is that they don’t give money to help pay tuition: That’s the last thing they’d want!
      See, there’s a wide gap that community college is missing. I’m not saying community college is bad, but it comes nowhere close to places like Harvard or any other big top university. Community college essentially provides education in an easy, understandable, and accessible way to many aspiring leaders across the country and world; that’s great! But once you graduate community college, you’re on your own to make it happen for yourself. There’s no support, alumni network, or super-fancy job applications/resumes. You won’t get the headstarts and opportunities like those I mentioned above. For a lot of kids, that’s great: for others, not so much.
      I guess a lot of the college process is how you fit into an institution and what you make of it. I know that wherever I go to school, I’m harnessing, utilizing and creating every opportunity I can get my hands on: whether that’s from my state flagship university, Harvard, Penn, or even my local community college. After all, life’s whatever you make it to be! Best of luck to you, in whatever decision you make!

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