Contemplating the Cost of College

Letters from Financial Aid

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On the table in front of you lie 5,300 college brochures, one from each of the known colleges and universities in the United States. You pour over the information looking for the perfect school and sort the schools by location, size and type.

Flying to Hawaii twice a year is not an option. A school with 80,000 students is 1,000 times bigger than your home town. And you know you’re not interested in beauty college or medical technician training.

You are finally down to three or four options, but these final choices are very much alike. They all promise the best education and the best value. But when you compare prices, they are all different.

I’m sure your college search did not begin by looking at all 5,300 choices. But in the end, you face that same difficult decision. The local community college has in-state tuition. The large state school offers the same in-state tuition but has a higher sticker price, and you would have to live on campus. You have two or three private college choices in the stack. You’d prefer to choose one of those and so would your parents, but they are all out-of-state.

Financial aid offers have come from all the schools, but the offers are as different as the schools themselves. Even with financial aid, you’re still not sure you can afford it. Mom and Dad have said they’ll help, but they have limited funds. Comparing sticker prices, financial aid offers and personal resources certainly seems like the best place to begin. But before you start counting the pennies from your piggy bank, let’s take another approach.

Investing in the Future or Providing for the Present?

When you’re getting ready to spend a great deal of money, it’s good to know if the end result will be worth it. When a young couple decides to buy a house, they try to imagine themselves living in that house for many years. They consider the size of the house, the layout of the house, and the neighborhood. They don’t know exactly how life in that house will be, but they consider how living in that house will affect their lives both now and in the future.

Choosing a college is the same kind of a decision. Everything about your college education will shape your life. As you consider what each college has to offer, you have to decide if you are investing in the future or just providing for the present. Figuring out what you want your education to do for you will help you discover not just what you think you can afford, but what you are willing to invest in your own future.

Planning for the future is hard to do when you’ve just graduated from high school. That’s partly because the future is not ours to know. For that reason, we need to look to the One who holds the future in order to determine our long-term goal. It would be perfect if God could actually tell you which college is the one for you and how you are going to pay for it.

Although God doesn’t speak to us audibly to help us with our choice, His Word does provide guidance in a well-known verse. The apostle Paul offered this advice to young Timothy as he was preparing for the future. “Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed. . .” (II Tim 2:15).

The word “study” in this verse doesn’t mean simply to gain knowledge. It means to be diligent in the pursuit of knowledge. That’s your part. But how do you know if you have found the right place to pursue knowledge?

A Place that Prepares You for Righteous Living

First, the college you choose should be a place that prepares you to live righteously in the present and the future. The word “study” in this verse doesn’t mean simply to gain knowledge. It means to be diligent in the pursuit of knowledge. Do the courses offered provide a clear view of God as well as excellent academic material? Do the teachers clearly demonstrate God’s work of grace in their lives? Are all courses taught with a strong biblical worldview?

A Place that Prepares You to Honor God

Secondly, the college you choose should prepare you to be approved by God Himself. Are students encouraged to develop personal discipline? Is accountability provided to live a God-honoring life? Does the campus culture promote godliness? Do the students help each other pursue excellence in all things and encourage right choices?

A Place that Prepares You for a Career

Finally, the college you choose should prepare you to work in a way that will give you no cause to be ashamed. Is the work required for each course challenging? Are there extra-curricular activities that require planning and preparation? Are there job and service opportunities that develop strong work relationships and build good Christian character?

Understanding the value of the right kind of education will help you to know if the product is worth the price. Preparing to pay for a quality education may mean looking beyond what you think you can afford and calculating with God to reach that goal.