Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

College is really, really, really expensive. It’s why I begged for a job at the end of my junior year and cheered when I found out that my college meets 100% of demonstrated need.

Unfortunately, “need” isn’t just your own need–it’s your parents’ need as well. When a school awards financial aid, it looks at a number of factors: parents’ income, your income, amount in savings, the distance between Sagittarius and Pisces, etc., and there is no “I don’t want to use my parents’ money” or “I’m saving up for a car” box to check.

Schools assume that you and your parents are both going to contribute, but for many families, this isn’t reality. Tons of students end up taking out all of their costs in loans, either because they don’t want to depend on their parents or because their parents don’t want to or cannot pay for it . This introduces an important question: Whose responsibility is it to pay for college?

Your Education, Your Responsibility

First and foremost, a college education is for the student. Parents don’t get to list it on their resumes or attend college classes or take advantage of the Starbucks on campus. This isn’t to say that parents don’t see benefits from sending their children to college–the pride of sending their kids off to experience the real world, or the joy of finally having a quiet house that isn’t a cause for suspicion–but overall, college is for the students.

Take note of the word “students,” not “kids.” I hate to break it to you, but if you’re going to college and you’re not one of these child prodigies, you’re probably a legal adult, or close enough. A part of adulthood is taking responsibility for your own life. You are no longer entitled to your parents’ cash, and after eighteen years of putting a roof over your head and food on your plate, your parents have already done a lot for you. If you want a college education, it is your responsibility, as an adult, to pay for it or take out the loans necessary to pay for it. You’ll have to work hard, and you may have to settle for your cheapest option, but that’s what adults do. Based solely on the principles of paving your own way and standing on your own two feet, a student should pay for his or her own education.

But College Students Don’t Have Money

Let’s not get crazy. Many parents will argue that they paid for their own education, but that was when college was a nickel. (That may be an exaggeration, but the cost of a college education has risen 1120% in the past thirty years.) The average net price of a four-year public school in 2013-2014, as estimated by the College Board, was $12,620. For a private school, the average net price was $23,290. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour (though it is different for each state).

A bit of math later, we find that, for a person working a job paying the federal minimum wage (likely the situation of most soon-to-be college students), they would have to work 1,740.7 hours (and not spend a penny of their wages on anything else) to afford to attend a public school. That’s 73 consecutive days, or two and a half months of nonstop work. For a private school, that’s 3,212.4 hours, or 134 consecutive days, which is roughly four and a half months. That is to say, unless you’re Superman and can work twenty-four hours a day and maybe reverse the rotation of the Earth to give you some more time (which doesn’t leave too much time for people-saving, making you a pretty lousy Superman), you’re probably not going to just work the summer and pay for your freshman year of college. It might be your education, but to ask you to foot the whole bill is kind of preposterous.

Of course, a lot of high school students have jobs before the summer between high school and college. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for kids between sixteen and nineteen has been hovering around twenty percent throughout 2014, which is adequate when you don’t consider that unemployment rates do not consider people who are not looking for work. Even so, a high school graduate who has been working since he or she was sixteen has had maybe two and a half years to save up for college. Parents can be saving for eighteen years, and assuming no financial troubles, are far more prepared to face the high cost of a college education than an eighteen-year-old with no marketable skills. But no financial troubles? That is a lot to assume, and it in no way mirrors the lives of American families today.

Who Should Pay For College?

When the bill comes in the mail, when you sit down and stare it in the face and squint so that the numbers look smaller, it is ultimately the student’s responsibility to make sure it’s paid. Yes, parents are probably more capable of paying the bill, but so is Bill Gates, and it would be silly to send your bill to him. When all is said and done, the student faces the consequences and the student reaps the benefits; the student holds the responsibility.

For most students, the change under the couch cushions won’t cut it, so for most students, this means working and asking for help from parents. A lot of the time, they will say yes. But if your parents say no, you may have to ask for loans. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that loans really, really, really suck. Still, investing in your own education and taking responsibility for your own life is always worth it and a necessary part of entering adulthood.

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the author

Gabrielle Scullard hails from suburban Arizona, where she is a senior at a public high school. She spends most of her life taking AP classes and crying about her future. When she is not stressing out about school, she plays viola (it’s like a violin but better) and signs in an American Sign Language choir (it’s like a vocal choir but better). She wants to be a superhero, but an internship at The Prospect is basically the same thing. She hopes her writing can help someone or, at least, make someone smile. You can find her on her Tumblr or at home, but she would prefer it if you didn't do either of those things.

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