Happiness is expensive, college is expensive. Coincidence? I think not. Image from Haven.

Happiness is expensive, college is expensive. Coincidence? I think not.
Image from Haven.

Parents, guidance counselors, random family members, online sources, pretty much everyone says the same thing: pick the school with the best financial deal. You don’t want mountains and mountains of student loans looming over you when you graduate. In this day and age, there is no guarantee that you’ll have a job after college and no guarantee that you’ll be in a position to pay off those loans. And you don’t want to be paying college off until you die. And then there is grad school to think about. All of these things are true. It’s good that everyone says these things because 18-year-olds aren’t exactly known for their financial responsibility or expertise. They are important things to think about.

However, it is also true that you need to think about your happiness. It’s easy to think that you’ll be happy at any school you go to, but if you have a gut feeling in favor of or strongly against one of your college options, it is very important to listen to that. It’s important to be logical whenever you’re dealing with money, but the big college decision also has to have some heart behind it. When it comes to where you’ll be spending the next four years of your life, happiness may have a price. If you find yourself forced to choose between the school of best fit and the school of best aid, here are some things to think about when weighing the pros and cons.

How big is the difference in cost?

You don’t want to be 250k in debt when you’re 22 years old. On graduation day, you don’t want your cap and gown to be weighed down by the debt collectors who have already attached themselves to your ankles. So if you get little to no aid from your top-choice and a lot more from another school, unfortunately, you’re probably going to have to suck it up and go to the other school. But if the difference is “just” a couple of thousand of dollars, the extra loans might be worth it if you honestly feel like this school will be much more of a home to you than anywhere else. It’s easy to get caught up in trying to save every dollar you can, and that’s not a bad quality to have, but if you end up miserable at a school that you chose purely based on financial aid, you’ll be cursing yourself for being so cheap.

Where would the extra money come from?

Are you going to have to take out private loans to afford the other school? Are your grandparents offering a personal, interest-free loan? Or is a matter of taking out federal loans or no loans at all? Private loans are scary. Government loans are scary too, but there are generally more options for forbearance and loan forgiveness with them. They also have lower interest rates typically. If your grandparents are loaning you money, chances are you won’t get in too much trouble for missing a payment or needing to wait a few years until you start to pay them back.

If you can make your top-choice school work without literally selling your soul, then my advice is to do that. Of course it’s the dream to graduate from school without owing money, but you worked really hard in high school and on all those applications so that you could have at least a moderately enjoyable college experience, and that’s worth the money.

How do you really feel?

Be honest with yourself. Do you just know that the school with the full ride is not the place for you? Did the campus visit leave an absolutely disgusting taste in your mouth? When it comes down to it, you aren’t going to be able to get much out of your education if you are at a school that simply does not fit you. If there were two pairs of shoes and one was three sizes too small and the other was your size but cost twenty bucks more, which would you buy? Well, maybe you’d just go to a shoe store that didn’t price different shoe sizes differently, but if that weren’t an option, you’d buy the proper fit. And that’s really what a misfit school feels like. You can deal with it, but you aren’t comfortable and you aren’t really able to fully integrate into your environment. It’s always tempting to pick the better deal.

In the grocery store, we buy the cheap peanut butter because it tastes the same as Skippy, but at a fraction of the price. Colleges aren’t like this. There are so many different schools with different personalities that are each very right and very wrong for certain people. Don’t ignore that. If your gut is telling you something, listen. It’s worth it. If it’s at all possible, figure out the financial issues and go where you really want to go. Invest in yourself and trust that being somewhere you want to be will pay off in the end.

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the author

Kathleen is a Northern California native and incoming freshman at Washington & Lee University. She spends much of her free time obsessing over the future (not in a crystal ball way) and making plans to visit as many countries as humanly possible throughout her four years of college. She loves her dog Morton, Grey's Anatomy, and money. One day she hopes to become the perfect mix of Cristina Yang, Mindy Kaling, April Kepner, and Amy Poehler. Until then you can find her crying over how exciting life is and retaking the Myer's Briggs Test to make sure she really is ENTJ.

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