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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Price You Pay for College by Ron Lieber

"Success here means knowing how the system works and who pays what and why. It is about figuring out what is worth paying extra for--and what kind of child needs what sort of extra investment."

In The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make, Ron Lieber, New York Times columnist of Your Money, attempts to break down what is possibly the most oblique cost-benefit assessment of modern day: the value, price, and cost--he differentiates between the two--of college.

Who pays how much to go to college, and why? What are you meant to be getting for your money? Are there ways to cut the ballooning cost of college that's breaking the bank for many American families? Should you let a 17-year-old drive this enormously important process--which can largely determine the timing of your own retirement and may put your family into considerable debt? can I think about this as a skeptical consumer seeking an institutional partner to build a product--a thinking, sociable, working adult--and less as a dutiful, supplicant family?

While noting that "...colleges collectively spend something like $1 billion each year to hire...consultants to help them find students, figure out which ones should pay what and then spend a whole lot more to chase the applicants down," Lieber notes hopefully that "after several years of reporting, I have real hope that the schools are slowly hearing the growing cry for more demonstrative proof of value."

Lieber explores a range of offerings, opportunities, and proposed benefits and considers their potential worth--while advising the reader as to how to attempt to assess the value for their own prospective student: honors colleges and programs; college abroad; diversity and compatibility of peers and potential partners; women's colleges; career counseling services; improving the odds when planning for grad school; school size; athletic scholarships; experienced teachers; and mental health centers.

Lieber outlines which value-proven (or disproven) aspects of a college profile you should be paying attention to beyond the bottom line (for example, how many adjunct professors a college employs; the possibility for mentoring interactions between students and faculty; how much energy and money is spent on showy attention-getters like lazy rivers).

By asking how we define success and considering what college is really for (learning, kinship, a credential and a job, personal branding?); exploring parents' feelings that commonly accompany the college choosing and funding process (fear, guilt, snobbery and elitism); considering aspects of the college experience and their worth; suggesting money-saving tips; and offering advice on saving and funding college, Lieber calmly injects facts into the overwhelming, often frenzied, and understandably worrisome "How will we pay, what is the actual cost, and why?" questions surrounding college.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

I recently read and reviewed two other interesting and valuable college-admissions books, Who Gets In and Why by Jeffrey Selingo and Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be by Frank Bruni.


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