The Wise Cracks Blog by Dan Otter



Decision Day: My Daughter Chooses a College

In a recent Wise Cracks piece called The Real March Madness: Choosing and Paying for College I documented our daughter Lily’s college application process. The 140-character Twitter version: @daughter has > 8 choices; $$ BIG factor #stateschoolvsprivateschool

In English: Lily applied to and got into nine schools. Does she stay in-state and graduate from the University of New Mexico with money left over (approximately $40,000-$50,000), does she attend a small school outside of Austin (Southwestern University) and graduate with about $40,000 in debt, or does she attend Seattle University and graduate with about $56,000 in debt?

Frankly, the whole thing felt like a cage match between my core financial and lifestyle beliefs: prudent money management vs. life experiences. I believe in saving and spending money wisely. I also believe in unique life experiences. But here’s the great thing. This isn’t my choice. It’s her choice. 

Sure my wife and I are actively involved in this process. But at the end of the day, it’s Lily’s choice. We have received a lot of great advice during this process — thank you, Glenda Durano of College Advising and Planning Services, and thank you Lynn O'Shaughnessy of The College Solution who was interviewed for Teach and Retire Rich podcasts (episodes #19 and #20) — but the best advice we received might have come from Dr. David J. Schmidly, former president of the University of New Mexico, Oklahoma State University, and Texas Tech University. He lives in the same New Mexico community as my parents. We met him at a holiday party last winter. His advice: Those are all great choices but let her decide. If it goes poorly, it’s not on you. Brilliant! Thank you, Dr. Schmidly!

As was mentioned in The Real March Madness: Choosing and Paying for College, we weren’t going to let Lily attend American University if it meant racking up $150,000 in debt. But at this point we were comfortable with any of these three choices: University of New Mexico, Southwestern University and Seattle University. 

Lily and I flew to Seattle in April to attend Seattle University’s open house for those who had been accepted. We were pretty impressed. Plus, the University turned on the sun machine. It was sunny just about the entire weekend. If there’s a prettier big city in the United States (when the sun shines), I am not aware of it. Of course, several months of overcast weather may change that opinion. 

We returned home and consulted with Lily’s advisor, Glenda Durano. She helped us craft a letter to Seattle University politely asking for a bit more merit aid. Ten days later, Lily received the following message: We can offer you $3,000 more per year in merit aid. And that sealed the deal. Lily is officially a Seattle University Redhawk. My wife and I are incredibly proud of Lily and we are satisfied with her choice. Lily is thrilled. Let’s see how she feels in February after 60 days of overcast weather! 

Note: If you want to hear Lily describe the college application and selection process you can listen to Teach and Retire Rich podcast #27 directly or you can access it from iTunes.