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The hugely popular New York Times “Your Money” columnist and author of the bestselling The Opposite of Spoiled offers a deeply reported and emotionally honest approach to the biggest financial decision families will ever make: what to pay for college.  Sending a teenager to a flagship state university for four years of on-campus living costs more than $100,000 in many parts The hugely popular New York Times “Your Money” columnist and author of the bestselling The Opposite of Spoiled offers a deeply reported and emotionally honest approach to the biggest financial decision families will ever make: what to pay for college.  Sending a teenager to a flagship state university for four years of on-campus living costs more than $100,000 in many parts of the United States. Meanwhile, many families of freshmen attending selective private colleges will spend triple—over $300,000. With the same passion, smarts, and humor that infuse his personal finance column, Ron Lieber offers a much-needed roadmap to help families navigate this difficult and often confusing journey.  Lieber begins by explaining who pays what and why and how the financial aid system got so complicated. He also pulls the curtain back on merit aid, an entirely new form of discounting that most colleges now use to compete with peers. While price is essential, value is paramount. So what is worth paying extra for, and how do you know when it exists in abundance at any particular school? Is a small college better than a big one? Who actually does the teaching? Given that every college claims to have reinvented its career center, who should we actually believe? He asks the tough questions of college presidents and financial aid gatekeepers that parents don’t know (or are afraid) to ask and summarizes the research about what matters and what doesn’t. Finally, Lieber calmly walks families through the process of setting financial goals, explaining the system to their children and figuring out the right ways to save, borrow, and bargain for a better deal.  The Price You Pay for College gives parents the clarity they need to make informed choices and helps restore the joy and wonder the college experience is supposed to represent.


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The hugely popular New York Times “Your Money” columnist and author of the bestselling The Opposite of Spoiled offers a deeply reported and emotionally honest approach to the biggest financial decision families will ever make: what to pay for college.  Sending a teenager to a flagship state university for four years of on-campus living costs more than $100,000 in many parts The hugely popular New York Times “Your Money” columnist and author of the bestselling The Opposite of Spoiled offers a deeply reported and emotionally honest approach to the biggest financial decision families will ever make: what to pay for college.  Sending a teenager to a flagship state university for four years of on-campus living costs more than $100,000 in many parts of the United States. Meanwhile, many families of freshmen attending selective private colleges will spend triple—over $300,000. With the same passion, smarts, and humor that infuse his personal finance column, Ron Lieber offers a much-needed roadmap to help families navigate this difficult and often confusing journey.  Lieber begins by explaining who pays what and why and how the financial aid system got so complicated. He also pulls the curtain back on merit aid, an entirely new form of discounting that most colleges now use to compete with peers. While price is essential, value is paramount. So what is worth paying extra for, and how do you know when it exists in abundance at any particular school? Is a small college better than a big one? Who actually does the teaching? Given that every college claims to have reinvented its career center, who should we actually believe? He asks the tough questions of college presidents and financial aid gatekeepers that parents don’t know (or are afraid) to ask and summarizes the research about what matters and what doesn’t. Finally, Lieber calmly walks families through the process of setting financial goals, explaining the system to their children and figuring out the right ways to save, borrow, and bargain for a better deal.  The Price You Pay for College gives parents the clarity they need to make informed choices and helps restore the joy and wonder the college experience is supposed to represent.

30 review for The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make

  1. 4 out of 5

    Devorah Heitner

    Lieber dissects the confusing mess that parents and aspiring college students find themselves in--finding out the true price of four years (or more!) of college is notoriously hard to do. Turns out, they do this on purpose! Rather than blame yourself, read Ron Lieber's helpful book to be as informed as possible before diving into the process. Along with Lieber's trademark wit and insight, the great storytelling and research make this an enjoyable read despite the stressful topic. I worked in hig Lieber dissects the confusing mess that parents and aspiring college students find themselves in--finding out the true price of four years (or more!) of college is notoriously hard to do. Turns out, they do this on purpose! Rather than blame yourself, read Ron Lieber's helpful book to be as informed as possible before diving into the process. Along with Lieber's trademark wit and insight, the great storytelling and research make this an enjoyable read despite the stressful topic. I worked in higher education for years and was still stunned by a lot of the information shared by Lieber's sources. Lieber's respect and care for students and their families as consumers and human beings comes through on every page. The Price You Pay For College also has an excellent bibliography that can help you follow up on the aspects college process that you might need after reading. But if you only have the time and energy to ready one book about paying for college, this is the one!

  2. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is a thorough and comprehensive advice/guide book that goes well beyond the financial aspects of paying for college. I'd put it in the Essential Reading category for the quality and depth of the material. The book is organized thematically in parts and the chapters largely stand on their own. Sections that aren't pertinent can be skimmed or skipped without diminishing the reading experience (I read everything). The book is aimed at parents (of sophomores or freshmen, ideally) but students wou This is a thorough and comprehensive advice/guide book that goes well beyond the financial aspects of paying for college. I'd put it in the Essential Reading category for the quality and depth of the material. The book is organized thematically in parts and the chapters largely stand on their own. Sections that aren't pertinent can be skimmed or skipped without diminishing the reading experience (I read everything). The book is aimed at parents (of sophomores or freshmen, ideally) but students would benefit from it too. Beyond the generic descriptors above I found the author to be irritating on occasion. A graduate of Amherst College, he gave off a whiff of elitism every now and then. The tier 1/most selective schools were generally treated with reverence while the public flagships sounded like consolation prizes. He doesn't even condescend to mention non-flagship publics. (Why do they even exist? The horror!) Every now and then the author presents a suggested script for talking though potentially thorny issues. It seems well-intentioned and may be useful to some but I was put off by the patronizing man splaining essence he projected. Odds & ends: * Be prepared to read a few times that Northeastern University, Tulane and the University of Southern California were once safety schools that burnished their reputations by clever use of merit money and gaming their statistics to climb the ranks of U.S. News & World Reports (i.e. they're the noveau riche of American colleges, they don't really belong with the true blue bloods). * Speaking of USN&WR just skip it entirely, their rankings are meaningless. [That's my assertion, not the author's.] * Not mentioned by the author but if you're looking to see how much merit aid schools are doling out check out www.collegeconfidential.com Go to the link for the schools of interest and look for any threads entitled "class of 20xx" and see what people are saying. People commonly list merit awards along with their stats and if it's a public (eek!) school whether they're in state or out of state. * Also not mentioned by the author www.niche.com and sub/reddit pages for schools of interest are great sources of information about the pluses and minuses as perceived by students and parents.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Very informative! A bit too late for me but it's a perfect gift for any parents who have kids entering high school Very informative! A bit too late for me but it's a perfect gift for any parents who have kids entering high school

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maria McGrath

    Because of where my children are in their academic careers (junior in college, high school junior, and 7th grader), a fair amount of this information was not new to me. I was glad that he referenced The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere and overall his information was up-to-date and helpful. If one had to pick a single book to read on the process of planning for college, this is a good choice. My favorite chapter covered gap years. Because of where my children are in their academic careers (junior in college, high school junior, and 7th grader), a fair amount of this information was not new to me. I was glad that he referenced The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere and overall his information was up-to-date and helpful. If one had to pick a single book to read on the process of planning for college, this is a good choice. My favorite chapter covered gap years.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    Still just partway through but I want to record that I have grown increasingly irritated with this book. It starts out promising, and very on-topic regarding the financial investment of college and a high-level view of how institutions handle costs and aid. Then it sort of deteriorates into a series of discrete chapters, each full of wonky stats and lists of colleges that are the "best" at various random data points. The author hammers again and again that parents should just ask the colleges al Still just partway through but I want to record that I have grown increasingly irritated with this book. It starts out promising, and very on-topic regarding the financial investment of college and a high-level view of how institutions handle costs and aid. Then it sort of deteriorates into a series of discrete chapters, each full of wonky stats and lists of colleges that are the "best" at various random data points. The author hammers again and again that parents should just ask the colleges all of these detailed questions that nobody who isn't a journalist or an academic researcher would really ask. Not to mention, the obsessive nature of the focus on parents as consumers leaves a bad taste in my mouth, as a college educator, I believe that students should be the center of their own college searches, and not with a consumerist orientation. There is a lot of helpful information in here that would probably be useful to a family with a high-school-aged student, but I'm finding it so specific to the current moment that it's not especially relevant to me as a parent of a toddler. Still reading, so it may get better as I progress. UPDATE: okay, I finished it this morning. The last bit is better than the large middle section I complained about above. It gets back to the subject of actually paying for college and provides some useful info. I still don’t feel that I truly got a whole lot out of this book that I didn’t already know, but I do think it could be very useful for people who don’t work in higher ed but who like wonky data sets and who are maybe a bit closer to actually paying for college.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Nhi Aronheim

    I read this book in 3 days and found that the author did much research about college cost and analyzing its value. I appreciate him sharing his personal experiences at Dartmouth. I highly recommend this book to the parents (and students) who plan for their kids' college. I read this book in 3 days and found that the author did much research about college cost and analyzing its value. I appreciate him sharing his personal experiences at Dartmouth. I highly recommend this book to the parents (and students) who plan for their kids' college.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Klein

    Ron Lieber does it again. He delves into an essential topic, Makes order from chaos, and delivers an eminently useful guide for families of the college-bound.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    I won this book in a giveaway. I teach high school students and this book had a lot of resources to pull from and gave a comprehensive view of the entire process. Feel like every parent should read this before their kids get to high school.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Goodyear

    The utility and expense of college has changed drastically on 10 year, 20 year, and 30+ year scales. There is a lot of outdated advice out there, plus a lot of factually incorrect claims casually tossed around in headlines and in conversations. This book is a really cool look at: A) What is college? We use this one word to describe many, many different combinations of experiences and education. B) How do schools position themselves in the marketplace, and how do they use tools (or cynically, marke The utility and expense of college has changed drastically on 10 year, 20 year, and 30+ year scales. There is a lot of outdated advice out there, plus a lot of factually incorrect claims casually tossed around in headlines and in conversations. This book is a really cool look at: A) What is college? We use this one word to describe many, many different combinations of experiences and education. B) How do schools position themselves in the marketplace, and how do they use tools (or cynically, marketing ploys) like merit aid, need-based aid, loans disguised as awards, and others. C) What are the pros and cons of different non-standard college education options? D) In what ways can college be saved for and paid for? I would have liked more depth out of some of the chapters, but when thought of as a prompt for further research, I think it does its job. Also interesting that this book is recent enough to include COVID ramifications on colleges. One gets the impression that the publishing date came a little too soon to include too much data on this, but a second edition a year or two from now will be a fascinating follow-up. My gems: Ch 2 --FAFSA makes no allowances for parents’ student debt, or areas where housing costs more than average. In divorced parents, only the primary custody parent is calculated. --FAFSA does not count home equity or retirement accounts Ch 3 --Post WWII, a variety of policy and demographic phenomena led to enormous growth in the number of people starting college. Many private colleges began admitting women for the first time. --merit aid (poorly named) has been broadly used as a tool for universities to keep students from choosing other colleges Ch 4 --"Parents are susceptible to offers of unsolicited gold stars for having raised fine children." --"Enrollment management emerged in the 1980s, and is similar to airlines' yield management." --the need for sheer survival in the marketplaces necessitated budget tactics --schools withhold their formulas for need-based aid, leading to students applying to many schools, leading to more work for everyone -- the price=quality mental effect is why colleges keep list price high, plus the families that actually do pay list price Ch 8 --“Hiring and mentoring people from your alma mater is a good way to reinforce the value of your own degree in the marketplace.” --[top 45 schools] “give your resume a longer look--the benefit of the doubt” Ch 10 --“Disengagement compact” - idea that a spoken or unspoken agreement exists that professors don’t assign too much work so they can research and get rewarded instead of grading, and students leave good reviews and carry on with the delusion they learned as much as they could have → “No actors in the system are primarily interested in undergraduate student academic growth, though many are interested in student retention and persistence.” Ch 14 --“Many undergraduates, no matter what group they belong to or identify with, do not want to feel duty-bound to serve as an official representative of it. That’s why we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss schools with less diverse populations out of hand. Sometimes they struggle to break out of self-perpetuating cycles that may owe at least something to their surrounding areas.” Ch 15 --“The tilt toward liberal arts colleges by faculty families is unambiguous” --"ask about the percentage of time that students spend in classes with more than 50 or 100 or 200 people." --Suggest that your student pick a large introductory class at random in a topic that interests them and ask to visit. Ch 17 --“Purposeful Work” department at Bates. Includes some practical skills like spreadsheets. Is available to alumni 1-5 years out to help with the first big career pivot. --"There is a school of thought that suggests that this focus on workforce preparation is just so much foolishness. Let colleges be colleges; studying English or astronomy is no way to prepare for a career in marketing or analytics, nor should we expect it to be. And rebuilding undergraduate education around the needs of employers doesn’t make much sense, either...who knows what the job market will value most by the time its done anyway? Let employers handle the training." --"For now, we’re working within a system where a lot of what professors teach doesn’t match up neatly or obviously with what employers need. Someone has to smooth the transition and act as a translator." Ch 19 --College Scorecard, online fact database established under Obama --Wooster, in Ohio, has (poorly named) Independent Study where every undergraduate senior completes a thesis. They receive a lot of 1-on-1 time with faculty. Ch 25 --"people who take a gap year get in less trouble, are more likely to graduate on time, do [less] binge drinking, and have higher GPAs." Young men seem to benefit more. --aid formulas reward families with more eligibility for need-based assistance when two family members are enrolled in college simultaneously --"Maybe the mistake we make here is in the naming. A gap year is not a break, not dead air, not white space. It is a year on, not a year off. Or, as Abby Falik, the founder of Global Citizen Year, puts it: Gap years are bridge years; a well-engineered connection between one life stage and another; a deliberate pause that is nevertheless not silent or still but filled with something other than what would happen inside a classroom. Students may well find that a gap year will be a bridge to getting so much more per hour, per dollar, out of college than they ever thought possible." Ch 27 --pundits’ recommendation of blue-collar work may be due to: ignorance of the data, thinking that anyone who can’t obtain 6 figure work is lazy, and a nostalgia for bygone days --average welder makes 41k annually. 90th percentile makes 63k. 6 figure salaries tend to be dangerous and in remote locations. --"A college degree is indispensable employment insurance." -- Herb Childress --"A full 25 percent of people who graduate from college do not earn much more than those who completed only high school, according to a 2014 New York Fed report." Ch 28 Useful, practical financial planning breakdown for funding college Ch 29 --"The obvious hypothesis, then, is that parents ought to sit down and explain the system to their kids right before they begin to make a permanent record for themselves, after 8th grade ends." --"Most teenagers want to be treated like adults." --balance between telling kids that good grades translate to big money without putting too much pressure on them. Ch 30 --expected family contribution is 5.64% of non-retirement assets, including 529 plans. This chapter details the relatively low-risk of a downside “penalty” by saving too much. Many of those that offer grant aid look very closely at assets and b background of families that present themselves as being very needy. Possible high downside risk to declining to save as some kind of strategy for getting more grant money. Ch 31 - details how to use the Common Data Set to analyze where a school sits in the marketplace Ch 33 - award letters are comically confusing, i.e. include loans that are not called loans. Prospective legislation to standardize these letters appears periodically but has not yet passed. Ch 35 - What is college? We have one word for a million things.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Arlene

    An excellent comprehensive study on paying for higher education, this book could not have come into my life in a more timely manner as my daughter is knee deep in the college application process. Thanks to the author for the years of research in putting this guide together. I highly recommend it to parents with children of any age. It covers useful topics, such as the recent history of “merit” aid, 529 savings plans, and much, much more.

  11. 4 out of 5

    William

    I worked in college admissions for a long time, and now assist families with the college process. This book is not perfect (what book is?) but it does a few important things exceptionally well. I like and respect its focus on how to choose and pay for college, rather than how to get in. What it does well I have not encountered elsewhere. The first strength of this book is in urging families to think about the quality of teaching and learning at the undergraduate level. This is something for which I worked in college admissions for a long time, and now assist families with the college process. This book is not perfect (what book is?) but it does a few important things exceptionally well. I like and respect its focus on how to choose and pay for college, rather than how to get in. What it does well I have not encountered elsewhere. The first strength of this book is in urging families to think about the quality of teaching and learning at the undergraduate level. This is something for which college rankings are especially useless. Lieber offers many ways to evaluate the undergraduate experience, both in terms of one's thinking and through listing resources. It is startling to learn that no more than a quarter of college teaching is done by tenured and tenure-track faculty, and that the Ivy League schools fall behind even large public institutions in the extent to which their students receive mentoring. The other aspect of the book I see as strong is its exploration of financial aid issues. There are detailed discussions of financial aid, loan options, merit-based awards and financial planning which are quite accessible even to people with very limited backgrounds in economic thought. Of course, the recent changes in the FAFSA will make some of the discussion obsolete, but Liebman cannot be faulted for that. Below these two aspects, I commend Lieber for the many sources of data. He also has in many chapters questions prospective students should ask of colleges. Sure, a few are a bit over the top and others are probably unanswerable, but many will make students dig more deeply in evaluating schools. So what's not to like here. Well, this is certainly not a book with which you would want to curl up in bed. It's pretty academic, and it makes sense to take notes -- a lot of notes! That may alienate a number of readers, some of whom have already posted reviews. To me, though, this is constructive and helpful. The biggest shortcoming of the book is that it tries to do too much, and as a result not all of it is done well. It's also a bit overwhelming in its mass of detail. The discussions of women's colleges, and athletic scholarships are especially brief and incomplete. The discussion of admission to military programs is an unnecessary sidebar, and there is a lot more to say for the chapter to be useful. I am not convinced by Lieber's celebration of gap years, though I realize there are many people who disagree with me on this. Finally, Lieber is a financial writer and his discussions of writing essays and campus visits is done a lot better in many other sources. Nevertheless, the bad does not come close to outweighing the good in this book. It is an invaluable guide for families in thinking about and embarking on the college admissions journey. I will be recommending it to the families I assist.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Joe Kessler

    As the father to a toddler with a new sibling on the way, I picked up this 2021 title expecting simply a quick overview of the current options for various college saving plans. And it has that information, but so much more besides, from which factors affect "merit" scholarships to some of the reasons behind rising tuition costs (and the surprising fact that only a small percentage of families end up paying that full sticker amount) to the other aspects of a university like class size and mentors As the father to a toddler with a new sibling on the way, I picked up this 2021 title expecting simply a quick overview of the current options for various college saving plans. And it has that information, but so much more besides, from which factors affect "merit" scholarships to some of the reasons behind rising tuition costs (and the surprising fact that only a small percentage of families end up paying that full sticker amount) to the other aspects of a university like class size and mentorship opportunities that should be considered when deciding where to apply. New York Times columnist Ron Lieber has spent decades researching and writing about financial matters, and I've found it particularly helpful to use his framework for thinking through what a student / household wants to get out of their choice for higher education. Do we place a greater value on the doors opened by the degree credential? On the actual course learning? On the residential experience and the bonds of kinship that it tends to form? Different people will weigh these elements differently, and as the author notes, the COVID-19 pandemic has scrambled the traditional calculus with the switch to online lessons and restrictions on social gatherings. Recognizing a moment like that may lead one towards certain schools and away from others, much as it may change how they market and price their offerings accordingly. All in all, this has been an informative and thought-provoking read, and while I don't know that it's necessarily going to hold up until I'm navigating campus visits and application essays myself, I'd recommend it for any parents of prospective undergraduates today. Find me on Patreon | Goodreads | Blog | Twitter

  13. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Disclaimer: I've been teaching high school seniors for 25 years and have seen A LOT of angst about the college process, so having this information all in one book is really helpful. From first-hand experience and inside experience teaching at two different colleges, this author has done his homework. As an educator, I want to believe that college is all about having your "mind blown or mind grown," but I will admit that is the ideal rather than the truth. Ron Lieber distills the main arguments a Disclaimer: I've been teaching high school seniors for 25 years and have seen A LOT of angst about the college process, so having this information all in one book is really helpful. From first-hand experience and inside experience teaching at two different colleges, this author has done his homework. As an educator, I want to believe that college is all about having your "mind blown or mind grown," but I will admit that is the ideal rather than the truth. Ron Lieber distills the main arguments about how expensive college is and gives the reader a lot to think about: Since colleges and college professors are rewarded and recognized for research, Lieber asks: "Can you state definitely that teaching matters as much or more than research here, in every case of the majority?" (108) "Do you attempt to measure how much time students are studying outside the classroom?" (114) My personal favorite was the counterintuitive questions: "What will your professors do here to make my child's life harder? ...But we want our kids to think harder and work harder and eventually think and work smarter. How do they get from here to there? Which professors are best known for it?" (114) "Tell me about the biggest clash of ideas that you've witnessed inside the classroom. Now tell me about the most interesting debate that's occurred outside class. Were the opposing sides predictable? And when was the last time you changed your mind about something important as a result of your academic experience?" (115). If you're interested in the college is for kindred spirit argument, ask, "Who are your three closest friends here? How did you find them? Was it easy? How are they different from your high school friends?" (134) Ultimately, the price you pay for college is should be worth it and this book is a great start to think about the reasons why it's worth it and what are the most important reasons to attend college in the first place.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This is a truly wonderful book, and I can't recommend it enough. If you've read much about personal finance, you're probably familiar with the concept of behavioral economics, the study of the enormous amount of emotion and personal psychology that are wrapped up in our financial lives. To pick one of countless possible examples: you can write a detailed financial plan that meets all of your goals, but that won't help you sleep at night when the stock market is crashing and the urge to sell is ov This is a truly wonderful book, and I can't recommend it enough. If you've read much about personal finance, you're probably familiar with the concept of behavioral economics, the study of the enormous amount of emotion and personal psychology that are wrapped up in our financial lives. To pick one of countless possible examples: you can write a detailed financial plan that meets all of your goals, but that won't help you sleep at night when the stock market is crashing and the urge to sell is overwhelming. Now take that example and multiply it by, I don't know, a hundred? How do you quantify it when your family is quite literally making a decision that could determine the future trajectory of your child? The years-long process of a choosing a college is probably the most fraught consumer choice you'll ever be faced with; all of the hopes and dreams you have for your child, all of the fears you have about your finances, and all of the anxiety you have about a process which is murky at best bear down on you at once. This book attempts to grapple with all of that. In plain language, it walks you through the things that matter and the things that (probably) don't. It won't tell you what decisions to make; those are so multi-faceted and personal that only you can make them. But by the time you finish, you will at least have a handle on what you don't know and a pathway to learn it - which questions to ask, what to research, and how to approach both the financial and non-financial sides of college planning. I've read Ron Lieber's work for years and had high expectations. This exceeded them. And it's just very well-written and easy to read. I give it my highest recommendation.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Karen Adkins

    This is a deeply practical book--Ron Leiber's goal here is to explain why college costs as much as it does, and to help parents and prospective students discern the big picture so that they can make financial choices that are appropriate to them. In other words, instead of writing in the sort of facile self-help mode offering misleading one-size-fits-all answers (Ten Steps to Collegiate Financial Freedom!), Leiber organizes the later chapters around the kinds of college experiences that can be v This is a deeply practical book--Ron Leiber's goal here is to explain why college costs as much as it does, and to help parents and prospective students discern the big picture so that they can make financial choices that are appropriate to them. In other words, instead of writing in the sort of facile self-help mode offering misleading one-size-fits-all answers (Ten Steps to Collegiate Financial Freedom!), Leiber organizes the later chapters around the kinds of college experiences that can be valuable and transformative, and explicitly writes to invite readers to think about where they position themselves among these competing needs (because all schools will not do all of these things well, and all students will not be equally drawn to each of these experiences). He's a sharp and crisp financial writer, so he's able to distill clarity from sometimes baroque financial language in ways that were perfectly clear to this humanist. His purpose, in other words, is to get people to think about college not just as a transactional investment (though it clearly is that), but as a transformative investment. Are there ways to make it more likely that students will get into, be able to afford, and most crucially be able to graduate without mind-blowing debt, from a university that provides them a meaningful education? I'm only giving this three stars mostly because it's so clear that his audience is more restrictive than the title suggests: it's clear that he is writing not just to middle-class or UMC parents with at least some leisure time to devote to this (a few chapters profile parents who went to astonishing lengths to qualify for remarkable merit aid packages from schools), but *white* parents, which seems a really problematic gap in an admirably diverse country. How do I know this? Because one of his chapters focuses on women's colleges--why they exist, the kind of educational value they can provide for students (with tradeoffs considered), that primarily focuses on the ways in which women can be transformed when all the leadership positions on campus are occupied by women. And yet, there's no comparable chapter on HBCUs or HSIs, when it's very clear (particularly with respect to HBCUs) that there's a similar sort of cohort and community effect (Kamala Harris and Ta-Nehisi Coates have each written beautifully about what walking onto the quad at Howard was like for them).

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    There's some helpful advice in here if you are new to thinking about selecting and paying for college. But I thought the book was a bit of a mess, teetering between policy analysis and self-help/how-to categories and not doing a great job at either (better at how-to than policy though). I kept feeling surprised by how insanely privileged some of the advice is, like how if you don't have enough income to save for your kid, ask your kids' grandparents to save for you! I felt like the author has no There's some helpful advice in here if you are new to thinking about selecting and paying for college. But I thought the book was a bit of a mess, teetering between policy analysis and self-help/how-to categories and not doing a great job at either (better at how-to than policy though). I kept feeling surprised by how insanely privileged some of the advice is, like how if you don't have enough income to save for your kid, ask your kids' grandparents to save for you! I felt like the author has no idea how people who aren't upper middle class might be approaching the questions that he raises so his advice struck me as simplistic a lot of the time (lots of low-income people have low-income parents!) Also, I was amazed that he devotes a chapter to Smith and women's colleges, but never says anything about HBCUs--I checked the index to see if I had missed something, but nope. Never talks about them even though the policy issues that he brings up in terms of gender and leadership at Smith are analogous to many similar issues in terms of race at HBCUs. I think when it comes to selecting a college, readers could be much better served by reading "Colleges that Change Lives", a book that he never references but clearly has read, rather than his occasional musings on the value of different types of programs. I guess I shouldn't be that surprised that ideas in this book seem underdeveloped: the author is a columnist and most of these chapters read like stand-alone columns, but it's kind of disappointing that when he has the space in a book to go a little deeper, he doesn't do so.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Kreps

    I'd recommend this to any parent hoping to send one or more of their kids to college. It didn't exactly lay out a step-by-step plan for how to fund college, but it did provide a lot of insight. Lieber definitely changed the way I was thinking about college. Some of my big takeaways from the book: * People go to college for different reasons. It's worth thinking about why your child wants to go to college and what you'd like them to get out of it. * Different types of schools provide vastly differ I'd recommend this to any parent hoping to send one or more of their kids to college. It didn't exactly lay out a step-by-step plan for how to fund college, but it did provide a lot of insight. Lieber definitely changed the way I was thinking about college. Some of my big takeaways from the book: * People go to college for different reasons. It's worth thinking about why your child wants to go to college and what you'd like them to get out of it. * Different types of schools provide vastly different learning environments. For example, if you want your child to learn from tenured professors rather than graduate students, that ought to factor into the choice. * Financial aid is completely different than when I went to college in the early 90s. Colleges and universities provide discounts that have nothing to do with financial need and cloak these discounts under the term "merit aid." This aid is used to attract the students these schools want. There is, of course, much more, but those are the three things that are top of mind right now. I plan to re-read this when my kids actually begin the work of selecting the college or university they want to attend.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    A must-read for anyone who plans to send a child to college. This book forces you to think about college as a value proposition and explains the different types of aid/discounts that are available. It explains the "business" of college from both the college and the student/consumer perspective, in broad terms as well as where to access detailed data. I have a high school junior, and I would suggest people read this well before I did. This is not a how-to-get-into college or where-to-apply book, b A must-read for anyone who plans to send a child to college. This book forces you to think about college as a value proposition and explains the different types of aid/discounts that are available. It explains the "business" of college from both the college and the student/consumer perspective, in broad terms as well as where to access detailed data. I have a high school junior, and I would suggest people read this well before I did. This is not a how-to-get-into college or where-to-apply book, but it explains one of the great mysteries of the entire process. For one thing, there is an entire category of potentially substantial aid (discounts) available on a non-need basis. Perhaps I was in the minority for failing to understand this, but I can't be the only one. It's important for families to have all this information as early as possible for financial planning purposes and merely to not go into the process blind. The writing is very conversational and accessible. I read the first 100 pages without taking a break, because I found it fascinating.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian Miller

    As the parent of 4 children not yet at college age, the admissions process in very daunting and somewhat scary. The thought of my child choosing a college they love, working their behind off to get in and then not really having any true idea of the price until the end makes the whole process a bit mystifying. This books brings to light everything to do with getting in to college with each chapter devoted to one aspect of the process. A well done book an almost a primer for any parent of a child As the parent of 4 children not yet at college age, the admissions process in very daunting and somewhat scary. The thought of my child choosing a college they love, working their behind off to get in and then not really having any true idea of the price until the end makes the whole process a bit mystifying. This books brings to light everything to do with getting in to college with each chapter devoted to one aspect of the process. A well done book an almost a primer for any parent of a child on the way to college. There is almost too much involved in the process to fully grasp. I plan on rereading this as each child gets close to the application stage as it has so much good information. Thank you Ron Lieber, Harper for the ARC for my honest review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    David

    Useful to look at at the price issue from the colleges’ perspective and to learn that the insane rise in costs is largely perception, it’s mainly a jump in the “rate card” meant to allow them to charge a lot to a few in order to subsidize the majority (with “merit” aid, which now simply means a discount to incentivize attendance when the published rate is knowingly too high, in addition to paying for financial aid). A few good pointers on what kinds of advantages come from different types of sch Useful to look at at the price issue from the colleges’ perspective and to learn that the insane rise in costs is largely perception, it’s mainly a jump in the “rate card” meant to allow them to charge a lot to a few in order to subsidize the majority (with “merit” aid, which now simply means a discount to incentivize attendance when the published rate is knowingly too high, in addition to paying for financial aid). A few good pointers on what kinds of advantages come from different types of schools, which mirrored a lot of my assumptions but backed it with interesting data/stats. Enjoyed it as a look under the hood of the college business model more than as a “how-to” guide for evaluating schools or financing options, though there’s a good list of resources for that.

  21. 4 out of 5

    MaryAnn Christman

    My youngest is a senior in high school and I wish I had had this book years ago. A lot of good information put out in an understandable way about college admission and how the financial aid system works. I liked that there were chapters on so many aspects of applying to colleges including community college vs. four year schools, the pros and cons of taking a gap year, merit aid vs. need based aid, different types of loans, saving for college and so much more. I learned a lot, highlighted things My youngest is a senior in high school and I wish I had had this book years ago. A lot of good information put out in an understandable way about college admission and how the financial aid system works. I liked that there were chapters on so many aspects of applying to colleges including community college vs. four year schools, the pros and cons of taking a gap year, merit aid vs. need based aid, different types of loans, saving for college and so much more. I learned a lot, highlighted things I wanted to go back to (for the first time ever), and recommend this to anyone with children who might ever possibly attend college.

  22. 5 out of 5

    froufrou

    I’ve always felt that it was my duty as a parent to educate these little people who the universe has entrusted us to love and guide. But having no framework for that from my own parents and not wanting to make the same mistakes I made as a teenager more than 30 years ago, I picked up this book. Reading it confirmed how very little I know about the college admissions process. It also confirmed that I actually had no plan for supporting our rising 9th grader in making these decisions, even though I’ve always felt that it was my duty as a parent to educate these little people who the universe has entrusted us to love and guide. But having no framework for that from my own parents and not wanting to make the same mistakes I made as a teenager more than 30 years ago, I picked up this book. Reading it confirmed how very little I know about the college admissions process. It also confirmed that I actually had no plan for supporting our rising 9th grader in making these decisions, even though I felt, quite strongly, like I had a plan? Egads! Glad that I stumbled on this book now. I’ll likely use it more as a reference guide over the next four years.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alix Mckee

    Well written and organized, I’ll be handing this one off to my partner and our high schooler in short order. I knew so little about how much modern undergraduate education costs, how financial aide is calculated and offered, and what the options are. This book gave me a good idea the general overview. Even better, it helped me think about what I hope for from an undergraduate institution. And it gave me questions to think about and then investigate when helping my child make these important deci Well written and organized, I’ll be handing this one off to my partner and our high schooler in short order. I knew so little about how much modern undergraduate education costs, how financial aide is calculated and offered, and what the options are. This book gave me a good idea the general overview. Even better, it helped me think about what I hope for from an undergraduate institution. And it gave me questions to think about and then investigate when helping my child make these important decisions. I would have appreciated another chapter focused on thinking about undergraduate degrees and costs in the context of fields where a graduate degree is required.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Diana

    I’m a high school counselor who advises juniors and seniors and their families about college. I read this book hoping for new perspectives and information, and finances are one of the most fraught pieces of the college application process. Although there were some interesting anecdotes from professionals who work in financial aid offices, overall I don’t think this book will be too useful fir families. There is A LOT of talk about figuring out value and how to determine whether a college is “wor I’m a high school counselor who advises juniors and seniors and their families about college. I read this book hoping for new perspectives and information, and finances are one of the most fraught pieces of the college application process. Although there were some interesting anecdotes from professionals who work in financial aid offices, overall I don’t think this book will be too useful fir families. There is A LOT of talk about figuring out value and how to determine whether a college is “worth” the cost, but the fact of the matter is for many families it doesn’t matter whether the college is “worth” it; the price simply isn’t feasible.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    For somebody who knows a lot about college admissions (me) and for somebody who spent a lot of time reading anything and everything on college admissions and higher ed (also me) and for somebody who spends a lot of time thinking about stuff, this was a smart, user-friendly, well-researched book. I wish it took more time to get into some of the nitty gritty on gender and race issues on college campuses and sort of an itemization of how colleges are approaching these issues and tough questions to a For somebody who knows a lot about college admissions (me) and for somebody who spent a lot of time reading anything and everything on college admissions and higher ed (also me) and for somebody who spends a lot of time thinking about stuff, this was a smart, user-friendly, well-researched book. I wish it took more time to get into some of the nitty gritty on gender and race issues on college campuses and sort of an itemization of how colleges are approaching these issues and tough questions to ask there.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Luke Gruber

    I heard the author talk about this book in a podcast and I found it incredibly intriguing. My kids are far from college, and the landscape will surely change, but I was fascinated at the changes that have already happened since I was choosing a school almost 15 years ago. If you have kids just starting high school, this book seems like mandatory reading. Helpful and insightful. The game is hard, and it truly is a game: trying to determine what you value and then find a school that fits that profi I heard the author talk about this book in a podcast and I found it incredibly intriguing. My kids are far from college, and the landscape will surely change, but I was fascinated at the changes that have already happened since I was choosing a school almost 15 years ago. If you have kids just starting high school, this book seems like mandatory reading. Helpful and insightful. The game is hard, and it truly is a game: trying to determine what you value and then find a school that fits that profile in a price range you can afford that will hopefully have positive ROI. Great book.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tisha

    A great resource to use as we prepare to send our children to college in the near future. It didn't offer any foolproof ways to cover college, but it did offer lots of good advice. I loved that it was written during the Pandemic so it is up-to-date and relevant right now. It provides lots of good questions to think about as you make the college decision. It talks about what things might be worth paying more for and what might not be depending on the individual student. It also talks a lot about A great resource to use as we prepare to send our children to college in the near future. It didn't offer any foolproof ways to cover college, but it did offer lots of good advice. I loved that it was written during the Pandemic so it is up-to-date and relevant right now. It provides lots of good questions to think about as you make the college decision. It talks about what things might be worth paying more for and what might not be depending on the individual student. It also talks a lot about how financial aid, grants, and merit aid/scholarships work.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bec Rindler

    This is a must read if you have a kid entering high school (or if you work in/are interested in the dynamics of higher ed). Many different ways to think about what makes the college experience valuable, how to assess it, where to get data, and how to work with your kid to figure out what's best for them. Big takeaways are that the college process has changed dramatically from 20 years ago, good high school grades are key to an affordable college experience, and most students benefit from a gap y This is a must read if you have a kid entering high school (or if you work in/are interested in the dynamics of higher ed). Many different ways to think about what makes the college experience valuable, how to assess it, where to get data, and how to work with your kid to figure out what's best for them. Big takeaways are that the college process has changed dramatically from 20 years ago, good high school grades are key to an affordable college experience, and most students benefit from a gap year.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bob Collins

    Good advice I thought the advice in this book was both sufficient and balanced in its look at the price we Americans pay fore a college education, the potential value of that education and some of the steps needed to keep costs down as much as possible. Recommend for those with children who will one day go to college. I also recommend you read this in their sophomore year of HS, if it is not to late. I read it as my daughter is in the application process, and I found value in the book, so don’t p Good advice I thought the advice in this book was both sufficient and balanced in its look at the price we Americans pay fore a college education, the potential value of that education and some of the steps needed to keep costs down as much as possible. Recommend for those with children who will one day go to college. I also recommend you read this in their sophomore year of HS, if it is not to late. I read it as my daughter is in the application process, and I found value in the book, so don’t pass it over if you don’t have much time until your child I’d off to college.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie

    So full of well-researched, helpful info that I probably dog-eared 40 pages to return to with spreadsheet in hand. And I appreciate the calm, reasonable tone — instead of inciting panic or encouraging guilt, Lieber reminds the reader about what’s important, and how to dig in and prioritize that. Do you have a kid, no matter how old, who has college ambitions? If so, read this. I wish I’d magically been able to read it earlier in my kids’ lives.

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