Our daughter has wanted to be a musical theater performer since she was five. We’ve done all we know how to help her reach her dream and send her to college for acting.
In researching schools, we found no colleges with a musical theater major nearby, so we pursued other alternatives.
Applications were sent and audition season came. We drove her to different schools to do in-person auditions – submitting video auditions to the schools we couldn’t get to. The acceptance, rejection and wait-list letters came soon after. She was accepted into the musical theater program at four schools – three in Manhattan and one state school! We were all ecstatic.
Then we got the financial aid letters … with those in hand we were forced to make a decision. We sat down as a family and arrived at one conclusion: Our daughter would not be going to college.
The decision was by no means easy. It sent each of us into a funk of depression for days. We were the first in our families to graduate with Bachelor’s degrees (and only one of our parents graduated high school). My husband and I had put ourselves through college with student loans and grants. We assumed our daughter would take out loans too. It’s what every student does, right?
We knew what our Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) would be according to the FAFSA, so our biggest concern was getting her into a college for musical theater. We weren’t prepared to be blindsided by the line item on the financial aid form that read, Parent Contribution: $35,000 ($20,000 for the cheapest state school). That’s per year. For four years. This was double what the FAFSA listed as our EFC (which was still more than we could really afford). All this was in addition to the $5,500 a year in loans that our daughter was expected to take out.
At the end of her four-year college journey, our daughter would owe $22,000 (the combined student loans my husband and I took out in the 1980’s), and we would owe between $80,000 and $140,000.
For one child’s education we would be struggling to pay off a debt greater than the mortgage on our home AND have to figure out what do when our younger child graduates four years later!
We’re also very much aware that getting a BFA in musical theater is no guarantee of work. We have a family friend who has been on Broadway in two Tony award winning shows, her college degree has nothing to do with what she does on stage. We have another family friend with a BFA in musical theater from a big name school who has significant debt and still lives at home at 30 years old with no history of professional, paid performance work.
This week we sat down with our daughter and asked her what her goals were. The wisenheimer replied, “to sit behind a desk and be bored the rest of my life?” Then, with a sly smile, she said, “to perform.”
To perform. Not necessarily go to college.
We told her, as long as we’re not in debt, we can help her further her career. If she goes to college, we won’t be able to help her after graduation, so we made this offer instead – what if we continued her performance education – dance, voice and acting classes – and let her audition? We would pay for her to travel to auditions in major cities in the northeast. If, after a year or two, she wants to continue to audition – great. I’m pretty sure none of this will come close to $20,000/year.
Through this approach, we can help establish a foundation for her performance career until she finds a survival job that will allow her to do it herself- no student loans required. If she decides that audition life is not for her, she can then decide on her next step- perhaps going to local community college.
All of this becomes possible when we don’t have massive debt hanging over our heads.
People think we’re nuts. How could we not fork over whatever amount it takes to send her to school? Isn’t a college degree the most important thing?
We once thought so – then we started talking with colleagues and found what they were giving up to cover the cost of tuition.
OK, folks, THAT’S nuts. We have decent credit and could get the loans we needed…but at what cost?
Right now, we could have our house paid off by the time we’re 65. If we took on what would be equal to additional mortgage payment, we would not be able to retire until we’re 80. EIGHTY. And that’s if both of us live that long. What happens to the surviving spouse? Or if one of us gets too ill to work? Parent Plus loans can’t be forgiven. I just started hearing stories of Social Security garnishment in order to repay Parent Plus loans!
We were the first in our families to get college degrees, the son and daughter of factory workers who wanted a better future for their kids- but we’re not willing to become entirely removed from our financial reality to do that, even if it means rethinking how we support our daughter’s dream.
If you ever see the name Kathleen Meyer in your Playbill, know that she got there via musical theater training, not through a debt inducing college education.