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Published: Jan 28, 2021 15 min read
What Parents Need to Know About Paying for College Now (or in a Decade)
Money; Shutterstock

Here’s a scary math problem. If you wanted to prepare for the full cost of a private college for your future child, how much would you need to start socking away each month?

At least $1,000, assuming the sticker prices of the most selective private colleges remain steady, for a grand total of $300,000 in today's dollars.

That mind-boggling figure has a starring role in The Price You Pay for College: An Entirely New Road Map for the Biggest Financial Decision Your Family Will Ever Make, a new book from Ron Lieber, personal finance columnist at The New York Times.

Of course, very few families ever end up paying that $300,000-plus bill in full. That’s one of the first things you learn in Lieber’s book. But even when attending a state school or receiving scholarships to discount the cost of a private college, you’re still likely looking at six-figure bill. What are you actually paying for? And when is it worth paying more for one college than another?

That’s what Lieber set out to learn and now, teach you. Part self-help book, normalizing what an emotional process this can be for parents, and part step-by-step guide, the book will leave you with a (long) list of questions. The goal is to help you determine what price is right for you and your child. Money talked with Lieber about college savings, merit aid and how to talk to your teen about what you can afford.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.