Dear Harlan: I’m facing a tough choice. Like all high-school students, I need to decide on a university to spend the next four to five years (assuming I don’t transfer). I’m down to two choices: One is in my hometown and would require me to stay home while I’m there (I would rather not), but the tuition is free. At the other school, I would have to pay for tuition (minus housing). The second school is my dream school. I love my family, but I want to branch out and do things on my own. However, my parents would be the ones paying for my schooling, and it seems unfair to make them pay for it. If money were no object, of course I would go to my dream school – but free tuition cannot be ignored. Any advice on how to make the decision? — Torn
Dear Stuck: I appreciate how much you love your parents and family. You’re incredibly generous. It’s not the norm for an 18-year-old to be this self-aware. Just don’t let this distract you from following your dreams. It’s what your parents want. They can decide whether they’ll help you pay for college. It’s their choice. Instead of feeling guilty, you could just as easily look at your family’s investment and sacrifice as a source of inspiration. You could allow them to pay the first year of college and then plan to pay for the rest. You could go to your dream school and spend your time looking for other students who have figured out how to pay for college without accumulating debt. You could look for scholarships, part-time jobs that pay and leadership positions or jobs that pay. You could take classes over the summer and work to graduate early. You can forge a path that will show family members and high-school grads how to live their dreams and not go broke. You can make this work, but there’s more to this answer: I’m guessing you’re scared about what’s next. See, if your parents invest in you, and the family feels the strain of your education, you will need to be successful. And that’s scary for anyone. Here’s my advice: Stop thinking about this in terms of four years. Think about this as a one-year challenge. Go to your dream school for one year. Make part of living your dream figuring out how to pay for college so your parents don’t feel the strain. Dedicate your year to finding resources. Make this an obsession. Start finding people like you who paid for college. Talk to seniors who are going to graduate and ask them about their financial story. Talk to the financial aid department about how students pay for college. Talk to the dean of your major and ask the same questions. There could be department scholarships or new opportunities. You might discover your college has a program that can help you graduate in three years. I know Purdue University launched a three-year liberal arts degree program. Spend the next year investing in yourself and meeting people who can help. Regardless of how much money you find, you’ll meet amazing people and build new relationships. People will see you as someone who is focused, motivated and passionate. You will be successful no matter what. Your parents believe in you. You just need to continue believing in yourself. You can live your dream and pay for it, too.