…because I’m an economist and a mom–that’s why!

Is a Princeton Education Worth the Price? I Hope So.

April 23rd, 2010 . by economistmom

A few weeks ago I posted on my daughter Allie’s college decision, and in particular the debate between going to in-state UVA and Ivy League Dartmouth.  That was before Allie got accepted into Princeton, and before she and her dad decided she would in fact accept her acceptance into Princeton.  It wasn’t exactly the careful weighing of costs versus benefits that I wanted to do with her before she made that decision, but I think it was more in keeping with how I once characterized how parents typically decide how to spend money on “investments” in their kids or how family members decide how to spend money on health care for their loved ones:  two questions, (1) is there any positive expected marginal benefit, and (2) can I come up with the money, somehow?  (not how does that marginal money/cost compare with that marginal benefit).

So for a couple days now I am here at Princeton with Allie for her “Princeton Preview” weekend, hoping to be constantly “WOWed” by everything Princeton has to offer, and hoping that come Sunday I will have decided that yes, the expected marginal benefit is high even relative to the (certain and high) marginal cost.  Oh, and I am also doing a lot of searching and begging for aid and any way to pay for it that we can find.  Because although our family is not considered “needy,” when it comes to the Princeton price tag, I still think we “need” a lot of help.  As the summer comes and the first bill due draws nearer, I’ll keep you posted on how we manage.

Meanwhile, I would love any Princeton alums to tell me all the wonderful ways in which your Princeton education clearly enhanced your lifetime income and any other “values” in your life.  Those who disagree, please keep quiet.  ;)

10 Responses to “Is a Princeton Education Worth the Price? I Hope So.”

  1. comment number 1 by: SteveinCH


    I went to grad school at Princeton (Woodrow Wilson). The school is beautiful. The professors teach. It’s nicely isolated but close enough to NY to allow people to experience fun stuff.

    I know less about the undergrad experience but the undergrads I encountered (admittedly a long time ago) seemed to really enjoy the place

    Congratulations to your daughter!!

  2. comment number 2 by: dave.s.

    “exasperating mix of nice quadrangles in Collegiate Gothic along with a number of other buildings of little distinction…”
    I am interested in what is happening for you, getting upsold a staggeringly expensive education - and looking ahead to our own kids and their college. Anecdote: the Dukakis girls went away to college and were asked about their experience, told a reporter how hugely interesting it had been to meet kids of their own age who were - REPUBLICANS. Your daughter will get late night dorm bull sessions with diplomat kids who grew up in Madrid and Athens and Bishkek, will get invited to visit homes in Plano and Spokane.
    You get to put a ‘Princeton’ decal on your back window, and make the neighbors crazy. It’s all good.

  3. comment number 3 by: SteveinCH

    Dave S

    For what it’s worth and despite your characterization, Princeton is politically more balanced than any other institution in the Ivy League with the exception maybe of Dartmouth, depending on how much balance you want. Small sample, but if you are going to go to a top 20 school, my impression (admittedly dated) from being there is it is among the more balanced places you can go in terms of breadth of and tolerance for different ideas.

    As to the cost benefit, who knows? The good news is we never see the counterfactual so I would assume all is for the best and soldier on.

  4. comment number 4 by: dave.s.

    Steve - I guess I was unclear. And I am not talking from knowledge, as our gracious host requested: my academic history is Merritt Jr College, Sonoma State, Berkeley, Harvard. I think I know something about the generality of Jr College, Directional State U, Flagship State U, and Ivy - but about Princeton in specific, nada. That said, I think the choice here is between Ivy and either Directional State (George Mason) or Flagship U (UVa, or VaTech), and Ivy is different. She will be spending an additional $40000 a year to go to Ivy rather than living at home and commuting to DSU. She’s going to get something for that - I think it can be an important something, and may be worth it - and that’s going to school with the children of senators and captains of industry and rich people and celebrities and the most academically successful minority kids they could pluck from their applications stream. And, late night bull sessions with them and interesting friendships.
    I think there is going to be less difference in the quality of the teachers than there’d have been 20-30 years ago, it’s hugely more difficult to get an academic job ANYWHERE than it used to be. And I think a Princeton transcript will get you an interview for a job/serious consideration of a grad school application where a DSU transcript may not.

  5. comment number 5 by: AMTbuff

    If Allie decides to start her career as a government employee, the Princeton badge and connections will help. In private industry, not as much, but it will still make a difference for the first few years out of school. However most private employers hiring advanced degree candidates only look seriously at the academic record in graduate school. Podunk undergrad to Princeton grad looks as good to them as Princeton all the way through, because they trust that the grad school has correctly evaluated and graded the student.

    In other words, once the grad school is willing to put its seal of approval on a student, earlier results are subsumed. However, attending Princeton as an undergrad cannot help but increase the probability of attaining that seal of approval from a top grad school.

  6. comment number 6 by: Meredith

    FWIW, I was accepted to Harvard, two specialized BS/MD combination programs at Univ. of Mich. and Northwestern Univ., but wait-listed at Princeton! I think I made the right decision by going to Univ. of Mich because of cost and the fact that I was already accepted to medical school which made undergrad loads of fun for me. If I had gone to an Ivy League, I would have actually had to study HARD. Particularly in medicine, I don’t feel that the Ivy League school would necessarily make a difference. That being said, I’ve always had a very vague strange feeling about turning down Harvard…it was difficult to do.

  7. comment number 7 by: Bill

    Our daughter graduated Princeton Class of 2005. The four years she spent there were a wonderful experience for her and for us as parents. We feel she received a terrific education in every way, with Princeton’s genuine emphasis on undergraduates and its universal thesis requirement. And my mother enjoyed the hell out of that rear window decal.

  8. comment number 8 by: dave.s.

    You have younger daughters, right? Have them do crew! “female athletes who play upper-class sports”

  9. comment number 9 by: agnana


    Congrats to your daughter. Speaking for myself, Princeton completely transformed my life. I met my spouse there, became a Christian, and found the profession in which I now work. So it’s shaped my whole life! The key thing about Princeton is that your daughter will be surrounded by a lot of bright, intellectually motivated kids. As someone who currently teaches at Princeton, it’s that basic attiitude towards learning that makes the difference- I can do more with my students than my wife can do with hers even though she is probably a better teacher. The thesis requirement is another thing that makes Princeton special, even compared with other Ivies- it pushes students to really engage a topic.

    In terms of career success it is harder to say. Many of my friends have had relatively unspectacular careers, especially if one looks at their lives monetarily. Almost unanimously, though, they are happy they went to Princeton. I think this illustrates one of the weaknesses of the economics approach.

    My daughter will be a classmate of yours. Good luck to you with the financing!


  10. comment number 10 by: BillyJean

    I can’t believe you even questioned its worth. In today’s day and age, a college education is of paramount importance. And if Princeton is the place your daughter sees herself and she was accepted, it shouldn’t even be a question. She should be packing her bags and you should be writing the check. For someone who claims to know economic issues, you should realize the returns on an investment in your child’s education are much greater than anything else. Good luck to your daughter.