As the college application season approaches, it’s important to remember one of the big reasons you want your child to attend college: Because of the opportunities for a better adult life that college provides. Whether that means career, intellectual, social, or another form of engagement and success, college is considered by many to be a key piece.

In order to ensure that future success, it’s important to avoid creating a situation that makes those goals difficult, if not impossible, to attain. I’m talking about large sums of student debt.

Here are some facts about student debt*:

  • 35% of households age 20-40 have student loan payments of at least $250/month
  • 71% of students graduating in 2012 had student debt
  • Among college graduates, 1 in 9 from public colleges and 1 in 11 from private colleges defaults on federal student loans. This means they will have extreme difficulty buying a home or even getting a car loan or reasonable interest rate on a credit card.
  • Perhaps most surprising, student debt hits across the economic spectrum. Although borrowing is highest among graduates from families in the lowest income quartile (77% graduate with debt), 50% of students from families in the highest income quartile graduated with student loan debt.
  • For the school year just ended, students attending Oregon colleges and their parents borrowed over $1.3 billion. And that’s just in the form of student loans; it does not include credit card balances or home equity or other types of loans.

So do yourself and your student a favor and look at your finances before you start looking at schools. Have a candid conversation about what each of you can pay and what you can reasonably borrow, and let that inform your school selection process. College should be a pathway to a better future, not a more difficult one.

* From Pew Research Center Baccalaureate and Beyond, National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, and The Oregonian’s analysis of federal student loan data (9/25/14)