Saturday, February 26, 2011

Does Your College Student Need a Car?

Here's something to think about before the next kid or the first kid goes off to college. Someone I know is all bent out of shape over a child needing a new car while a freshman. Unless the child is commuting from home to college each day, even owning a car while in college is an unnecessary expense. No, it’s a luxury. There is virtually nothing for which a college student needs a car. Commuting from an off-campus apartment to college each day does not require a personally owned vehicle. It requires two legs. Or bus fare, if the off-campus apartment isn’t within walking distance (dumb idea, that; students should live very near the college library).

We are raising a generation of spoiled little princelings, I fear, who get trapped early into the mistaken belief that they “have to” have a car even when their job for four or more years is simply to attend classes and do their course work. Aside from the privilege issue is the unhappy truth that we’re not doing our teenagers any favors by enuring them to the idea that a car is a must. A few years later, out in the adult world, the cost of car ownership can be prohibitive to a young person who only has a McJob for support, or who has a “real” job but only a starter salary. Or who cannot find a job at all. A car is something to which a young person might aspire, but the several thousand dollars a year it costs to own one (even not counting gas) is a burden that many of them are not able to carry on their own. If they accept parental aid to own a car, they prolong their childhood dependency, something neither parents nor children ideally should do.

My college had plenty of rich kids whose parents were well able to give them cars, even luxury cars. But the college had a rule of no cars until one had lasted through the freshman year. This was a sensible method of encouraging new students to fully enter into campus life and bond with other students rather than run away from the college experience to go shopping or whatever. A car is an isolator, and our current generation of pampered youngsters doesn’t need more isolators. Many of them never even shared a bedroom with a sibling in childhood, and they enter college ill-equipped to deal with a roommate. College students have plenty to think about and explore. They don’t need the additional burden of worrying if their car needs oil or is about to be towed.

If you’re teetering on the edge about whether your teenager needs a car at college, let the kid try the first year without one. It’s a bracing experience; it teaches responsibility, ingenuity, cooperation, and even learning how to cope with public transit to arrive at class on time, all skills that will be helpful in adult life. Also, if you’ve signed on to pay your child’s college expenses, a hiatus in paying for a car will be a welcome relief as well as financially sensible. In later college years, once your child masters being a student, having a car might enable him or her to intern or do part-time work, but neither are recommended for the first year. Try this. See how it goes.

1 comment:

Jacob Rodman said...

If you are buying a car for your college kid, treat it as if it's a pet. If the car is for them, it's their responsibility, and it's a big responsibility they have to handle. They have to pay for the gas and make sure they drive responsibly; and keep it well-maintained, etc...