Do you get what you pay for?

Senior families, as you weigh the costs of your college options, here’s a benchmark to avoid: “You get what you pay for.” That might be true when you’re choosing a television, a new roof, or a seat on an airplane. But it just doesn’t hold up when you’re choosing a college.

Almost every purported benefit of any college is only worth the degree to which a student avails themselves of that benefit.

Small classes can lead to a lot of personal attention and interaction with professors, but only if the student wants and takes advantage of that opportunity.

Six Nobel Prize-winning professors on campus? Great. How do you plan to make that benefit a benefit to you?

Great snowboarding, a top engineering program, a wide range of study abroad options, deep pre-med advising, a socially conscious student body, a brand new gym on campus, a city with virtually unlimited internship opportunities, etc.—each is like an item on a menu. It’s available for you to order and enjoy, but none are served up and force-fed to you. Choose the school that offers an appealing menu, then order and enjoy accordingly.

It’s up to each student and parent to decide together if the offerings at any college justify the price. Many students who attend expensive schools rave about the experiences. But they don’t do so more effusively than those who attend the more moderately priced options. College is an investment that should be carefully considered. But price doesn’t perfectly correlate to quality for good reason—you get to drive the value of your own returns.

With college, you don’t necessarily get what you pay for. You get what you make of what you pay for.