My parents paid for my college and were happy to do it, but after talking to them I'm resolved not to do the same for my kids

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  • My incredibly generous parents paid my full college tuition, and they insist they don't regret it.
  • However, I didn't realize until speaking to them about it recently that to pay $200,000 for 10 semesters, they refinanced their mortgage, put their retirement savings on hold, and my mom got a job.
  • Not paying for my own undergrad degree has become one of my biggest financial regrets.
  • Because I didn't pay for even a portion of it, I didn't value school like I should have. I slacked off, my grades dropped, and I didn't go to class.
  • When I went to grad school, which I paid for, I valued it much more: I was a good student who loved my program, and I understood what it cost me to be there.
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Growing up, we often visited the campus of my dad's alma mater and held alumni retreats at our house. The family joke is that my dad used to lean over my crib and whisper, "You will go to Wheaton College someday."

And he was right. In the fall of 2003, I packed my bags and started college three hours away at my dream college in Wheaton, Illinois. My parents paid all of my costs, so for me, it was completely free.

Because I didn't pay for college, I valued it less

Since I wasn't in charge of paying for my education, I didn't have a care in the world. That's why, almost immediately, I spent more time with new friends than I did studying or attending class. I dedicated myself solely to social extra-curriculars. Predictably, my grades tanked.

I also went through a bit of an identity crisis, because in addition to being away from home for the first time in my life, I transformed from an A and B student in high school to a C and D student in college. Plus, I gained twice the freshman 15.

It was an emotional and confusing year.

Read more: How to choose a student loan to get the money you need for college or grad school

I firmly believe that if I'd paid for my education, I would have been a great student, stayed in shape, and had a healthier relationship with food. I know this is true because when I went to graduate school, I paid for every penny and was a far better student. Plus, I loved it.

It cost my parents more than $200,000 to send me to school

To prepare for this article, I interviewed my parents about what it was like paying for my education … and I'm still trying to wipe the look of disbelief off my face.

They spent an outrageous amount of money on me per semester: $21,000, or $42,000 per year. Even worse, they paid for 10 semesters, adding up to $210,000 total by the time I graduated with a 2.5 GPA for a communications degree.

I took longer to graduate because I switched from a business major during my junior year - hence why I spent two additional semesters earning my communications major. For one of those extra semesters, I took summer school and my tenth semester was spent working a newspaper internship since it was my last requirement to graduate. In other words, my parents spent $21,000 so I could complete an unpaid internship.

That said, I'd say the biggest culprits of my extended year were procrastination and flakiness, which I deeply regret and feel guilty about. I rarely did homework. I slacked off in class … if I even went. I pulled all-nighters to complete projects, which resulted in dozing off in class.

My parents don't regret paying for my college

I already knew my parents were saintly, but in talking with them, I learned how much they put me first. For one thing, they refinanced their mortgage in order to fund my college experience, and they put retirement and regular savings on hold while I was away at college.

It also became clear how good they are at financial management. They never took out any loans and they always paid for my tuition on time - which means they avoided building interest altogether.

My dad is a doctor and my mom was a homemaker. However, to help pay for college, she became a realtor. Until our recent conversation, I never fully appreciated or even realized her sacrifice.

Read more: American parents are putting college savings ahead of retirement - exactly the trap experts warn against

But I think they should have made me pay for college; as far as I'm concerned, not doing that was a mistake. Even a small portion would likely have changed my priorities. And until I figured out what I wanted for a career, I also should have gone to community college.

In the sweetest of ways, they don't see it like that. As my dad put it, "I do not regret paying your college tuition because we knew education was important and we committed to it when you were a little girl." Despite their lack of regret, they admit that I should have worked in high school and college to help contribute - and wished I would have better utilized their investment.

If there is a redemption story, it's that I got a job in the field I studied for. I used my communications degree to go into the publishing field, which I know helps ease their mind.

Why I won't give my kids a free ride to college

If I'd made a financial investment in my college education, I really think I would have studied hard and stayed in shape.

My parents' parting wisdom was that my kids should work, or even better, run their own business - perhaps selling things on Amazon. And I agree: My future kids will work by the time they're in high school.

My parents meant well, and I will never be able to repay them in gratitude or capital. However, when I'm a mom, my kids will pay for at least half their education, get scholarships, and consider community college.

They'll learn to value college more than I ever did.

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