The time for the “big decision” for high school seniors is quickly approaching. For those who have been accepted to more than one college, it will soon be time to make the final choice.
Now is a good time to visit or re-visit the campuses and surrounding areas of the colleges you are considering. It is time to ask and get answers to any final questions. Here are some things to consider:
- Academics – Review the core curriculum courses and the required and available courses in likely majors and minors. Consider class size; opportunities for internships, research, a senior project, and travel abroad; accessibility to professors, and support in finding a job and/or graduate school when you finish your undergraduate studies.
- Social – Consider school environment (e.g., location, size, weather, distance from home), as well as your social, political, extra-curricular and religious needs.
- Financial – Know how much tuition, room and board, books, travel, and miscellaneous expenses will cost. Make sure you understand your financial aid package, including how much you will need to pay back each month on loans and how long it will take you to pay back those loans.
What other tips would you give high school seniors faced with the big decision?
Parents worry about how much college will cost and how they will afford college. Other than purchasing a home, college is usually the largest investment a family will make. Hopefully, families have been saving for college from the time their children were small. But with four years of college costing as much as a quarter of a million dollars, family savings are typically not enough.
A common misconception that parents have is that their financial salvation will come in the form of private scholarships. Private scholarships make up only 6% of all scholarships.
The biggest source of aid is through the colleges. Families can save thousands of dollars by selecting the right colleges. Some parents might jump to the wrong conclusion when reading this. They might think that this means their child needs to attend a college with a low sticker price. Colleges, however, are like airplanes. Different people are paying different amounts for the same service. Surprisingly, private colleges may be less expensive than a public in-state college.
Students need to select colleges that fit them financially, as well as academically and socially. The junior year of high school is a great time to begin the college selection process. If you are a rising senior, and haven’t considered the following financial questions, try to address them now.
On the financial side, you need to know:
- How much money has been saved for college?
- How much need-based aid do you qualify for?
- Which colleges meet a high percent of need?
- Which colleges meet the need primarily with grants, instead of loans and work/study?
- How much merit aid do you qualify for?
- How many years will it take to graduate? (Students will want to check the 4-year, 5-year and 6-year graduation rates at the colleges they are considering.)
- How much money is the most the student should borrow?
- How much money is the most the parents should borrow?
Some families, without the money to pay the college sticker price, ignore these issues and stick their heads in the sand. I don’t recommend that since the family may run out of money before college is completed or the student/family may be saddled with incredible debt for years to come.
Other families invest significant time to research these issues. Some families hire an independent college admissions professional like me, who understands these issues and the available resources, saving the family money and preventing the family from taking on too much debt.
What has your experience been? What questions do you have?