To help ensure that you and your children make clearly focused decisions, you can use the information that follows to rank your choices. Some of you may want to use a five point scale to rate each college on items 4 – 11. In that way, parents and students can more easily compare colleges on individual items and total scores. You can even add items, if that would be helpful. However, the first three items on this list should be fully discussed and agreed upon long before you begin to look at colleges.
1. Evaluate Your Financial Position – How many children do you have? How much money can you afford for each child’s college education? Is the student able and willing to obtain a part-time job? What is the likelihood that your student will receive a significant amount of grant and merit scholarship money? Is the student willing to take on one or more student loans? As parents, are you willing to take on one or more loans to help pay for college?
2. Consider Cost Reduction Alternatives – Since money is a concern for most parents, students should consider community colleges and lower cost four year colleges. However, be sure to check out the ratings and reputations of those colleges. It pays to attend a college that has a good reputation. Then, if you obtain good grades, you may be able to transfer to a higher ranked, four year college. Don’t ignore the savings that can be gained by attending a local college and living at home. Does the student need a car? Should the student attend college on a part-time, pay as you go basis? Explore the alternatives to determine which one is best for you.
3. Rate Your Student’s High School Performance – Be honest. What is the quality of the high school your child has attended? The best colleges will take this into consideration. Carefully evaluate your student’s high school performance, including the following: academic achievement, leadership roles, participation and performance in school activities, community involvement and service, part-time work, critical life experiences, obstacles that were overcome and outstanding achievements. In what areas has your student been recognized by others for having achieved excellence? What is the likelihood that your student will excel in college?
4. Financial Aid – First, you should be interested in Grants and Scholarships, not loans. How
much money is each college willing to offer your child? Is there enough difference between the offers to influence the student’s college choice? Qualified students should begin to investigate local and national scholarships and grant money early in their junior year of high school. After all possible grants and scholarships have been investigated, look at other options including work-study programs, part-time jobs and loans. Since student loans come in all shapes and sizes, both students and parents should carefully consider each loan option. Obviously, some loans are more repayment friendly than others. Make certain that you fully understand all loan requirements before you commit. Also understand that you may be repaying those college loans for more than twenty years.
5. College Ratings – Most colleges have an international, national, state or local reputation. What are the reputations of the colleges to which your student will be applying? Are any of the colleges known for the field that your student plans to enter? Colleges with a the best reputations can be helpful when it’s time to look for a job.
6. Career Services – Does the Career Services office have enough employees to provide personal assistance, classes and training for every student, or do they merely provide information on their web site? Do they provide students with assistance in every aspect of the job search: A Goal, A Plan, Assessment Instruments, Research, Networking, The Resume, Interviewing, References and more? Can they help students with internships, part-time and summer jobs? Can they steer students to alumni who are already working in their field of interest?
7. Job Placement Statistics – Colleges are very clever with the statistics they present. Many colleges state that 95% or more of their students are employed within six months of graduation. However, those numbers don’t tell you how many students are working in their field of interest and if they are earning a living wage. Are graduates forced to live at home because they can’t afford to live independently and still pay off their college loans? Before selecting a college, students should find out how many employers, in their field of interest, actually come to that campus to recruit students. How many students, in that field, received job offers as the result of campus interviews? What were the titles of the jobs they were offered? How much did they pay? Where were they located? Parents and students have a vested interest in these answers.
8. Campus Safety & Security – Every college has safety and security issues. What are the statistics for the past four years? Ask about Murders, Rapes, Assaults, Stalking, Thefts and Intruders. What prevention measures are in place? With regard to major security events, what is the college’s track record and ability to immediately communicate with students about lock downs? How does the college handle Contagious Health Issues – Meningitis, etc.? Are you satisfied with the way each college has handled such problems? Be sure to ask about and investigate dorm security. Talk with current students about these issues.
9. Counseling Services – What counseling services are offered? Which of the counseling services is your student most likely to need? Students often seek counseling for anxiety, depression, eating disorders, drugs, drinking, academic performance and career issues. How comprehensive are these services? How frequently has each service been used by students in past years? What are the success rates?
10. Parent Association – Which colleges have a Parent Association? If they have one, you will be able to talk with other parents about any issues that concern you. Make a judgment whether each college is parent and family friendly. You will find that some are interested in parent opinions, suggestions and involvement, while others are not. Some colleges only want your tuition payments and annual donations.
11. Campus Activities – When students have a special interest, make certain that the colleges under consideration provide the student with an opportunity to participate. Other students may prefer colleges with a broad array of activities, so they can explore their options and test their skills.
As you get down to the four or five colleges that hold the most interest, are appropriate for the student’s qualifications and meet your personal financial requirements, the application process can begin. Many students apply a strategy to help ensure acceptance at colleges that fit their needs and wants. They apply to one or two colleges they consider to be a stretch, two or three in which they are confident of acceptance and one or two that they consider to be a slam dunk. This is an excellent strategy to consider, since the competition at high quality, lower cost colleges will always be stiff. Keep in mind that some colleges accept as few as 20% of their applicants.
When parents perform well during this process, they will have helped their children to gather and evaluate important college information, explore the alternatives, focus on the things that will enable students to find success and teach their children how to make sound and informed decisions. However, once the choices are reduced to the two or three most suitable colleges, the final selection should be left to the student.