As a graduate of one small college (1,000 students in a town of 10,500) and…
Congratulations! You’ve gotten your first (few) college acceptance letters. There are likely more to come. You should feel great about your college accepts. (And, frankly, you should get over any rejections that you may have received—really! There are happy lessons to be learned from your rejections, truly! Watch for my blog on that topic). Right now, it is all about how to compare your choices. Now, the ball is back in your court so you still have work to do!
How to Compare Your Choices
This is a good time to compare the value of each college. Not every college can be evaluated on its “face value”. We advise that you take the time to dig deeper and research more about your college options. You need to research more about your financials, the academics, and particularly the culture of each college. Read on to learn how.
The Real Academic Culture
Have you visited the college in-person (preferably with your parent)? Did your visit include seeing your academic department, the student center, library, a residence hall and cafeteria. If you haven’t seen all of these, then you’ll want to visit again.
Did you visit with a faculty member in your academic department (if you are undecided, then a visit with your so-far favorite subject). Preferably, you’ve actually visited with the department chairperson. You should have a strong sense of “I want to study here and be a part of this department; this professor seems so enthused about my major; I can hardly wait to attend classes!”
Visit with several students who attend (or very recently graduated). These people could be from your high school, students you met and talked with for more than 5 minutes on your visit (but NOT the tour guide), some students you’ve talked with over the phone who are in your major, someone from another high school in your region.
The True Financials of Each College
You want to know ALL the costs associated with your attendance at this college for the next 4 years (and you also want to become familiar with costs for a 5th year, just to keep you motivated if not for planning purposes!). Check out:
Are you guaranteed the same tuition for all 4 years? Some colleges flash this everywhere and some are surprisingly quiet about this great benefit. What is the increase in costs each year.
Even if tuition is frozen, do fees increase each year? What are the additional costs for your major (common with engineering and pharmacy for example).
What are the conditions of your scholarship? Will it stay the same each year? What GPA must you maintain?
What is the cost of Study Abroad or Study Away and will your scholarships be applied to this experience?
Is there an additional cost (tuition or housing) for January Term or May Term?
When you decide to move off campus, what are the typical costs? What do nearby landlords include in the rent? What are the costs related to transportation to and from campus? Internet, utilities, parking?
A Financial Reality Check
Until now, all the pressure has likely been on your application. If your family planned to submit the FAFSA and CSS Profile, they would have done so by now. Now it’s time for a financial reality check. Sit down with your parents and ask them what they actually will be contributing to your education. It is better to know the news—good or bad—before you get too emotionally invested in your top choices. Of course, the finances will likely be a major factor.
Be Sure You are Informed
Get Help to Be Sure
Many families are confused by the different ways in which colleges present their financial awards. And, many families are unaware of their options, particularly in affordable loans. We at My College Planning Team specialize in helping families learn their options. If you would like to meet with us for an informative consultation, connect with us online.
The Real Social Culture
Understanding the true social culture of your college choices is really, really important. Far too many students end up leaving their college after their first year because they did not seriously consider and compare the social culture. This topic is so important that I will post my advice on a separate blog. Watch for it, or find it at My College Planning Team website.