Summer is the time of year when many families head out on college visits, looking to gather more information on schools that have caught their eye and get a feel for what it might be like to spend four years there (or more).
Here are a few things to think about that will help you make an informed choice, a choice based not just on a school’s name recognition and general reputation, or the quality of its football team or on-campus dining.
1: Rankings are not the most important thing
Going to the most prestigious school just isn’t always necessary. Whatever you read in U.S. News & World Report shouldn’t play a big role in your choice. Picking the school with the highest ranking is not a very tailored approach, and you could wind up overpaying or having your child spend four years somewhere that wasn’t a good fit for them in the end.
2: It needs to be a good fit
A Stanford study released a couple years ago concluded that a student’s success in college ends up largely based on what they do – on how well they engage in both learning and the campus community – once they land at whatever school they attend. (https://ed.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/challenge_success_white_paper_on_college_admissions_10.1.2018-reduced.pdf)
3: It’s about the school within the school: the department
There are tremendous differences in quality and approach among academic departments. Students should research the departments that interest them the most and find out if their approach to the subject matches their interests.
4: Consider predicted career success
Educate to Career, a nonprofit website (https://www.educatetocareer.org/), is a great source of information. You can type in the name of a college, pick a major, and see what the average beginning salary is for that major at that school. It will also tell you the most common occupations for graduates with that major. Note that the data comes primarily from government sources that data scientists have mined, not self-reported data from graduates.
You and your aspiring collegian need to ask yourselves: If the starting salaries for the same major are roughly the same between two schools, and one of those schools is significantly more expensive, is it worth the premium?
5: Look at the 4-year graduation rate
This is a good indicator of how well a school does at supporting students with well-structured schedules and curriculum, as we well as whether a school’s overall culture lends itself to finishing, and finishing on time. See College Results Online (http://www.collegeresults.org/).
6: Take a hard look at price
Find each school’s net price calculator. It’s easiest to Google the name of the school and “net price calculator,” because these calculators are sometimes hard to find on the school’s website. Have a serious conversation about whether you can afford the price and if it’s worth the cost.
CollegeBoard.com is a quick resource for finding prices.
We hope this short list of things to consider helps you and your children make the right choice with research and deliberation guided by data and facts, not just emotions.
If you have questions about college planning or would like to discuss different ways to save for and finance college, please email or give us a call. There are many options, whether you are starting to plan for a child who has just been born or one who is already in high school.