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Searching for the Right College or University?

“How To Find The Right College Or University

For Your Child…And His/Her Interests”

Dear Parent,

We are pleased in this month’s newsletter to focus on something that counts among the most exciting parts of the college preparation process. Yes, it is actually true – not ALL of the preparation for college is stressful! In fact, if you work with a good college funding advisor it can become an exciting and inspiring time, indeed.

With this in mind, we are pleased to provide you this month with some of our most valuable and helpful tips for selecting the optimal college or university for your child’s higher education experience. We have seen, through years of experience in the college application and funding processes, that many families seem to get a bit bogged down in what can become a highly competitive process, in a number ways.

It can be very easy for some students (and their parents) to focus in on such things as college rankings by news magazines, or the most competitive institutions, or even the old (and resoundingly ridiculous) debate regarding the inherent value of public and private schools. We are here to urge parents and high school students to make their college application decisions based on the things that truly matter… and also to be prepared both academically and financially, so that the best options available for a rising college freshman do not exceed the college budget!

There are some things that are undeniably important for the selection of a future alma mater – and then there are some other things that might seem important at the outset, but really matter very little in the long run. In addition, some of the things that might seem to influence a college decision in the early stages can actually turn out to lead a student away from his or her ideal program of study.

With that in mind, please review these important topics both now and as the time comes to decide on a college. They are important, and we see this each and every year in our work as college funding professionals – and remember that the selection of an application list (not to mention where your son or daughter actually attends school) are among the most important part of your family’s college preparation experience.


Selecting The Right Kind of College

Finding the right college can seem overwhelming at first, but breaking down the criteria according to your child’s interests and strengths can make the task completely doable. One of the first criteria to consider is the type of college. Along with thousands of colleges and universities, there are also currently around 1,500 junior/community colleges in the United States, so there is certainly not a lack of options! A lot of the options will be determined, of course, by how well your child performed in high school, on entrance exams like the SAT or ACT, and other variables. Colleges and universities have the cachet and offer excellent training, but there are some instances where a good junior or community college can work out well for a student – while allowing him/her to complete core credits that will transfer to many 4-year institutions later.

At the 4-year school level, there are also decisions between liberal arts schools, specialized institutes, full universities, arts conservatories, and technological institutions. With that in mind, some vital questions to consider will be:

1. Does my child want to go to a four-year or a two-year college?
Now, if your child wants to only go to a 2-year college or community college, or begin there and continue at a 4-year school afterward, then they should understand that they will receive an associate’s (2-year) degree. At a four-year college, they will receive a bachelor’s (4-year) degree. Depending on what their plans are for after college, they should consider what will be most useful and marketable when they plan to enter the workforce. In general, of course, graduates with well-planned out careers will make more with a higher degree.

2. Does my child have special talents or interests influencing his/her college selection?
As seen above in the listing of different types of 4-year schools, there are options for kids who are gifted in a variety of fields, from the sciences to the arts and almost everywhere in between. Because of this, it is important to see where your child sees his/her future career, and to determine the best possible location for him/her to pursue a higher education to achieve these goals.

3. Does my child want to go to a private or a public college?
As we have noted above, this is often a moot point, even though the private college or public college decision is a difficult choice for many. Many parents and students rule private colleges out immediately out of hand because they believe them to be far more expensive than public colleges. However, this is not always the case. Many private colleges actually provide a great deal more aid than public ones due to their private funding and support from generous alumni, etc.

For this reason, it is important to do your homework and not necessarily exclude private colleges simply because of ‘sticker shock.’ Private colleges have the reputation of being more selective, as well. This is also not the case across the board. It really depends on the school and one shouldn’t limit their possibilities based on faulty assumptions. For this reason, it is important to look at the education being offered, and get a full story on the actual cost of attendance for each school – whether public or private. Remember also that your college funding advisor can help you get a complete breakdown of these actual costs.

Do NOT Underestimate The Location!

Location is a major consideration for many incoming students – and for their parents, as well. In fact, many students and their families may find that it is one of their main considerations. If this is the case, it does offer an easy way to narrow down options for colleges.

There are several things to consider when choosing a college location:

1. Does my child like an urban setting?
An urban setting can be a wonderful college experience for many reasons. If your child has an interest in culture, urban colleges offer a variety of cultural opportunities. There are many museums, theatres, orchestras, and galleries that can offer inspiration to any budding artist. Most colleges set in cities are spread out throughout the city so often the city is the campus. This can be exciting to students who like to experience the busy pace and offerings only found in a city environment.

2. Does my child prefer a suburban setting?
A suburban setting can be nearly ideal. It is usually close to a major metropolitan city, but not directly in it. There is access to outdoor activities and also opportunities to get to the city for other events. These colleges are usually self-contained which is nice for students who prefer to have a feeling of community within the college.

3. Does my child like to stay in a rural environment?
Rural colleges can provide a terrific college life for the incoming student. These campuses are often self-contained so one really gets a ‘feel’ of what the community and college feel like. If your child has an interest in agriculture, a rural college may be just the place for him or her. Outdoor activities are plentiful in rural colleges so if your child has a passion for the outdoors then a rural setting may be a good choice.

Choosing What to Study

Choosing a major is very important because it determines what your child’s primary educational focus will be. The nice thing to know is that there is (usually) no immediate rush to choose a major. Many incoming students believe that they need to have their major chosen prior to entering college. It’s simply not true! One can even change his or her major midstream if the need arises, although this can add to the length of study in many cases.

However, if your child needs some guidance to get started on thinking of his or her major, here are some questions to consider:

1. What are your child’s favorite subjects in school?
Does your child have a blast in math class? Does physics come easily to him or her? These are just some questions to mull over while your child is deciding on what major(s) to choose college. The classes where they show the most aptitude may also be ones they might want to pursue in college. If their aptitude and enthusiasm for the subject are aligned then moving in that direction for a major seems absolutely the right choice.

2. Does your child have an interest in different subjects?
The nice thing about college is that one does not have to focus entirely on one area. One can double major or do a major and a minor in two different areas. This is a great option for those students who have strong interests in different fields.

Bearing these topics in mind as the high school years pass, and as your student begins to consider and research different colleges and universities, can help to make the process significantly less stressful. Looking at the things that really matter, and focusing on how to prepare your child to succeed at the next level, will also help to keep a lot of the background noise to a minimum. If you ever find that you are in need of insights or assistance along these lines, please remember that we as college funding and application experts not only will have proper answers, but we are always willing to help!

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Until next month,