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How to Weigh Your College Options

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Weighing college offers

It’s that time of year. College admissions offices have been sending out offers of admission along with financial aid award packages. The long wait is over and it’s time to make a decision. Which college will your student attend?

Before committing, however, you should weigh your options. You would never purchase a home without determining its value, fit for your family, and location. The college decision should be approached in the same manner.

How to Choose the Right College

Once your student has looked at the colleges on their list that offered admission, here are seven steps to take before making a final choice.

1. Compare the financial differences.

College is expensive. If you’ve done your homework and discussed your college budget with your teen, it’s time to evaluate and compare the financial aid awards. The best colleges are using the new Financial Aid Shopping Sheet created by the U.S. Department of Education. This sheet breaks the award letter down into segments, including all the information you will need to evaluate the award. If the college doesn’t use this, you can print out your own copy and transfer the data they provide.

2. Discuss the decision with others.

Tap into your network of family and friends and encourage your student to take advantage of social media to connect with current students. There is great value in listening to other opinions, as long as they use the information for their own decision. If you know alumni, they are a great source of information as well.

3. Ask questions.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. The ball is in your student’s court and before they make the final decision, they should have all their questions answered. You are now the consumer and a potential customer. Colleges are more than helpful and would be happy to answer any and all questions.

4. Consider factors unrelated to the education.

Other factors might be the college location, family travel expenses to and from parent weekends and move in days, cultural influences off-campus, and extracurricular activities such as Greek Life and intramural sports. While these factors might not be the only aspect of the decision process, they are certainly things to consider.

5. Delve further into academics.

Once the offer of admission arrives, students should dig deeper into the specific programs offered and how the campus fosters those interests. If they are a music major or an acting major, are there opportunities to participate in performance art on campus? If your student is interested in stock trading, does the campus have a trading room? Along with the courses offered in their major, the college should encourage their interest by providing opportunities outside of the classroom.

6. Explore the campus

Don’t make a decision without taking a second look, especially if they didn’t look closely the first time around. Visit the campus again and talk to current students, attend some classes, explore the dorms, eat dinner in the student union, and if possible, spend the night. Getting to know a college is just like getting to know a person—you need to spend some time with them.

7. Make a pro/con list

Ask yourself:

  • What type of setting is best suited for your success: small classes or large lecture halls?
  • Does the college’s strength(s) match your own interests and goals?
  • Do you want a close-knit campus community or do you need room to spread out?
  • Are sports, Greek life, and tradition important to you? Does each school offer what you are interested in?
  • Location! Do you see yourself in a big city, suburban, or rural campus?
  • What kind of housing options will be available to you?
  • If you change your mind about your major, does the school offer “backup” fields of study that interest you?

Revisiting these questions can help you highlight the list of pros and cons helping to make your decision more clear. Once you have the list, do a side by side comparison.

Make an Informed College Choice

The offers of admission mean that for the first time in the college process, you and your student have the power to decide their fate. But with the freedom to choose also comes the responsibility to make an informed choice. The college choice is not only a large financial investment; it’s an investment in your student’s future.