3 Tips To Picking The Right College

To all you high school seniors with a stack of college acceptance letters – congratulations!  Today is the big day – decision day!  Here are 3 tips to picking the right college.

My First Choice Didn't Accept Me

Trust that things happen for a reason.  What made your first choice your first choice?  Are all your friends going there?  Is it a top-tier university?  Is it the location?  Sometimes the reason a college ranks first in your mind might not be the best reason.  Remember, the purpose of picking the right college is to get an education and training that leads to a career path.  Carefully review the other schools that said “welcome, we want YOU!”  Which ones have a curriculum that has a close match to your career goals?  Next, look at the demographics (location, size).  Finally, the overall “vibe” you picked up when you toured the campus.  Education is attained by a combination of effort and opportunity.

How Do I Pay For College

Ah, the money question!  This is as good a time as any to sit down with the folks financially responsible for you and find out who is paying for what.  You need to know if a college budget has been determined and how much of it will be borrowed, and how much is available in cash.  Studies have shown most American families say they cannot afford the cost of college.  According to a recent survey published by Think Advisor, 83% of Americans say they cannot afford to pay for college.  So, not only is paying for college a big challenge, having an honest, in-depth conversation about what is affordable is even more difficult for most families.  Finding a way to make college affordable is a key component to picking the right college.

Understand Your Award Package

Now that you have your acceptance letters and award packages in hand, it is time to crunch some numbers.  If you have questions about the package, make an appointment (either in person or by phone) with the Financial Aid office.  Here is a sample of a typical package:

University of Sample Award Package

  • Cost of Attendance (room, board) for first year:  $40,000
  • Stafford Loan (subsidized and unsubsidized combined) $5,500picking the right college
  • Work Study (campus job) $2,000
  • Scholarship $5,000
  • Parent PLUS Loan $27,500

Does it look like your expenses are covered?  It is essential you understand the components of the package:

  1. Stafford Loans are in the student's name.  They will need to be paid back after graduation or when you stop going to college, whichever comes first.
  2. Work Study is money set aside for the student that they earn by getting a job on campus.  It does not have to be paid back.
  3. Scholarships are normally awarded for merit.  You need to find out the rules for maintaining the award.
  4. Parent PLUS Loan is a government loan taken out by the parents (or persons financially responsible for the student).  It has to be paid back and the terms vary.

It is important to know which components of the package are renewable so you understand the potential cost of the degree program.  Some schools will offer a more generous package in the first year to encourage a student to choose them.  Remember, universities are a business, and the student (and family) their customer.  If a school offers a package that is a lot more generous than the others, usually it means they feel strongly the student is a great fit and will succeed.  Even though the student might not feel it, take affordability into serious consideration.  Think of how much less stress  the family will feel if college is made affordable!  If a student gives the college a shot and it doesn't work out, they can always apply to transfer to another choice.  If it does work out, everyone benefits by a generous package!

This is an important, exciting milestone for students and their families.  Need more answers?  This is probably a good opportunity to meet with an advisor that understands the process.  Ask the professional what experience they have dissecting Financial Aid packages and helping families determine an affordable budget.  Paying for an hour or two of their time might save you a lot of angst and give you confidence you are moving in the right direction.  Best of luck as you go through the process of picking the right college!

 

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