Decision Day (May 1st) is almost here and with acceptances and financial aid packages in hand, it’s time for many high school seniors to make their final college decision. Choosing where they will go to college is a critical decision. As parents, it’s important to give guidance and support to help them make the best college decision. Some may feel this is a decision your child should make on their own, but at 18 were you ready to make a decision with a potential financial impact of $200,000 or more? Instead, consider this is a critical time to teach your child how to weigh the pros/cons of each school and work together to make the best college decision that fits academically, socially, and financially.
So, if your child’s final college choice is right around the corner, consider the following tips to help them select a college that’s best for them.
- Compare Costs
Once a student has received their acceptance letter, or two or three from several different universities, your first step should be to analyze and compare costs. Hopefully some of this work was done before applications were even submitted, but regardless, at this point there’s no time left to avoid understanding the net price of each school.
When reviewing financial aid offers, make sure to understand how much is “free” money, work study, federal student loans, and parent loans. Create a chart to compare the amounts. Unfortunately, you may find schools determine “financial need” differently and some schools offer differing amounts of grants/loans to meet the level of need they choose. You can try appealing to the financial aid office to increase your offer or match an offer from another school. From now till commitment deposits are due, you have the most leverage for negotiating a better financial aid package. Colleges are concerned about their yield (how many students decide to attend after being accepted) and may be more flexible with their money. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
Remember to project forward for the next 4 years to estimate what the final loans may be upon graduation. Use loan repayment calculators to get an idea of how much the loan payments will be after graduation. You should also research if any of the colleges have a tendency to “front-load” financial aid. This happens when colleges offer higher financial aid to freshman to get them to enroll and less money to upperclassman in the remaining years. Factoring in financial aid offers and other financing options is essential to avoid excessive debt after graduation. Comparing these costs could weigh heavily on the final college decision made.
- Visit the school in person
Admitted student programs provide an excellent opportunity for your child to explore the campus they intend on spending the next 4 years at. From interacting with other students, to attending classes, these programs provide a real feel for the educational opportunities available through the university. Even if there aren’t any of these types of programs, make plans to visit schools your student is considering, especially if you have never visited before. And in some cases, making a return visit can also help in the decision making process. While visiting, speak with current students and investigate where students spend most of their time studying or just socializing – this will give your student an inside look at the school. Making the best college decision involves all factors, so it’s important to investigate these aspects as well.
- Choose a school with plenty of options for majors
Students rarely stick with the major they choose in their first year of college, so it’s important to research how many other majors your student may be interested in and if they are offered at the schools he/she is considering. When it comes time for them to change their major, will they have plenty of additional options at the school? Selecting a university that provides several potential majors is one way to help make sure your student graduates from school within 4 years.
- Consider your student’s personality to make a decision
Many people overlook their child’s personality when helping them make the final college choice. Does your student do better in smaller or larger classes? What about their studying preferences? Do they need more quiet time or do they function well in a more social environment? Guide your student through these questions and help them see their importance when making this decision.
- Research if credits will transfer to college
Some students may already have college level credits from high school. It’s a good idea to ask the school which credits will transfer, and which ones they will likely have to retake. Some schools accept AP or other college level credits and apply these credits towards tuition. More often though, schools give the student credit to take classes beginning at a higher level. Depending on the school’s policy, there may be the chance to use these credits to help graduate early (and save money), double major, or just provide more academic flexibility when your student chooses classes. Understanding a school’s policy on transfer and AP credits may play a factor in your student making their final college choice – gather all the information you can.
- Ask around
If your child is still having doubts about any of the schools he/she was accepted to, see it they can find current students to talk with. Suggest they ask their high school for the names of past students that are currently attending any of these schools. As a parent, ask friends and/or go online to local parent groups to ask other parents if they know of current students who have gone to any of the schools. Often, getting a personal viewpoint is far more valuable than anything you can find on paper. Asking for honest guidance might reveal new points they hadn’t thought of before.
- Don’t forget about Extracurricular Activities
Sports, clubs, and fraternities are important to consider as well. While education and financial aspects are critical, extracurricular activities are important for building talents that can be used down the road. Programs like theses help students explore their talents and discover what they really love. Look for a college that represents your child’s sports interests or talents so that the door is always open for them.
Your student should be at the center of make this final college decision. After all, it is their future and happiness at stake. However, as a parent you can help guide them in the right direction. Making the best college decision involves factoring personal, financial, social, and educationally preferences. Use this information to consider the most important factors in your student’s final college choice.