There are many important things to consider on the path to finding the right college for your student. Location, size, focus, culture, etc.
Prior to addressing these kinds of specific issues, however, are two questions that need to be asked and answered. Questions that, in many cases, are only considered as an afterthought (if at all) in the process.
1. Is your student ready to go to college?
You may think you know the answer. But if you haven’t asked it, you may simply be assuming that “college next year” is the next best step.
Do you want to go to college?
Do you see yourself going to college right after high school?
What are your goals in attending college?
I ask these questions to all of my students. In many instances, it’s the first time anyone has ever inquired. That’s a shame, because the answers can shed light upon a process that needs their full participation in order to be successful.
It‘s okay if your student is not sure they will be ready to attend college right away. In that case, it may be in everyone’s best interest for them to take a semester or a year pause, during which they can engage in a meaningful plan to get ready, work, or explore their areas of interest. They may then arrive at college more mature and more motivated to learn than they would have been right after high school.
Even if they end up going directly to college, knowing that they considered alternatives and came to a conscious decision can go a long way. Given the cost and commitment required, simply doing what most kids do without thinking things through can lead to difficulties down the road.
2. What is our family willing to do financially in order to make college attendance a reality?
Uncovering the answer to this second question is invariably a multi-step process. Here, I suggest that the parent(s) or guardians first discuss this with a look toward other expenses, other children’s education expenses, retirement funds, etc. Are there savings that will help? How much contribution (if any) do you expect from your child?
Then, try to determine if your family may be eligible for any need based financial aidby calculating your “Expected Family Contribution (EFC).” Learn more here (scroll down to Thinking About College on right side of page).
You’ll also want to look into something called merit aid – scholarships that don’t have to be repaid and that are not a function of the family’s financial situation.
Generally speaking, if your child falls into the top 20% of applicants (academically) of a school to which they are applying, or they have a “special talent,” they may be eligible.
Keep in mind that in general, private schools give out more merit aid than public schools, so even with the typically higher stated fees of private schools, merit aid can make a considerable difference in lowering the net cost. Not all schools give merit aid (none of the Ivies do), so make sure to do your research in this area!
Too many students today are applying to colleges without really delving into the cost of an education. Once you know your family’s EFC, you can look for the Net Price Calculator on each college’s website to get an estimate of aid from that school (if any).
Not only does your child need colleges on their list that they can succeed at academically, they need colleges on the list that make sense financially, now and in the years ahead.
Both of these questions are an important part of the college planning process. Start these conversations as early as possible and make sure you are all in agreement before beginning the college application process in earnest.
P.S. Here’s a terrific book related to the cost of college: Debt Free U by Zac Bissonnette. Pick out a couple of chapters for your child to read. (You’ll find a brief review of the book on my web site here).