College is, for many of us, “the beginning of the rest of our lives”.
It is the pinnacle of everything students have worked toward since the age of five. And yet, there is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding applying to and selecting colleges, especially in the minority community.
Having worked in the admissions department for a top tier university, I have unique insights on the primary concerns of students and families when selecting a college or University.
I’ve compiled this list in the hope that it will demystify the selection process, and help your teen find the “best fit”.
Your College Admissions Checklist:
Priority One: Determining Your Teen’s Needs
Consider your student’s personality and needs. Do they have good reason to stay close to home? Or would they benefit more from spreading their wings and getting outside that comfort zone?
Discussing this in depth with your teen can be the difference between a lot of homesick calls and plane tickets home. If your child is opting to stay close, make sure it’s because they want to and not because you can’t let them go.
Baby’s gotta leave the nest eventually!
School and class size
Population and class size can play a huge role in your child finding their place on campus.
Does your teen thrive on the challenge of standing out amongst thousands? Will they take the initiative of seeking out professors during office hours, or take a chance answering questions in a 200-person lecture hall?
Or does the more personal feel of a close-knit campus fit their needs?
Everyone learns and thrives differently, so consider these things early to ensure your student gets the most from their experience.
Today’s high school graduates have the option of a diverse range of campus experiences to select from. Students should speak with as many people as possible from various types of colleges to gain perspective on those different experiences.
Does your student feel they would benefit more from the sense of community at an HBCU? Or are they open to navigating a campus where they’d be making their mark as one of few people of color?
Single-sex campuses offer an alternative to the typical co-ed colleges. Both have their pros and cons, and it once again comes down to your child’s needs and preferences.
If your teen is considering a single-sex school – or if you think they should – I encourage you to explore the reasons it may be a good fit in depth together.
Check out these college admissions resources to help you find the right fit:
- Best Colleges 2017: Find the Best Colleges for You! by U. S. News and World Report
- The Best 381 Colleges, 2017 Edition: Everything You Need to Make the Right College Choice by The Princeton Review
- Fiske Guide to Colleges 2017 by Edward Fiske
Money Matters: Making the Right Decision for Your Teen’s Budget & Future
Private vs. Public
Your teen may have fallen in love with that picture-perfect liberal arts school. Or maybe you have dreams of them attending your alma mater…which was surely less expensive when you attended as it is now.
But has your student considered their in-state public school options? These are usually significantly less expensive; your teen’s future self may thank them for that low student loan balance.
Encourage your student to manage their expectations until they’ve received their financial aid packages. It’s tough to get attached to a school only to later find that the costs are simply out of reach.
Make sure the fees are doable before your teen is off buying college-logo bedsheets!
On the Financial Aid note, don’t be afraid to appeal those packages! If your student wants to attend but the costs truly over-extend your family’s budget, contact the financial aid office.
Providing proof of financial hardship, along with a letter of intent to attend once a solution has been found, has successfully secured higher aid packages for many students.
Student loans should be avoided. Period.
But if they’re unavoidable, be strategic about what types of loans to pursue and the lowest amounts your child can manage with. This means not taking out the maximum allowance if your student only needs a portion of that.
Unnecessary debt is never a good idea.
Alternative funding sources
Federal Work-Study is a great option allowing students to work on-campus and receive a guaranteed amount each semester to support themselves. If your child didn’t receive Work-Study in their initial financial aid package, appeal for it.
Scholarships should also be pursued. There’s college funding out there for being Baptist, writing poetry, baton-throwing, recycling… the list is endless.
Your teen just needs to do some research!
Check out these financial aid and scholarship resources to help you budget:
- U.S Department of Education/FAFSA site
- BigFuture – Financial Aid 101
- Getting Financial Aid 2017 by The College Board
- The Financial Aid Handbook: Getting the Education You Want for the Price You Can Afford by Carol Stack and Ruth Vedvik
- Scholarship Handbook 2017 by The College Board
The Road Less Traveled
Going to college has become the expectation for modern youth, with good reason: “Bachelor’s degree required, Master’s preferred” is becoming increasingly common on job listings, even for entry-level positions.
But that doesn’t mean every student must follow the same path.
Students often have personal reasons for choosing to start at a community college: building their emotional readiness, boosting shaky grades, etc.
For many it’s just financially savvy: for a fraction of the price, students can transfer from a community college to a university and receive the same degree as those who attended for all four years.
It is also worth noting that most schools have higher acceptance rates for transfer students than for entering freshmen, so attending community college for a year or two first can be a very strategic decision.
Check out this resource: Community College FAQs
A Gap Year
Before you write it off as a year of “messing around”, think about the growth you have gained through life experience.
If your teen feels strongly that they could benefit from the experience of travel, an internship, or an apprenticeship before college, hear them out. College will still be there in a year, and perhaps they’ll be more prepared for it.
College: The Beginning of the Rest of Your Life
Of course, your teen can prepare endlessly for attending college and never fully know what’s in store. The best advice is to keep an open mind and embrace the unknown.
However, being fully informed before they sign that commitment letter is a great start in taking the leap with eyes wide open.
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