Helping Your Teen Choose the Right College

Having worked in higher education for 17 years, people are always asking me: “What do you consider to be the most important factor for students to consider when making their final college choice?”  I don’t think I can ultimately narrow that decision down to one factor, but I can narrow it down to the top 2 most important factors. I call these factors fit and finances.

When I say fit, I’m referring to the school matching your initial criteria that was important to you at the beginning of your search. Some of these factors may have been proximity to home, size of campus, your major as well as campus facilities. Fit also includes those unknown factors that you only discovered once you’re able to see the college campuses, talk to the students as well as the staff.  Sometimes, when we walk on a campus there are these unknown factors that end up being just as important. Such as, how helpful or accommodating are the administrative offices such as financial aid and the registrar. Or, how approachable are the faculty in your major and do they have flexible office hours. Lastly, there are also those intangibles such as the “feel” of the campus. (i.e. How happy are the students and are they fully engaged with the campus?) The  “feel” of the campus can come from your gut and sometimes it can’t be explained, but college campus either gives you a good feeling, no feeling, or a bad feelings. Always listen to what your gut is telling you when making that final decision along with the other criteria mentioned above.

The 2nd factor I refer to is finances. There’s nothing worse than a student attending the college of his/her dreams only to find out during their sophomore or junior year that the school is too expensive for them and/or their parents to afford so they need to transfer elsewhere. Be well aware prior to accepting your number #1 college choice, of all the costs associated with attending that institution. If financial aid, grants and loans still don’t put a dent in the tuition, meal plan and housing costs then the school is just too expensive for you to afford. This is where parental guidance can be critical because  as an 18 or 19-year-old wanting to go off to college sometimes their heart can overrule their head. Parents need to help ground their children and help them understanding the costs associated with higher education. Also, parents and students need to remember that sometimes grants and scholarships guaranteed during freshman year may or may not be guaranteed for the remaining 3 years. I recommend using a spreadsheet or a wipe board for plotting out the pros and cons of your top choices. Again, always keeping in mind fit as well as finances.

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