How to Narrow Down Your Child’s College Choice
When you’re helping your child apply to college, you may feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of options. There are many ways you can narrow down your choices to make the process less time-consuming and stressful.
Here are some helpful hints for how to shorten a long list of potential colleges into something more manageable!
Compare Prices But Know Your Financial Fit
One of the best ways to narrow down colleges options is by price. This will keep you from paying an exorbitant amount for a college you can’t afford.
A great tool to help you as you and your student sort through potential colleges is this search engine powered by The Chronicle of Higher Education.
This tool helps you easily compare room and board, in-state, and out-of-state tuition prices of colleges and universities. You can also view how the costs of these institutions have changed over the years, starting during the 1998-1999 school year and going through the 2017-2018 year.
If your child has narrowed down their search to a state or city, you can easily check the prices of all the colleges in that area at once. During your search, remember that the colleges with the highest price tags aren’t necessarily the best ones.
There are plenty of more affordable colleges where your child can learn, grow, and prepare for their career effectively!
The most important thing is to know your financial fit and merit aid eligibility at each school before you cut a school from your list.
Your expected family contribution (EFC) is the starting point but not the ending point if you are not eligible for “need based aid.” Too many people forget or do not know how to figure out if they qualify for merit aid and leave thousands of dollars on the table each year.
Ignore the Rankings
An easy mistake to make while looking for a college is to get caught up in college rankings. You should take all college rankings with a grain of salt. Just because a college is ranked #1 in the country doesn’t mean it would be the right fit for your child. Some rankings aren’t backed up by real facts and the ranking methodology used has nothing to do with setting your student up for college success.
For instance, U.S. News and World Report’s college rankings are determined by votes on subjective matters. Sometimes these rankings can be biased and there are many great articles pinpointing the flaws in the ranking system. Colleges themselves can even figure out how to manipulate the results so that they end up in the results unfairly. Is that the kind of institution you want your son or daughter attending?
You should never trust a college ranking without knowing the criteria behind the rank.
Make Your Own Criteria
Instead of looking into colleges based on a vague ranking, narrow down your search based on concrete facts. Better yet, determine your own specific criteria. Research the academic departments within all the colleges on your child’s list of potentials and decide which ones are the best. Talk to alumni of some of your child’s top choices and find out why they like or dislike their alma mater. Compare different colleges prices and the financial aid packages they can offer.
If a college is double your budget, does that really make it the #1 choice for your child? It shouldn’t.
You should also prioritize which criteria are the most important to you. Are you willing to pay more for a college that has an exceptional program for your child’s major? Is being close to home more important for your child than going to a top-ranked school?
Most importantly, remember that college is an individual experience. So, it should be based on a personal decision. Don’t let untrustworthy rankings influence that decision.
It could negatively impact your child and your finances for years to come.
Have a Four-Year Funding Plan
Fifteen years ago, being worried about the costs of college was silly, but given the skyrocketing price increase over the last decade, many families get themselves into a jam not understanding the four-year cost of education before they apply.
Most families, not knowing what they don’t know, wing it and try to figure it out when it is too late. For the last ten years, I can’t tell you how upsetting it is to hear that a student and family have spent hard earned dollars on the first two years of college and now can’t afford the third and fourth year. Talk about heartbreak and a financial disaster. With so many options and strategies available, this should never be you. The old saying about assumptions is true…they make an ass out of you and me. This is one of the biggest stages of your student’s future, you can’t assume, you must know. Know before you go!
For the last ten years, we have been helping families like yourself not make mistakes in a college planning process that is much different than when we were all in school. Things have changed and you must as well.