|How should my child go about selecting a college? |
This is probably one of the biggest decisions you and your child will make together. Not only is it one of the largest financial decisions, but your child will spend several years at this college, and you'll want to know that your son or daughter will receive a good education and be happy there.
There is no perfect way to select a college. The key is to find a school that is right for your child. Your child's goals, abilities, and preferences will narrow the list. For starters, your child might consider:
Size: Big fish in a little pond, or little fish in a big pond?
Climate: Year-round heat wave, or winter wonderland?
Location: Bright lights big city, or over the river and through the woods?
Distance: Able to bring laundry home on the weekends, or visit only over long breaks?
Accommodations (room and board): Are students required to live off campus as a junior or senior?
Next, your child should consider what he or she wants to study (or might want to study), and make sure all the colleges on the list offer that major. Is there a variety of majors in case your child decides to change majors? How easy is it to change majors or add a minor in a different subject? If your child must pick a certain school within the college (e.g., business school, arts & sciences, engineering) what's the process for taking cross classes or switching to another school altogether? Research the student-faculty ratio: does your child prefer one-on-one attention or the ability to blend into the crowd? Other things to consider is the existence of certain sports, clubs, or extracurricular activities on campus that your child might want to participate in, and whether housing is guaranteed for all four years.
Once you narrow the list down to a dozen schools or so, it's a good idea to visit them if you can. In addition to attending an official campus tour and information session, consider walking around on your own, eating at a dining hall, and talking to both students and faculty. What do the students like most or least about the school?
Finally, look at the cost. The cost of a particular college is often the single biggest factor for families, and many students who might otherwise choose a particular school end up going somewhere else due to the cost. Try to include at least a couple of schools on your child's list that you think you can afford without significant loans or scholarships. In addition, you can use a college net price calculator, available on every college website, to get an estimate of how much grant aid your child might expect at particular colleges based on his or her financial and academic profile. In this way, you can target schools that make the best financial sense for your family.