April 28, 2005

Whoa there, relax for a second

It's articles like this one that freak out millions of high school seniors every year. The article gives creedence to the idea that there is only one right college for each kid, and you better find it or else. I say that's preposterous, considering how similar a lot of schools are. The article does give some good advice in the Identify Your Ideal section of the article. Rather than start with a list of schools, start with a list of characteristics and match schools to that. After doing that, you might find out how similar all the schools on your list really are. Consider the following list of criteria I just made up:
1. Big school or small?
2. City or small town?
3. Christian or Secular?
4. What majors?
5. How much does it cost?
6. How far from home?
7. Difficulty of admission?

OK, take that list, answer all the questions, and then find schools that match up. Let's say you live in Altoona, PA, you want a small Christian school that has Chemistry as a major, is moderate in cost, and you were a fairly strong student in high school. Grove City College and Messiah College both meet all of your criteria (they're also the same distance from home) and they are similar enough that there's no reason to agonize over a decision between the two. Visit them both and then pick the one with the campus you liked best. It doesn't have to be so hard. Also, make sure you apply to more than one school. This is smart for a lot of reasons. First, you never know whether you'll get in (I got into Duke no problem, but the University of Virginia told me to take a hike). Second, a lot of applications are due in December and January. If you haven't made up your mind by then, that's fine, just apply to some schools and spend the next few months doing the necessary research and making visits. I remember how stressful choosing a college was for me, and I can't help but feel it didn't have to be this way. If more students and their parents would see that there is more than one right decision, it would make life a lot easier. Janet visited over a dozen schools starting in ninth grade. That's just not necessary. Find a happy medium between waiting until the last minute and going to whatever state school is closest and visiting every school in the region until you find the perfect fit.

The second thing the article that made me chuckle was under the heading Look beyond the price tag. Here's the sentence:

Parents, at the same time your kids are dreaming about their ideal schools, you'll want to give them a reality check about how much you've saved, what you think you can afford and whether you're willing to take on debt to pay for a dream school. (italics mine)
Implicit in this statement is that parents will pay for all of school, including any loans that will be accumulated. Maybe more kids are getting their college paid for completely by their parents than I know about. Thinking back, maybe this is true. I had four roommates my senior year of college, and I was the only one of the five of us who left college with any debt at all. Perhaps I should have distributed the debt evenly to each of my roommates' families (Jim Barley, call me!). That experience aside, I know that a pretty sizable number of students are responsible for the totality of their college costs, Expected Family Contribution be darned. I'm thankful to not be in that boat, as when the first round of PLUS loans started coming due, it wasn't me making those payments while I was in school. I think what I'm getting at here is that the article should probably have been a little more evenhanded in its treatment of college costs and realized that not every student has parents who can foot the whole bill.

No comments: