2nd Pathway: Pick The Right Colleges

It is critical to find a number of colleges that match a student's personal and academic needs. You will soon discover that money and choice of college targets are closely linked. Be sure to evaluate private colleges as they can often end up being similar in cost to state colleges. Today, the average graduate takes 5½ years to graduate from many state colleges. By learning to better evaluate your target colleges, you may find better alternatives for your student.

Multiple options also allow students to make their final college choice in April rather than December of their senior year. Switching colleges as a transfer student can be very expensive. Full research on a number of college targets helps students pick the right college the first time.

Top Considerations when targeting colleges:

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Arenas of Study: Be more inclusive than just one major. Three out of four students change their major at least once.

Consider schools that have the arenas of study that appeal to you for undergraduate work. Remember that 75% of college students switch their majors. Picking a college that has most of your arenas of interest reduces your need to transfer if you change majors. If a student has no idea what they want to major in let's break the arenas of study into 4 areas: (1) Sciences and math, (2) fine arts, engineering, and (3) computer sciences. Almost everything else is liberal arts.

Geographic Location: West Coast, East Coast, Southwest... Think regionally.

In general the first consideration is the college's proximity to home. At a minimum you should consider widening your search to colleges out to a full-day's travel. Is an urban, suburban, or rural college setting best for the student? High achieving student many times need to be at least a full day from home so they are not attending college with others from their high school. I recommend that students visit their top choices. Those who are headed out a thousand or more miles from home add a new reality to their thought process and they should even spend some sessions where they take a few quiet minutes to sit on the ground in a quiet spot, no friends, no dog, no electronics and just breathe and let their thoughts ramble. "What will I do for weekends, Spring Break, and Thanksgiving? How about home sickness? Weather? Friends? Family visits? Usually many college answers occur at this time.

Size of School/Private vs. Public: Smaller schools provide personal attention, 4-year graduation, increased academic guidance, a nurturing environment, professors who can help you, and students with more focus.

Large usually applies to public state colleges, while small usually equals private colleges. Some students do well at large schools where they have a lot of people and classes to pick from. They do not have trouble finding good friends. They keep the eye on the ball and 40 to 50% graduate in 4 years. Some students struggle to get the personal attention they need at large schools, becoming a number not a person. College statistics show that many state colleges have a 5 plus year average to graduate. Many students also take longer to find their "new extended family" and "study buddies."

While private colleges are initially thought to be more expensive, depending on financial need or merit awards this is not necessarily true. Students graduate in 4 years at higher percentages from smaller schools. Private colleges are more personal, you know your professors personally and your work will be reviewed closer which allows for more specific feedback. Depending on the student, often smaller schools can better develop the student's critical thinking skills. A smaller campus allows students to find their study buddies and their new "extended family easier. Surprisingly, research shows greater diversity at many smaller colleges. Some private colleges have more money to share. It's important to know your Expected Family Contribution before making this decision because in many cases private colleges can be less costly.

Financial Awards: Some private colleges have more financial need and scholarship money to share.

It is important to know that loans and money (scholarships and grants) distributed through colleges makes up about 91% of available college funds. Military and employer paid money account for another 7%. That leaves only around 2% for outside scholarships. If you are looking for college award money, see what you can get through colleges. Some schools have more money to share than other schools. Once you create financial need it is important to capitalize on it. If you have no financial need, look for colleges that meet personal needs and have scholar/merit money for the applicant. We know that all colleges are not equal. It's easy to academically distinguish between your local state school and Harvard. The challenge is to identify schools that can help you with your financial need or offer access to scholarship/merit money for your student. It is important to know that colleges share college award money in the following ways:

Federal interest-deferred loans such as the Stafford Loan and the Perkins Loan. Remember, the federal government pays the interest on these loans while the student is attending school. Once the student graduates, the interest is no longer paid. At this time the accumulating interest and principal on these loans belong to the student. Perkins loans are often reserved for low-income students. Declaring bankruptcy on these loans is never an option.

Federal work study is usually for low-income students. If offered work study, take it. The money earned is taxable and is declared with other earnings on taxes. Students also declare it as earnings on the FAFSA. Alert: Some colleges will entice you with student work study in the college award, then tell you they ran out of jobs or don't offer work study to freshmen. Make sure you get very clear with the college regarding this matter before accepting a financial offer. Make friends with the work-study coordinator a couple months before school starts.

Federal and state grants for low-income students such as the Pell Grant, the SEO Grant, State Need Grants, and tuition reduction. College grants to meet the financial need of successful student applicants are free money that does not need to be repaid. Warning: students who flunk out can be responsible for paying all of this back.

College merit money/scholarships to entice students who meet certain criteria. This is about 40% of the award money accessed by students using the pathways to college money and is the only money available for students without financial need.

Level of excellence: Look for a college match or fit for your student rather than getting in to the highest rated college. Academically aggressive students usually attend graduate school anyway.

Most of us see our children as very talented. Despite the truthfulness of this, it is critical that you see what the competition is like. Being a 4.0 student taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes in high school is good, but doesn't necessarily make your child a candidate for an Ivy League college. Be sure to monitor test scores also like the SAT and ACT. While level of excellence is important, before trying to get into the highest rated college, look for the best match. Be aware of the competitive nature of our top colleges. Each college should be telling you the average SAT and ACT test score for those accepted the previous year.

Understand that colleges get a higher rating based on many factors including how many students they turn down. The more you turn down, the higher your rating. College applications cost around $75 each. A good admissions person can review at least five to six applications an hour. Based on their rate of pay, turning down 5 of the six applications per hour is really a cash cow for the college. Top colleges only accept 1 out of twenty applicants.

Additionally, bright students will probably go to graduate school. Why push your 18 year old child into a situation where the competition is so fierce they will be overwhelmed. Let them continue being successful in the college setting by "finding the right match." If they want to "reach for a college" it should be 1 out of 6 choices, 2 out of 7, or 3 out of 8. This way you have enough "match colleges", your business plan is balanced, and you haven't had to tell your student they cannot attain a certain level. You are the consultive-parent and cheer leader. Enjoy that role.

Athletic Scholarships

Enjoy being rewarded for athletic skills at all divisions. Make sure you are going to play within your limits. Division I & II athletes will be practicing, working out, cross training at least 4-5 hours per day. There is money available for many Division I athletes. It is hard to blend this with scholar money. Student must register with NCAA so it is best to do this in grade 11. Many of these students get "redshirted" during their freshman year which means they don't play during their freshman year and usually take 5 years to graduate.

Division II athletes will practice a bit less. There is much less money for these athletes. Student must register with NCAA and again it is best to do this in grade 11. These athletes can graduate in 4 years if they show a lot of discipline.

Division III athletes cannot qualify for any athletic money. Students use their athletic ability as a marketing tool to gain entry to the college. Many of our students have done well with scholar money. Sometimes, division III schools recruit and pay for scholar-athletes using scholarship money.

Religious Considerations

For many, religious considerations also play into college selection. Over the last twenty five years there has been an ever increasing demand for continuing the Christian experience in college. Unfortunately, the expansion of Christian colleges has not kept pace with demand. This results in a more competitive environment for award money. The key message here is to be careful to avoid only picking Christian colleges. You should also apply to two or three private colleges and perhaps a state college as a safety net college. Having more options may avoid painting yourself into a financial corner.

Most importantly, does this college have money to share considering the excellence and desirability of the student and the family financial profile?

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