As a mother, it is only natural that I want to give my son every opportunity to become the best version of himself. It’s just the way we parents are wired, and that’s why we’re focused on getting our kids into a great college.
However, we would all do well to remember that a “brand name” school is not necessarily a great fit for many students. As Frank Bruni, NY Times columnist, points out in his book about choosing a college: Where You Go Is Not Who You'll Be, there are a lot of important factors to consider when going to college, and college rankings should not be anywhere near the top.
Affordability, on the other hand, is near the top of the list and that means choosing a pool of “right fit” schools. In chapter 9 of Never Pay Retail for College, I talk about how choosing schools where our student will apply has the single biggest impact on the overall cost of college. If we choose schools where our student rises to the top 25% of the incoming class (based on GPA and test scores), the college will often create discounts or incentives for our student to choose that school.
In addition to looking at school affordability, it is important that your student find a school that meets his or her needs. Some important things to consider are:
Is a smaller, more personal school better? Or, is a large school with more activities and options a better fit?
How intense are academic pressures?
Are there a lot of activities for students who want to play sports, do theater, play music, etc.?
Is your student sure of what major they want? If not, does the school provide a broad range of choices for them to consider? (I strongly recommend an assessment of skills and interests before applying.)
Once you have worked out what type of college your student really wants, then you can consider reputation. However, remember that if you pursue a “reach school” you are likely to be paying retail. And isn’t it better to choose a college that fits your student and that you can afford, rather than one that is going to leave you and your student in a lot more debt? Because as Frank Bruni reminds us, it matters more what your student does with their education than which school they attend.
If you would like some help figuring out the best way to plan for and pay for college, I would love to help. You can schedule a free consultation.