Choosing the right college for you

15 Apr

Now that many students are receiving letters of acceptance from colleges, they are deciding which college is the best fit for them. Given the tight economy, cost is a major consideration. Beckie Supiano and Elyse Ashburn have written With New Lists, Federal Government Moves to Help Consumers and Prod Colleges to Limit Price Increases in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the Department of Education’s new site about college costs. The College Affordability and Transparency Center is useful for students who are applying to college. It allows parents and students to calculate the costs of various college options. Once the costs of various college options are considered, then other considerations come into the decision.

Danielle Moss Lee, president and chief executive officer of the Harlem Educational Activities Fund offers some great advice in the Washington Post article, Top 5 factors to weigh when picking a college (by May 1st deadline):

Here are the top five factors students across the country should be considering when making this critical decision:

1. Size. When it comes to choosing a college, it isn’t one-size-fits-all. There are significant differences between large and small colleges, and students need to decide what matters to them. Factors to consider include class size, teacher-to-student ratio, name recognition and what options are available on campus – research centers, sporting events, internship opportunities, clubs and organizations, course choices, faculty members and more.

2. Location. Part of the value of college is learning to live on your own, away from your family, and in a city you choose. Students should push themselves to learn how to be successful in a new environment but also still need a support system. Students should consider how far away they can be and still feel comfortable – for some it’s a short car or bus ride, for others it can be a cross-country flight.

3. Finances. Students and their families need to think carefully about the financial impact of their choices. With student loan debt above $1 trillion (surpassing credit card and auto-loan debt) students — especially those from low-income families like many students at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund — need to figure out what the numbers really mean. How much is need-based grant aid and how much is loan-based aid? What will it cost to travel to campus? What incidentals will be required? Will my mother or father need a second job? How many hours will I be allowed to work on campus?

4. Academic focus. Not every student knows what they “want to be when they grow up” and you don’t need to pick a major to pick a college. However, students should consider the variety of courses, curriculum and majors available.

5. ‘Expert’ opinion. Get some insight. Use your family and friends as a resource. Talk to the people you admire personally and professionally, as well as recent graduates who you might know, to find out what they consider the most important aspect of the college experience.

Once the decision is made to attend a particular college, the thought turns to how to cut the costs of college.

One way to cut the cost of college is to save on textbooks. Fin Aid’s article, Cutting the Cost of College Textbooks makes some useful suggestions.

There are several methods of saving money on textbook costs. These methods can typically save as much as half the cost of buying new textbooks from the college bookstore.

  • Buy used textbooks. The used textbooks may have notes in the margins, but sometimes this can be beneficial. Used textbooks often cost half the price of a new textbook.
  • Buy new textbooks and sell the textbooks back to the college bookstore at the end of the semester. The savings range from a quarter to half the cost of a new textbook. You will get more for your used textbook if you keep it in good condition. Your ability to sell the textbooks back to the bookstore depends on whether the same textbook will be used the next time the class is offered. The main drawback from reselling the textbook is that you won’t be able to keep the textbook.
  • Rent the textbook. Like selling the book back to the bookstore, this doesn’t let you keep the textbook. Usually this costs more than the net cost of buying a new textbook and selling it at the end of the semester.
  • Shop around for the best price on the textbook. Often you can buy the book online for a significant discount. The ISBN number listed in the course syllabi and class schedules help you find the same edition online. (If the syllabus doesn’t list the ISBNs for the books, you can find them on the publisher’s web site. Also look on the publisher’s web site for alternate formats that are less expensive, such as softcover editions and ebooks.) Many online bookstores that sell textbooks will deliver the textbooks in one or two days for free. Online bookstores and comparison tools are listed below.
  • Compare the latest edition of a textbook with the older edition. Sometimes the changes aren’t significant enough that you need to get the new edition, and older editions are often much less expensive on the used market. The main drawback is sometimes the page numbering is different in the latest edition, making it more difficult to identify the reading assignments.
  • Buy the ebook version of the textbook. Ebooks will save you some money over the cost of a print textbook, although not as much as you might expect. Ebooks also aren’t a perfect solution. Page numbers are different and more fluid than in the print versions of a textbook. Ebook readers like the Kindle DX are just as readable as print textbooks, especially outdoors, but currently can’t display color diagrams. The Apple iPad can display color diagrams, but the backlighting can cause eyestrain and is more difficult to read outdoors. Taking notes on an ebook is more difficult than writing a note in the margin on a print textbook or highlighting a passage. On the other hand, you can carry all of your ebooks on a single lightweight device.
  • Buy a re-imported international edition of the textbook. Publishers sell their textbooks at a much lower cost in other countries. However, the bindings are usually much flimsier and the page numbering may differ from the US editions.

Jenny L. Phipps of Bankrate.Com offers additional suggestions in Cutting the Cost of College Incidentals:

18 ways to cut the cost of college incidentals


Read the bill carefully.


Don’t get caught in a feeing frenzy.


Beware too much health care.


Go on a dorm-dining diet.


Pay on time.


Know the financial aid bottom line.


Vet the class schedule.


Look for ways to get ahead.


Consider cheaper alternatives.
10. Transfer advance-placement credits.
11. Buy smart.
12. Decorate creatively.
13. Forget the phone.
14. Eat at home.
15. Buy used books.
16. Look for cheap travel.
17. Devise a money delivery system.
18. Be sure the price is worth it.

Congratulations on your acceptance into college. Now the real work begins.


Five Ways to Cut the Cost of College                                

Secrets to paying for college                            

Dr. Wilda says this about that ©

6 Responses to “Choosing the right college for you”


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