Ask a lot of questions before choosing your college

5 Mar

Moi wrote in Choosing the right college for you:
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 wrote 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.

Deborah L. Jacobs of Forbes wrote, Five Things College Admissions Directors Won’t Tell You:

1. College costs more than you think. Not being prepared for the full cost is one of the biggest reasons student drop out of college. Tuition is only part of the total expense. You also need to consider:
Student fees. Some schools have hefty fees for everything from student government and clubs to special or recreational facilities.
Room and board. There may be extra costs associated with Wi-Fi and cable TV; staying on campus during holidays and breaks; and storage space.
Cost of living. Find out the cost of living range for the local community.
Travel and transportation costs. Anticipate the number of trips home per year you will make. Is there a student discount for travel provided by the school? Are there “ride share” boards available?
2. You might not graduate. Many factors can influence students’ ability to graduate, how long it takes and their satisfaction with the academic experience. These can include the major selected, whether they are enrolled full-time or part-time, the work-study balance, and academic environment.
To get behind the numbers on graduation rates and class size, dig deeper for information about factors that can affect how long it takes to graduate, such as how often certain courses are offered; the ratio of faculty advisors to students; which class levels offer small seminars (rather than just large lecture courses); and how many credits are required for graduation for specialized majors.
3. There is friction with the community. Students generally venture off campus–for recreation, for upper-class housing or both. Therefore, it’s important to find out whether they are welcome in the surrounding community. Ask whether there is adequate student housing in the community once the on-campus living requirement, if any, has been met. Do some window shopping in local stores or hang out at a town eatery and talk up the owners about what their experiences have been interacting with students. For example you could ask, “What has been your best and worst experience with a student here?”
4. This place is unsafe. Almost every college campus struggles with safety issues, but what resources are dedicated to campus safety and how issues are addressed when they occur makes all the difference. Colleges are required by law to produce a safety report each year. Review these reports before visiting each campus.
To find out how safe the campus really is, you will want to know about: Campus police. How many officers are on call at any given time and what is their average response time? Do they patrol inside or outside of resident halls? How do they interact with students?
Proactive safety measures. How many emergency phones are there on campus and where are they? Do you sponsor late-night walk home programs? What counseling services are available? Does the school offer prevention programs? Where can I find your yearly campus safety statistics?
5. You wouldn’t be happy here. Talking with folks in the admissions office is a great first step, but don’t stop there. Take the time to stroll the campus and interact with students at large – not just your student tour guide. The unrehearsed answers you get from students whom you stop at random might give you a much better understanding about what it would be like to go to the school. Here are some questions to ask them:
What has been your best and worst experience as a student here?
What do you like most and least about this college or university?
Would you choose this college or university again? Why or why not?
Do you feel safe here?
Do you think your professors are providing you with a good education?
Are your courses taught by professors or graduate student assistants?
Are you satisfied with the classroom facilities and labs?
Do you like the community? Are students treated well by the locals?

A college degree is no guarantee of either employment or continued employment. Still, because of the economic uncertainty there is an “arms race” in education. Laura Pappano reported in the New York Times article, The Master’s As the New Bachelor’s about the education arms race. Whether a person chooses to attend a four year college after high school is a very personal decision and there is no one right answer. One thing the current economic climate has taught many is there are no guarantees in life, even with a college degree. See,


Five Ways to Cut the Cost of College

Secrets to paying for college


That Facebook post may affect your college acceptance

More colleges are putting college applicants on mid-year acceptance for enrollment

Study: Prior criminal behavior does not necessarily predict behavior on campus

Is a woman’s college the right college for you?

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