College Decisions: The Right College At The Right Price

It’s that time of year again.  By Tuesday, May 1st, all college bound high school seniors must submit their deposit to the college of their choice.  For some it’s a difficult time; for others, it’s a time of joy, but for all it’s the beginning of a new chapter.

For the parents of this year’s high school sophomores and juniors, it’s instructive to learn from others’ mistakes.  To illustrate this point, consider a family we advised this year.  Let’s call them the Joneses.  They let their child, Jenny, handle most of the college search.  They chose only to work with a college advisor at the end of the process – for help on the applications and essays.  They figured their daughter could select the best school for her.  Jenny was a bright student who had a 94 average and a 2010 combined SAT score (1280 – Reading and Math).  She applied to only 5 colleges, four of which were stretch schools.  The other was a safe, Providence College.  She was accepted in January to Providence.  This proved to be very trying for her, because she wasn’t thrilled with the choice, but at least she knew she was admitted to one college.  On the plus side, she did receive a scholarship of $8,000/year.  She didn’t hear from any of her stretch schools until April 1st.  That was 3 months of waiting and hoping,  When she did finally get her letters, she was admitted to only one, Wake Forest University, and was not admitted to Boston College, New York University, and Colgate.

This scenario posed a dilemma for Jenny Jones.  She had visited Wake Forest once last April.  At the time, she loved it.  But a year in the life of a teenager is a long time, and by the following April she realized that North Carolina was a little far for her and her parents.  As for Providence, it was really just a placeholder in her mind.  Everyone told her she needed a safe school, so she found one and didn’t think much of it.  She had visited Providence the summer of her junior year, and while she liked it, the major she ultimately decided on – 8 months later – was not offered there.

The second problem was even bigger:  cost.  This family, like most of the clients we work with, did not qualify for need based financial aid, yet they could not really afford the $58,260/year, or more than $230,000 over four years at Wake Forest.   Providence proved to be not much less expensive at $55,600, minus the $8,000/year scholarship.  This would total $47,600/year or just under $200,000 over 4 years.  These numbers are not typos.  College really is that expensive.

In the end, Jenny chose Providence due to proximity to home and price.  This was not a choice, however, she was pleased about.  Nor were her parents.  They had saved less than $50,000, so they were faced with taking out more than $150,000 in loans.  This is a situation I would advise against.

So, the bottom line for Jenny was:  She didn’t have enough viable options because her college search was not systematic, strategic, and well informed.  A professional, ethical college advisor would have helped the family understand fit, expand the student’s options, and would have prepared Jenny more for admission to her stretch schools.  They would have also advised the family about safe and probable schools, so that they had options at the end of the process.  Some advisors, like The College Advisor of New York, also help students maximize scholarship and financial aid opportunities as well, thus lowering the net cost.

Some families can navigate the college admissions process on their own, others choose to hire an advisor.  Chances are, a college counselor can help save you time, angst, and money, while guiding your child to a college that’s a great fit for them, socially, academically, and financially.   I urge you to consider hiring a college counselor for your child’s college search.