The holiday season is not only a time to spend with your family and friends, but it is also an opportunity to begin discussing future plans of college with your college bound children. For many high school students, the winter break contains down time giving families the opportunity to begin the college process. Now is the time to begin building a college list. Starting slowly can help to alleviate the stress of the college list. Begin by creating a tentative list in December and January. Starting the list early, allows the student to accumulate a more defined list of schools which can be reviewed with their guidance counselor, after the break. It also gives the student the opportunity to evaluate their grades and test scores and compare them to the admission standards on their wish list of colleges. Now is the time to explore all possible programs and institutions.
Many parents and students tour colleges during the summer but it is a good idea to visit the campus when the school is in session. This is when your child can see the student body and campus atmosphere. If you have a tentative list in January, then families can schedule college tours for Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, spring break, or Saturdays in the spring. Besides having the college student body in attendance, your child will get a better idea of the weather during a typical school year. For example, visiting Syracuse in the winter is very different then a summer visit.
Visiting a variety of schools now can also help your child narrow the type of colleges he or she may be interested in attending. The visits will help the student determine the right environment such as the difference between large school vs small school, urban vs rural, and state vs. private. College visits often get blurry and for this reason we have created a process and a way for your child to rate their opinions of the college and tours they plan to attend. Our EFC PLUS College Visit checklist can be downloaded by clicking here. By writing out the key elements of each visit, it can help eliminate certain schools from the college list. It can get very confusing once you have visited multiple colleges over various periods.
Finding the college fit includes the right combination of academics, financial and environmental factors. As college affordability and financial fit become a more important decision for many families, creating a college list that includes college affordability can be a daunting task. In our article, “College Affordability: Steps to the Right Decision”, we have listed several key areas in the decision process for families to review as they determine if the college is a financial fit for them. Some key factors to consider are your financial aid positioning, the historic gifting policy of the college, merit aid possibilities, and the amount of projected debt for both the student and the parents at graduation.
Expected Family Contribution
Each college will have a net price calculator on their website so families can get an estimate of their cost of the college. If you want to simplify the process and compare college value more easily, consider the EFC PLUS, College Cost Analyzer. This tool creates a customized four-year cost projection and helps you avoid excessive student debt. By having this customized information, stress can be minimized significantly since it generates a financial outcome.
A missing part of this process is seeing the total net cost to graduation. Colleges only provide financial information one year at a time. This process shortfall is a major contributing factor on why student debt is becoming a crisis for many families.
During the break, we also like to suggest that the junior in high school review their academics grades and begin to compile a brag sheet listing all their activities and accomplishments. This will make it easier for the student at the end of the year when they need to pass this information on to the teachers who will write their recommendations for college. It will also allow the student to review their accomplishments and if needed join further activities when they return to school after the break.
The discussion of college listing building and teacher recommendations goes hand in hand with GPA and test scores. Their academic standing will determine the schools they will be accepted and even slight increases can make the difference in admissions and possible merit scholarships. Reviewing the admissions standards of the college on their list and possible merit scholarships might give them the added motivation to stay on track and prioritize their commitments.
According to the Princeton Review, college affordability and avoiding excessive student loan debt is now becoming a bigger issue for families. In the Princeton Review, Hopes & Worries survey, the biggest worry for families is the level of debt needed to pay for a degree. With the current cost of college, this outcome is not surprising. It does prompt me to remind families to have a balanced list of institutions to visit on their college list. Schools that provide some college affordability in the form of either need or merit scholarship opportunity should be included.
Enjoy you college tour planning! It is a fun time and exciting time with your child. Have a wonderful holiday and a Happy New Year!