May 1 – the day the college deposits are due – is one week away. Students are nervously honing in their college choice and parents want to help. Here are a few tips to help you nudge your student to a great college choice.
It’s not too early to think about a major (and outcome, a job)
Just showing up on campus with the hope of finding an area of interest is not a prescription for success. Parents can help by talking to students about their gifts, innate interests and natural talents (math or language, for example) and showing how to translate those interests and talents into a major (or minor) field of study in college. The next step is to translate those interest and aptitudes into a job with a salary and career platform. Take a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics for a more in depth look at wages and contrast with the skills and opportunities generated by the degree. Will the degree offered by this school provide the job and career opportunities that our student would enjoy and be good at?
How affordable is one college vs. another?
With $1.5 trillion of student loan debt outstanding, successful students will not push college loans to the back burner to be overlooked until after graduation. Raise awareness of the issue by being proactive with your child. Based on the financial aid award letters from the colleges under consideration, how much total borrowing – for all four years of college, not just freshman year – will likely be needed to graduate? Use a loan repayment calculator to estimate the monthly payment, recognize any benefits of paying interest while the student is in school, and know how long it will take to repay along with the total cost of the loan (principal plus interest). It may be a much larger cost than realized. Then go back to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data again and consider if the income generated by the degree would afford repayment. Is this college and major choice making financial sense? Remember: student loans should be the last resort, not the first option.
Have a backup
Sometimes students very excited to start their college experience end up arriving on campus and changing their minds about their prospects for a myriad reasons. Today, over 1/3 of students end up transferring to a different institution than where they started, putting a new spin on the process of choosing a college; choosing a back-up plan. What would happen if the student’s first choice school ended up not being what was expected? Was there a better option that was missed? Parents should make sure to outline a backup plan just in case things don’t work out, and help map out criteria for the alternate choice. Look into the policies for transferring credits and contact their admissions departments ahead of time to know their process deadlines. Scope out financial aid and scholarship requirements for transfer students to know ahead of time about potential affordability. This way there is greater peace of mind in dealing with the unexpected, but now all too common change of schools. The My College Corner Podcast interviewed our intern Hailee as she shared her college gap year and transfer experience on the way to finding her best school choice.
Two pieces of parting advice
First, remember your son or daughter is the one who is leaving home and starting college. It is their experience and responsibility to do well, not yours. At the end of the day, the decision regarding which college to attend should be theirs, with input from you, because it will be their alma mater.
Second, Celebrate this great accomplishment. The long grinding process of selecting a college will conclude when you write the deposit check and start a new, exciting chapter of your family’s history. It’s even better to reach this achievement knowing everything was done to make the best choice possible and even have a plan to adjust where necessary. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it.