How to help a young person choose a college

Content provided courtesy of USAA.

There is so much stress in college admissions today. Students pin their conception of their entire future on going to the “right” college or university. However, the process to determine what is “right” both in the student’s mind and in achieving their career and life goals may not necessarily be aligned. Follow these steps to help a young person achieve their college goals.

Are They Ready / Can They Complete College?

The first step to college planning is to ensure that college should be in your plan at this stage of your life. College is a great choice if it aligns with your career and life plans. If you are unsure that college is what you want to do, then there are lots of other good options to take before you are ready for college. Go on a mission trip, volunteer to teach English in another country, be a teaching assistant, join the military, work in the family business, or start your own business. College is a great choice, but the prospective college student must believe that it is their best choice.

Start 18 Months Early.

For a typical prospective college student, the winter of their junior year of high school is the best time to start researching and thinking about college. There are chances to visit colleges, do in-depth research on colleges, try out majors, and perhaps audit a college class or two. Creating an in-depth planning timeline at this stage is essential to schedule admissions exams, college interviews, financial aid applications, college essays, and the many more essential activities.

Be Driven by the Right Lists to Find a School.

It is easy for parents and students to turn to a myriad of lists to help find the perfect school. Before you read a list, determine how the list was assembled. Many of the college lists use factors such as alumni donations, spending per student, and other ranking factors that bear only a distant relationship to the actual outcome that a student receives. If you decide to use a list, then try to identify 2-3 different lists and see how your prospective schools compare across various lists. Ultimately, your final lists should be driven by graduation rates, loan payoff rates, and other hard metrics that determine success in college. Remember, college success is graduating, finding a job quickly, and paying the minimal amount of tuition and student loans.

Find a Minimum of 8-12 Schools to Apply.

Most parents and students believe that applying to 3-4 schools is a sufficient amount to have a primary school, and 1-2 backup or “safe” schools. Since financial aid packages, scholarships, and tuition levels can vary widely, it is best to find 8-12 different schools that will fully meet all the student’s needs. Finding 8-12 schools to apply for will not be difficult and it is a worthwhile endeavor. At worst, a student will have 3-4 choices based on acceptance. At best, the number could rise to 8 to 9 colleges. It is always better to have more options.

Have Your Scholarship and Financial Aid Requests Ready to Go.

Getting all financial aid applications in quickly as well as finding and applying for college scholarships is time-consuming. There are a limited number of large, full-ride scholarships but there are hundreds of scholarships that provide $3000-$5000 that will go a very long way to defray school, tuition, books, and living expenses. Finding scholarships, applying frequently, and following up is time well spent.

Make a Final List Based on Acceptance, School Outcome, and Total Cost.

Once you have the school admittance, the financial aid packages, and the school outcomes of graduation rates, loan payback rates, etc.; it is time to decide. Again, the goal of college is determining a school with the best outcome at the least total cost with the lowest amount of educational debt. This is not a cheapskate approach. This is a value-based education approach.