College Planning

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College Planning, The Basics

Picking a College is an Important Decision


It’s very often the first “big decision” a young person makes. Although paying for a college education remains a financial challenge for many families, it can also yield the greatest rewards. While the earnings power of a college-educated person is generally greater than that of someone without a degree, spending four years at a private, four-year college, can create a bill resembling a mortgage.


Like with most important decisions, it’s usually wise to begin early. Most experts recommend attending local college fairs by the sophomore and junior year of high school. Good teachers are found just as easily in small schools as they are in large ones. And while many may seek schools that may have a famous basketball team or favorable weather, there are many other often more serious factors to consider such as location, class size, courses of study (degrees offered), faculty, financial aid, placement assistance, social/extracurricular activities, graduation rate, technical, lab and research facilities, dormitory facilities, reputation and of course cost.


Many highly successful people, however, have attended little-known colleges. President Ronald Reagan studied at tiny Eureka College, a small liberal arts institution in Illinois. Writer Sandra Cisneros is a graduate of Chicago’s Loyola University.


Although college enrollment rates continue to rise according to the College Board, the patterns are uneven across demographic groups. Among students with similar high school math test scores, those from wealthier families are much more likely to enroll in college immediately after high school, but the enrollment gaps by socioeconomic background are largest for those who are least academically prepared. Among those who enroll in college, students from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to begin at a public or private nonprofit four-year institution than others.


Campus visits are often the best way to get a feel for a school. Tour the campus. Speak with students. Eat in its cafeteria and spend a night in a dorm. Colleges often have welcome weekends for a prospective freshman. A website visit or call to the Admissions Office will let you know of such events.


While it’s not unusual for students to transfer, typically after their first year at a new college, ideally one would prefer to avoid such a situation. Transferring often results in the loss of credits and a lesser financial aid package.


Consider that individuals with higher education levels earn more, pay more taxes, and are more likely than others to be employed and to have job benefits such as retirement and health insurance. Adults with more education are also more likely to move up the socioeconomic ladder and less likely to rely on public assistance, according to Education Pays 2016, the latest report from the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education series.


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