Editor's note: Meet Evelyn Alexander, our newest blogger on Westwood-Century City Patch. She's an independent college counselor and she'll be writing about the college admissions process, getting ready to apply and deciding where to go. Have a question for Evelyn? You can leave a comment in the comments section at the bottom of her posts. Interested in blogging yourself?
For high school seniors and parents, April is the culmination of all of the hard work they have put into succeeding in high school and applying to colleges. Congratulatory e-mails have rolled in, triumphant messages posted to Facebook, and bumper stickers proudly affixed to the car.
But the excitement of receiving good news about being accepted to multiple colleges is often tempered by the reality that it’s time to make a decision, and today, weighing financial aid offers has become an important part of the process.
I spoke to a mother this week who was extraordinarily proud of her son’s options: a prestigious East Coast university, a local private university, and a top-tier state university – all ranked in the top 25, mind you. But cost is a major concern. The east coast school has offered no financial aid while the local private school has, cutting the four-year cost almost in half and making it nearly comparable to the state school.
How should families approach this sometimes difficult decision?
Here are some tips on what you should do before May 1, the national deposit deadline:
1. Visit colleges. Nothing will give you the feel for a college like walking the campus, talking to students, checking out the dorms and campus eateries, and sitting in on a class. Need help planning your college visits? Check out Go See Campus.
2. Talk to students and/or alumni at each college you are considering, especially if you can't visit in person. Many colleges host receptions sometime this month for accepted students, so they can meet other students facing the same choice. Most colleges have online forums or chat-boards on which you can ask questions either of admissions staff or of students. Here are a few examples:
- http://www.hopkins-interactive.com/ - blogs and chat-boards with students and Admissions staff
- http://admissions.psu.edu/info/chats/ - live chats with students
- http://www.collegeweeklive.com/ - register to see and participate in live chats with students from hundreds of colleges
3. Consider each college’s academic programs. Academics are, after all, why you’re going to college! Regardless of rank or reputation, you should investigate how your college options approach the specific major in which you are interested. Familiarize yourself with the job opportunities in the field you intend to enter (take a quick read on this Washington Post article – a college education is “not an investment if you aren’t researching which fields are creating good-paying jobs now and 30 years from now.”) For some guidance on what your future job prospects might be for a particular major, visit What Can I Do With This Major?
With acceptance letters in hand, keep in mind that you’re in the driver’s seat now. After choosing you, colleges are now working hard to get you to choose them. Make sure that you make the right decision for you, based on the things you think will build the best college experience for you. Sometimes that can mean that a school just feels right.
If you’re a junior or the parent of a junior, you may think you have a year until you reach this exciting point, but you don’t. You have about eight months until your applications must be completed. Keep those grades up! As you watch your senior friends make their college decisions, remember that your goal is to do what you can to maximize your own choices next April.