March is one of my favorite months of the year. The weather is starting to get warmer, flowers are beginning to bloom, college admissions decisions are rolling in, and college basketball's March Madness is in full swing.
Oddly enough, there are several parallels between college basketball and college admissions’ March Madness, such as:
Basketball players endure an emotional season full of wins of losses to earn a high seed in the playoffs. High school students similarly experience academic, extracurricular, and emotional highs and lows to get into their dream schools.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) selection committee evaluates the resumés of every college basketball team for entry into the playoffs. In the same way, college admissions committees holistically evaluate all applicants’ resumes for acceptance into their schools.
There is, however, a major difference:
While getting into the college basketball playoffs is cause for celebration, it only marks the beginning for the best teams who will compete for the national championship. Fortunately for you and your child, the hardest part will soon be over. Your child's hard work will have paid off and the mystery and anxiety of anticipating college admissions decisions will be no more.
Nevertheless, the decision of which school to attend will always be a difficult one.
The factors to consider when making your college decision are no secret. There’s tons of information online about the dos and don’ts of college selection.
Still, I want to share my insights on the subject, as well as what my students have found most important during and after their college years.
It seems that every news outlet has come up with its own college rankings.
These rankings are more similar than different and tend to favor private schools with small class sizes and large endowments.
Like the unveiling of the college basketball playoff brackets, alumni and current students cheer when they see their school listed in the top 50 of these rankings and share the news all over social media.
It’s great that people get excited when their school is recognized on one of these college ranking lists. After all, attending a prestigious school does have its benefits: a good education, a great name on your resumé, and a strong alumni network, among others.
Nevertheless, you should consider prestige beyond a single rank number.
Given how specialized every field has become, choosing a school based on your general area of study (e.g., life sciences, history, etc.) is very important. For example, a great public university in your state may have a top chemistry program despite being ranked 20 spots below an Ivy League school. The positions or graduate programs your child applies for later are often aware of standout departments in their area of expertise—regardless of their undergraduate institution's overall rank.
Your child's general area of academic interest may change, of course, and top schools tend to have great programs across fields. However, it's important that you consider more than a school’s name when determining how a degree from there will serve your child.
Location, Location, Location
These three words (well, one word repeated three times) are important in real estate and college decisions.
Four years is a significant amount of time for your child to spend anywhere, especially during their late teens and early 20s, when they want to have as much fun as possible.
In what type of setting does your child want to spend their time? Is your child a city kid who wants to get away and live in a rural place? Has your child grown up on a farm and always wanted to live in a major metropolis?
Your child will work hard in college and undoubtedly make great friends regardless of which school they decide to attend. Nevertheless, it’s important for your child to consider their overall college experience, including their social life, where they want to establish their network, etc.
College tuition and housing costs are at all-time highs, with students (and their parents) taking on enormous amounts of debt to attend their dream schools. Many students think they’ll quickly pay off their loans after they begin work, but the truth is sobering.
I won’t go into the reasons behind rising tuition. I will, however, tell you that job wages have not kept up with these increasing costs, and many indicators suggest that this trend will continue.
While it’s expected that most graduates will incur some college debt, I urge your child to strongly consider attending a university that is either within your financial means and/or offers incredible financial aid.
I should mention here that some schools that report the highest tuition sticker prices also offer the most grant money (i.e., money you don’t have to pay back) through financial aid. Therefore, you should never dismiss a school just because you think you can’t afford it. Instead, ask yourself how you can afford it.
I hope that your child will get to attend their dream school, but attending a college that is outside your current and future financial means may be more of a nightmare. Do your research!
Further reading: The Ultimate Guide to Finding and Winning and College Scholarships
These three college decision factors—prestige, location, cost—are not intended to form an exhaustive list of what your child should consider when choosing which college to attend.
Rather, I want to offer the perspective of current college students and recent college graduates who successfully navigated the entire college experience (academic, social, financial), as well as those who wish they had taken the decision more seriously.
And if you're reading this after your child has gotten in to multiple schools, congratulations on all of their admissions! I wish your family the best with your college selection decision and hope you enjoy the March Madness... responsibly.