The arrival of college acceptance letters has begun, and if you are like most parents of high school seniors, you probably expect to be significantly involved in your child’s college choice.
While it may be tempting to look immediately at the financial bottom line, it is important to keep in mind that choosing the college that best fits your student–even if it is a little more expensive upfront–could save you money in the long run. (Refer to my previous post, How Choosing the “Right” College Can Save You Money.) Students who choose a college without considering their social, emotional, and academic needs often end up changing schools, which can cost more time and money over the long haul.
Here are three key things you’ll want to do as you and your student discuss the final college decision:

1. Look at Your Budget

According to a 2011 report by consulting firm Longmire and Company, 58% of parents feel that cost will have an impact on the decision about which college their child will attend–so it is more than likely you have already been looking at the potential net cost of each school.

However, it is important to look at the big picture when it comes to determining the real cost of attendance at each school. For example, though the tuition at a public school may initially seem more affordable, some private schools offer financial aid packages that make the cost of attendance nearly equal to a state school. In addition to considering aid from the colleges and federal and state governments, also consider any savings and current income you can tap, private scholarships your child has won, and amounts your student can contribute such as income from a summer job.

2. Make a List

Choosing a school based solely on cost–or on a gut instinct–can be less than perfect, and many times may not lead to the best possible decision. For this reason, I always suggest that my client families consider all of the following categories when it comes time to make the final college choice:

  1. Academic Rigor
  2. Teaching Style
  3. Variety of majors and classes
  4. Campus Culture
  5. Support Services
  6. Location
  7. Size
  8. Athletic Program
  9. Talent Program(s)
  10. Special Programs
  11. Co-Op Programs
  12. Job Placement
  13. Religion
  14. Attrition
  15. Student/Faculty Ratio
  16. Safety
  17. Students
  18. Housing
  19. Food
  20. Weather

Your child should make a list of ideals for each of these items, and then compare that list with the information you find (or, better yet, experience in person) about each college still under consideration. This will give you a great start when it comes time to narrowing down the options and making a final college choice.

3. Go On College Visits and Review Your Notes

If you haven’t yet taken the opportunity to visit the top choices on your student’s list, now is the time. I encourage my clients and their students to see and experience these campuses since an in-person visit can provide a viewpoint that a glossy brochure or cool website can’t such as what the students are like, what the general “feel” or attitude on campus is like, the types of facilities that are available for student use, how professors teach, etc. Be sure you take notes on the 20 items listed above, and write down any other information you feel may help you and your child make an informed selection so you can compare schools objectively.

Once you’ve seen the sights and spoken to students, professors and administrators review your notes and have your student discuss his or her impressions with you. As your student about what kind of experience he or she feels would be available at each college. Encourage your student to try to make an objective decision about which college would honestly be the best fit. And make sure your budget is being taken into account too!

As long as you think your student is considering appropriate colleges, it’s best to allow your child to make his or her own college choice. That’s because if you make the choice for your child and something goes wrong, your child will likely blame you. Instead, if your child makes his or her own choice and something goes wrong, you probably won’t even hear about it. Making the college choice is the first big step for your child to begin creating his or her own destiny. With proper research and encouragement from you, your child will be empowered and on the way to successfully transitioning from adolescent to young adulthood.

All the best, Deborah Fox

Deborah Fox

Deborah Fox

Deborah Fox is the founder of Fox College Funding®, a specialty planning company that helps families nationwide use creative ways to reduce their college costs.
Deborah Fox