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Choosing the Right College for Your Student

Choosing which college to attend is one of the most important decisions to be made in life. College planning can be an overwhelming experience, but it doesn't have to be if you know what criteria to consider when making your choice. The crucial thing to remember is that selecting a college should be treated as a business decision and should not be approached emotionally.

Students typically become caught up in the excitement when anticipating college. College gives them freedom and opportunities that were not available to them in high school. This excitement, however, can lead to high levels of emotion, which can be dangerous when making such a vital choice.

To reiterate, college planning should be, above all else, a business decision. Private colleges can cost over $60,000 per year, meaning that by the end of a student’s college career, expenses will have totaled over $250,000. Even public schools’ tuitions are increasing; in the last year, state tuition increases nationwide eclipsed the inflation rate.

The sticker price of a school is not necessarily what you will expected to pay for tuition, room and board. In fact, some schools with a sticker price of $60,000 plus per year can often cost less to a family than an in-state public university with a sticker price of $15,000 to $20,000. The difference is that some schools provide more merit and need based financial aid than others. Some college planning companies, such as 123College, have extensive databases to match your student with the schools that have these large endowment funds to give out the free money.

Let’s think rationally about such a big-ticket purchase such as that of a college education. If you were spending over a hundred thousand dollars on a house, for example, you would approach the decision objectively. You would shop around for the best deal on a mortgage and consider the value you were receiving for your money. Why should the college decision be any different?

For example, students should contemplate the academic caliber of the school they are going to attend. The name of the college on their diploma will have an effect on their job prospects. The price tag on a school, however, does not always reflect its academic level. More expensive does not always mean better.

The majors available for study are also important when making the college decision. Majors can differ greatly from school to school, especially when considering liberal arts schools versus technical schools. In addition, some schools have specialized majors that are not widely available at other colleges. Students also need to research the popularity of particular majors and the reputation of the departments at a school.

Students have different preferred lifestyles, and campuses can reflect this. Does the student prefer a quiet campus? A campus with a strong Greek presence, or maybe something in between? Is the fall college football program important to your student who may cherish the idea of college football season? Students' happiness at college can largely depend on the campus atmosphere and how it fits with their own needs and wants.

Finally, students must consider location. Some students will want to save money by commuting to school and therefore must live nearby. Others will want to live on campus but be close enough to home so that they can return for holidays, while some will want to explore locations far from home. Finally, students may have a preference for an urban, suburban or rural campus.

All of these factors will determine students' happiness during their college years, but still must be contemplated in the context of value for the money. Students may get caught up in emotion when they look at glossy brochures and see sprawling green campuses, but solely emotional decisions will only lead to bad situations.

Take, for example, a student who chose to go to an expensive private school based on its large dorm rooms and gourmet dining hall. The student will no doubt have to take out extensive student loans, and may owe tens of thousands of dollars upon graduation. Now think of a student who chose a less expensive school that has an excellent reputation in respect to a preferred major. This student will have considerably less debt upon graduation, and may also have had a higher quality education. In the end, who made the best decision?

College planning should be treated as if it were a normal high-stakes purchase. Why should the college choice be based on emotion when the choice of a house or car is not? In the end, prospective colleges need to be extensively researched. This research should be the basis of the decision made by students and their parents and not become a decision based upon emotion or sentiment.