Now that you’ve gone through the scholarship letters and negotiated the best offer that you can from each college, the hardest part still lies ahead – choosing their school. This is perhaps the biggest decision that the student has faced during their young life. Ultimately the student and parents need to come to the best decision possible but there are a number of factors yet to be considered. In this post we’ll look at a process that you can use to make that decision.
Obviously your student needs to go to a school where their major field of study is offered. Hopefully the finalists in your list all offer the major that your student wants to study. You might also look at schools that offer a very similar major if everything else is competitive. For example, your child might want to major in chemical engineering, but there may be a couple of schools that are finalists who offer biomedical engineering or material engineering. Be sure to keep those schools in mind also.
Next, total out-of-pocket costs need to be considered. The work completed from the last two posts, maximizing your scholarship offers and normalizing the annual award amount, will be used in this step. Of the schools that offer the desired course of study, weigh the annual award amounts against each other. As a parent, this is also the point where you need to commit to the amount that you’re willing to pay towards college so that your child knows the full financial impact of their choice. Your son or daughter may really be leaning towards an out-of-state or private university; this might be the point of heartbreak where the cash outlay becomes painfully obvious and those schools are eliminated from consideration.
As a parent, you might have an amount in mind that you’re willing to contribute to college. This is where you have significant leverage over the selection process. Let’s say your child is choosing between two schools and the out-of-pocket amount is significantly more at one school. If your student selects the less expensive school, you may keep the excess amount of your contributions for a graduation or wedding gift or maybe a down payment on a home. Consider your use of this strategy judiciously; it can be a way to steer the decision in your favor. In fact, if you’re contributing at all to the cost of college, then I’d say that the parent is ultimately in charge of the decision process.
After the money consideration, if two schools are within $1000 per year of each other then this is where you would use the feel-good criteria as a tie breaker. These factors include the cultural, student-teacher ratio, facilities, extracurricular, sports, and other niceties that you’d like. These are important, but I fully believe that they should come at the end of the selection process. Course of study and cost need to be the primary factors, and if the gap is wider than $1000 per year, then you should decide on the less expensive school.
One thing you might encounter through this process is that there may not be a clear-cut winner. Two schools might rise to the top of the list, then it gets tough. At this final point, it might come down to a coin toss, but generally something else wins out like distance from home and other external factors not previously considered.
Be sure that you know the deadlines for scholarship acceptance for each of your finalist schools so that you don’t miss out on any opportunities. The important part is to use a systematic approach that attempts to remove emotion from the equation. Emotion can cost you a lot of money if not controlled. Congratulations on getting this far in the process, and good luck in making the best decision possible.