Today many colleges until recently required strong credentials for admission, now appear to be accepting only students who possess outstanding qualities. Students who might have been admitted a year earlier, now are being offered a spot on a waiting list–or worse. So, while elders tell stories of getting into these colleges with average credentials, current students, who possess excellent qualifications, are being denied admission.
What do these trends tell us and what success strategies might help you gain college access?
- Focus on Quality & Value: Choose a good college where you can get a strong education no matter what major is pursued. Choose a college that is strong on factors that foster academic success. Use publicly available information to compare colleges on total enrollment, percentage of small classes, student-faculty ratios, graduation rates, rates of students in campus housing, and typical debt amounts for graduates. Determine whether a college’s increased selectivity has resulted in improved student success. Check whether classes are smaller, more courses are available, there are more scholarships, or student services have improved. Go beyond rates of admission and test score statistics to understand trends in factors that foster student success.
- Geography Matters: Consider colleges across a wider geography and recognize that rural towns have paved roads and running water, too. University of Iowa is strong academically and among the smallest universities in the Big Ten Conference. Iowa is well-endowed and located in an attractive city with shopping and riverfront paths. I know that Hawkeyes are not Buckeyes, but one’s chances of admission may be better at University of Iowa than Ohio State. And, check out Grinnell College, which is nearby and offers great programs, too. Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH gets overlooked in the Ivy League, yet has a great faculty and daily transportation to NYC and Boston. Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA is strong in languages and international studies, located in a county capital with government internships, and near the Appalachian Trail for outdoor activities. Finally, determine whether studying as an international student at a good college outside the U.S. is an option, which may increase your marketability. From my Cleveland office, Toronto is 60 miles closer than Chicago.
- Residency Matters Too: Check residency requirements for public universities you are considering. Know whether owning property, a parent living in that state, or a job change might allow you in-state tuition rates. If in-state residents pay $25,000 and out-of-state residents pay $45,000, understand the trade- offs, net present value, and opportunity costs of your additional $80,000 expense. Some regions have created alliances to offer discounts for students to attend public universities from neighboring states. Some colleges along borders welcome students on either side of the state line at resident tuition rates.
- Avoid Bankruptcy: I recommend that families begin the college process with discussions about priorities, values, expectations, and shared decision-making. It is risky to yield control for college decision-making to students when 4-year college costs may total $100,000 to $300,000. Like any investment, college costs should be weighed with their impact upon opportunities for the whole family. All families make trade-offs to provide education for their members, but avoid bankruptcy to fulfill your child’s dreams. Help students understand possible college financing scenarios and how those might impact the family. And, it is okay to set limits on items that might drive up costs unnecessarily and distract from the real mission of degree attainment.