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Monday, April 11, 2011

How do I determine that a School is the right one for me?

US News and World Report uses a number of criteria, criteria which may or may not be in line with what is most important to you and your student.  If a professor, for example, wins a very prestigious award, does that tell you how good he or she is in the classroom?  Is any real contact possible with such professors?  Or are their classes handled by TAs (grad students who are teaching interns)? 

It is imperative that students and their parents more thoroughly investigate schools they are considering applying to.  Is Harvard, for example, the best place for your student to study in his or her chosen field?  Maybe, maybe not.

Here are some things to explore regarding colleges and universities you are considering:

Have you been on campus?  Sat in on classes?  Spoken to other students in that major?  Professors?  Are there undergraduate research or internship opportunities available?  Are there 2 of them for 5000 students, or is there a realistic chance that this would be part of your experience at that university?  What is dorm life like?  Is it party, party, party?  Is it all study and no play?  Is there a balance?  Can you find a place to study when you might need one?  What sorts of activities are going on - everyone needs to socialise and take a break now and again.    Are the typical activities of interest to you?  Do they refresh you and ready you for another round with the books?
  What sorts of discussions happen in the classes? Is this school notoriously intolerant of real discussion of various viewpoints?  After all, isn't true intellectual exploration a key part of a college education?  What sort of discussions happen in the dining halls and the dorm lounges?  Are students bashing those with particular viewpoints, or are they regularly engaging in meaningful examination of the merits of various arguments and positions? 

  What sorts  of alumni associations are there?  Do graduates often get accepted at their desired graduate schools?  Is the placement office efficacious in helping graduates and older alumni find positions?

This is by no means an exhuastive list of questions.  It is a representative sample.  Create your own, customised list.  What are the most important facets of a college education and experience for you?  Make a list; from your list, draft your key questions.  These will guide your campus visits.

None of these questions is easy to answer.  You have to do some real research and spend time truly exploring your candidate universities.  Name brands only take you so far - then you need to seriously explore the opportunities offered and value given for the price at that program in that university in order to determine which should remain on your list of schools to apply to and which should not.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Don't Wait!

Every April I receive numerous calls and desperate emails from parents of seniors.  Only now, when they have the financial aid offers in their hands, do they realise that COLLEGE COSTS MONEY! 

Astounding!  With many, many schools in the $50,000 and up annual price range, how did these parents miss this little fact?

I am often asked when should we start planning for college.  You should start planning for college as soon as the baby is born, maybe even as soon as the pregnancy test shows you the telltale red line!  Families with young children often do not have much money.  They do, however, have a great deal of time.  Time is a beautiful thing to have when you are growing a pile of money!  I can help young families put together a savings plan which is very effective and takes into account the financial aid rules so they can maximise their access to that pool of funds as well.

Don't be one of those families who only call a college planner when it is too late.  Call today, when your child is young! - Providing Expert Knowledge for the Journey to College!