Your Money

Choosing that college: Tips for parents

College financial plannerMay 17, 2014 

George Scott

Summer is upon us and parents and students are beginning to visit college campuses across the country in their quest to find the right college or university for their rising seniors.

College selection is an important part of the process. Take as many of these visits as you can afford. However, you must remember the reason you are taking the visit in the first place: to choose the right institution to prepare your child for their life’s work.

You wouldn’t buy a home without walking through it, and this is going to be your child’s home for the next four to six years. Make your campus visits with the same scrutiny you would employ in the home purchase.

Mistakes in selection can be expensive and though you will find many things that excite you, don’t forget to look for warning signs, as well. It is good to remember, on tours, that they are the seller and you are the buyer. It’s your money they want you to spend.

First, make a scorecard of the things that are important to you. Take a new scorecard with you on every visit. Do not bring any of the cards you’ve already graded on the visit; you want to remain open and objective. This list should include facilities, technology, faculty-to-student ratio, health-care, and more. The starter list we use has twenty-three set items with room for additional items that are important to your family.

Number these items as to the importance you attach to each. Score them on a range of one to 10, and at the end of the visit multiply your valuation by the importance factor to create an overall score for the college.

After all of your visits are completed, you can refer back to rank the colleges by their overall score. Don’t trust your memory. Multiple visits over a period of time can muddle your remembrances.

The college with the highest score doesn’t have to be your natural choice. Use your scorecard as a guide. There are other criteria you will want to weigh before a decision is made, but this will be a good refresher of your visits.

This can then be used in conjunction with the Student Aid Report from each college which gives you the dollars each school is offering for your student to attend their school.

Your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on the dollars, the campus, or other criteria. They should all play a part. Remember, this isn’t about the next four to six years. It is about the next 46 years of what we desire — a happy, successful life and career.

Some tips to consider during your visit:

Eat with the student at the places where they will be eating if you choose the school. While dining, make sure to find out cafeteria hours, locations, and types of food served. Consider any allergies or special needs.

This can also be a good time to strike a conversation with a nearby student or two. This gives you an opportunity to receive some candid comments on the university. Don’t hesitate to ask questions that are important to you. Students can give you the good, the bad and the ugly on dorms, professors and classes. This is a good time to ask about transportation and parking also.

Stop in the departments of possible areas of major. Doesn’t it make sense, if possible, to let the dean or an advisor know that you are interested in attending the school because of your interest in their department?

Make sure to get their business card and, upon returning home, send them a handwritten thank-you note for their time. Perhaps, at a later date, you could email them a question while letting them know you are interested in their school and, in particular, their department. At the same time, you are making yourself notable.

A professor in the department could be an alternative contact. You might meet this person while sitting in on a class of interest. These contacts might be useful later if the monetary award is not enough to allow you to attend. You may have created an advocate or two.

Having already corresponded with them on occasion, you might now feel comfortable in making a phone for help later. If you’ve made a favorable impression and, if they would like to have you attending their classes, they might be inclined to give you suggestion on how to receive more aid. They could even make a phone call on your behalf. Who you know is still important.

Scott is a college planning and funding specialist with Seeds of Wealth College Funding Solutions. Reach him at collegeplanning@seeds ofwealthfinancial.com or (803) 781-3600.

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