Earlier this month, I attended the IECA Spring Conference in Boston. Along with over 400 of my independent educational consultant colleagues from near and far, I attended numerous professional development sessions. One of the highlights of these sessions was “Shifting Sands of College Admissions” presented by Edward Fiske, author of the popular Fiske Guide to Colleges.
Mr. Fiske made a number of good points in his presentation, especially addressing the growing crisis of access to higher education as more minority and first generation college students are headed to college. In fact, he stated that, “How colleges choose to deal with globalization will define their character for years to come.” But what really resonated with me was his idea of education as the ultimate consumer item. As Mr. Fiske noted, “If it’s anything we Americans know how to be is consumers.” He then went on to exclaim that attending the wrong fit college is like having a four-year jail term with a $100,000 + fine.
Looking around the jam-packed room, I saw all heads vigorously nodding in assent. Although Mr. Fiske’s jail and fine comparison might seem depressing, he had nailed it. Because that is exactly what it can seem like if students do not spend the time on the front-end doing due diligence in regards to investigating their options and asking themselves these 3 key questions: 1) Is this school an academic fit for me? 2) Is this school a social fit for me?, and 3) Is this school a possible financial fit for me and my family?
In order to answer these questions, it is essential to be a good college consumer. Here are my tips for successful “college shopping”:
Because there is so much information to digest about college admissions, the best advice is to start early. Having the luxury of time to research and process all of the information out there is crucial. Waiting until the fall of senior year is just not enough time to do justice to the process.
CAST A WIDE NET
As you begin your search, do not rule out any options. Don’t be so quick to discount smaller schools or ones with lesser-known name recognition. Think about your needs — sometimes the more obvious (and bigger schools) simply will not be able to give you what you need out of a college experience. Speak with experienced professionals who can help guide you with creating your college list.
KNOW YOUR FINANCES
Have this conversation early. Parents and students need to be on the same page with regards to what the family can and cannot afford. Knowing your financial limitations at the onset of the search can save lots of family heartache and turmoil later on. I would start by using the net price calculator which is an application that each college must provide on their website in order to assist families with figuring out their net cost of attendance at that particular school. Although not perfect, it is a good place to start. Other good resources are fafsa.ed.gov and finaid.org.
There is no better way to be an educated consumer than to personally visit the campuses. If visiting all schools on your list is not logistically (and/or financially) possible, then be sure to visit a good representation of them. In other words, don’t just visit reach schools. And be sure to visit schools where demonstrated interest is a must.
Whether you prefer books, blogs or social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, the theme is the same: read and read some more. Don’t rely on your best friend or neighbors for the inside track — read it for yourself. Some of my favorites inlcude:
- Admission Matters - What Students and Parents Need to Know About Getting Into College by Sally P. Springer, Jon Reider, and Marion R. Franck
- Fiske Guide to Colleges by Edward B. Fiske
- The College Solution by Lynn O'Shaughnessy
The college search and selection process is a wonderful and rewarding journey. Happy shopping!