It is time for Back-to-School shopping. Clothes, supplies, books, computers, and colleges/universities. Yes, that is right, I said colleges and universities. Seniors, at this moment are finalizing their college list to start the application process. What schools are on the list? Too often students are attracted to the Brand names but just like shopping for clothes you need to consider FIT.
I am trying to remember the first time a brand name called to me. I must have it. I am about to age myself big time, but I feel like I am writing to parents at this moment so here I go… I wanted that SWATCH watch, The Jordache Look, Gloria Vanderbilt, Guess, Calvin Klein. You all know the IT names from the 70’s/80’s. It was back to school shopping time and let’s just say my family had a budget for the Blue Light Specials at Kmart as opposed to shopping at a fancy mall.
My parents did the best they could. They worked hard to make a nice home for our family. I think back and I see the MANY sacrifices they made for us. Notice I said look back. At the time like any middle school or high school student I wanted to fit in. I wanted that BRAND that IT piece of clothing or jewelry. Wearing Wrangler or Lee jeans somehow made me feel like I was less, not good enough. When we would scrimp and save for that perfect popular SWATCH watch, it was the older model, dated as if to let everyone know my status in life.
I have a point I promise, and we are about to come around to college.
When I was 16 or 17, I got a job at the local mall. I was earning money and was finally in control of my fashion choices. When I took that paycheck to the store and I looked at price tags, my view changed. I looked for sale prices and made my own sacrifices, making sure to craft a wardrobe that would look nice or at least not cause people to pick or make fun.
What does this have to do with college? EVERYTHING! Just like picking an outfit for the first day of school, many students AND parents look for name brand labels and rankings in their college choice, instead of considering fit. Looking at highly ranked colleges and well-known schools also comes with a price. Consider brand colleges just like brand name clothes.
- Elusive – Hard to get – Colleges are HIGHLY selective and makes the process VERY COMPETIVIE and almost impossible to obtain. Leaving you frustrated and feeling less about yourself.
- Expensive – When demand is high and stock is limited, prices skyrocket. Capitalism 101 – Take a look at the Total Cost of Attendance at a top ranked college if you can find it. Private Colleges avg 60 – 80k a year price tag while public schools, especially if you are an out of state student can run 45-55K a year.
- Experience is not guaranteed – Just because you get in to one of these brand name schools does not mean you will have the same experience as those before you. Each students experience and access to opportunities is not promised. This is one of those cases that if everyone is special then no one is. You overcame the hurdle to get into this fabulous school, now compete to get into the major or individual college or degree program you want to study. Pre-med vs biology.
I suggest considering FIT over Brand when crafting your college list and making your ultimate decision about attendance. Things you should consider:
- Cost – While this should not be the only factor and there are schools that have funding available, you really need to understand what total spend over a 4-year college experience will cost and is it in your family’s budget and does it make financial sense. Borrowing 50K a year to attend a top school and coming out with 200K in student loans will be a very hard pill to swallow 4 years from now. The average salary for college graduates entering the work force in North Carolina is approximately $32,956, according to ZipRecruiter.com.1
- Selectivity – Review your grades and test scores and be realistic in your chances to obtain admission. Many of the top ranked schools have the ability to wait until March of your senior year to give you a final decision on acceptance. I am amazed every year at who DOES not get in. Top students with top scores and extraordinary activities and experiences. Many times, these same students while getting waitlisted or denied to the top school they are offered scholarships to less selective schools trying to attract the student for their talent. When I am in a room full of people I like to be wanted and appreciated, not just there.
- Access to Opportunities – How many students are fighting for the same internship or study abroad experience or representative from the college to participate in a national program.
- Majors/Programs – Does the school offer multiple areas of interest. It is hard for a 17-year-old to decide what they want to do for the rest of their life. Pick a school that has a variety of majors and programs to choose from.
- Size – Big, Medium, Small? High schools in our county can be bigger than a small private college. Students need to consider how they learn and will they have access to professors. At bigger colleges, first year classes can be 100+ students in a lecture hall. Is that scary? At a smaller school, depending on the area of study, students will be getting a large portion of their education from the same 3-5 professors. That might seem comforting to students who are looking for mentors. Other students might find this limiting. There are pros and cons to all sizes of school and ultimately the success lies with the individual student and how they thrive.
- Location – How close to home are you willing to go? Are you looking for city life? Would you prefer a small college town in a rural area? Are you ready for the temperature changes that go with the location you selected along with the traffic, parking, and cost of living? “Location, Location, Location” It really does matter and students should put themselves in the middle of the campus and drive around the surrounding community, before making their final decision. Visit that school in Boston in the winter. Tour that Alabama school in the summer. Visit the Target or Walmart or restaurants off campus. Who do you see? Are you welcomed? Remember this is going to be your home away from home for at least 4 years.
This is a BIG decision and an expensive proposition. Families should take a moment to determine what they want and create a list that best fits their situation. Selecting a college should not be solely driven by rankings or brands. It is only finding the best personal fit that will provide a higher percentage of success.