Once upon a time in California, high school students could confidently apply exclusively to state schools knowing they would get a solid education at a good price. Unfortunately, as the all too frequent news stories report, that time is gone… lost in an unwieldy, overburdened system. Tuitions are rising, classes and courses of study are being cut, and campuses are restricting enrollment. Sadly, California’s master plan for public higher education has been deeply compromised.
This means many students need to cast a wider net in their college search, looking beyond the state schools for more choices. The good news is there are thousands of options out there that are both rich with opportunity and financially accessible.
How does one go about finding those choices?
Thankfully, there are a lot of resources at your disposal. Online, there are numerous sites such as CollegeBoard.com, Cappex.com, and CollegeProwler.com. Published guides abound, including the Fiske Guide to Colleges, and College Board’s Book of Majors and Meeting College Costs. And there are professional college consultants who are able to help you navigate the selection, application, and financial aid process.
What are some criteria to consider?
The most important thing is to find a school that is a good “fit.” That includes the following:
- Academics – Is the college strong in the areas of study that interest you? How do your grades and test scores compare with other students applying?
- Location – Do you want to be in a city, suburban, small town, or rural environment? What about weather? Are there regions of the country that appeal to you more than others? How far away from home do you want to be?
- Size – Part of the personality of a school is determined by its size. Large schools offer greater course selection, increased diversity of students, and big ticket sporting and entertainment events. Small schools offer smaller class sizes, better opportunities to interface with professors, and a strong sense of connection to the school as a whole.
Of course one of the most important factors in the selection process is the financial fit. Therefore, consider the following:
- Determine your family’s expected financial contribution (EFC). All college and university websites should offer an on-line calculator to help you do this, or you can go to Aidcalc.com.
- If your EFC is low, search for schools that meet 100% of need.
- If your EFC is high, concentrate on schools that offer merit scholarships that your student is likely to receive.
- Ideally, find schools that offer both!
- In addition, look at universities that participate in the Western Undergraduate Exchange program. Tuition for CA students is 150% of their in-state tuition for qualified students. For more information go to wiche.edu/wue.
Moral of this story: There are still wonderful choices out there that will fit your academic, social, geographic, and financial needs… helping put your student on the road to happily ever after.