This has been an incredibly exciting year for me, filled with wonderful experiences as a director of admissions. Those experiences continue to impact me as the mother of a college student. I hope you and your parents find some of these insights helpful as you prepare to enter college next year.
As a Director of Admissions, I've learned to ask smarter questions. As you and your family sort through the financial side of your decision, the answers to some of these questions will make a difference for you:
- Is that scholarship you received renewable and, if so, what are the criteria? You don't want to start something you can't afford to finish.
- When you compare costs and financial aid packages, are you sure you're looking at 2013-2014 costs? Some college publications and web sites list the costs for the current year.
- Are you OK with the costs this year but worried about what happens a year or two from now when your brother or sister also needs financial help for college? The FAFSA will take that into account, splitting the level of parental support. You will both get more financial aid than you're getting this year!
- Are you getting need-based financial aid that includes a sizeable contribution from student savings? If you spend more of it as a freshman, you increase your eligibility for financial aid as a sophomore.
- Are you considering all the required fees? As if tuition, housing and meals weren't enough, some universities tack on substantial additional charges for technology, parking, registration, energy surcharges, etc. Dig that information out of the web sites.
- Are you assuming you can't afford your first choice college but haven't filed a FAFSA? You can't make a good decision without gathering the facts you need to make that decision.
- Are you concerned about college loans? You should take any loan seriously but it's puzzling how many people will borrow money for a car that will be worth nothing in a matter of years...yet hesitate over a similar loan for an education that continues to grow in value over a lifetime.
- How likely are you to graduate in four years? It's not just about another year of tuition, the result of crowded classrooms and courses you can't get into. As frustrating as that can be, the real financial hit is the money you never earn because you enter your career later.
These and other questions were eye-openers for me. However, just about the time I was feeling pretty confident with helping students ask the right questions, my son came home for Christmas break. As he and his friends gathered around our dining room table (yes, the food bill goes back up, but it's great to have him home), I stepped back from my director of admissions role, put on my "mom hat" and listened as they talked about their college experiences.
"Hey, college is really great. I only had to go to my psych class three times last semester."
"Are you kidding me? We weren't required to be there, but if I wasn't in class, I knew I'd run into my professor at a game or in the cafeteria. I had to have a good reason."
"I never saw a professor outside of class – I think she was just a student, you know, a grad assistant."
"On our first day of class, the professor's email address and home phone number were on the board. He knew all our names by the end of the week."
"Well, I got a B."
"Yeah, me too, and I really had to work for it. I had to rewrite one of my papers three times."
"You have to do papers? That's the great thing about having larger classes – what professor would read 350 papers?"
"Isn't Facebook great – I can keep up with all my friends over break."
"You really seem to KNOW a lot of people and I'M the one who chose to go to the 'BIG' school."
Most important, what I learned is that there is a distinct difference in the college experiences our children have. Better? Worse? I don't know, but it's definitely different. I don't know how to assign a dollar value to those differences...and that's really my whole point. As parents, we all want something great for our children, and helping with college is probably the last really significant thing we do in launching their lives as productive, thoughtful and happy people. That's priceless.
Again back in my director of admissions role at QU, faculty are the heart of everything we do. You can expect both challenge and support from people who care about your individual success. You can expect a safe campus community that respects differences and where values are important. In turn, we'll expect your active participation in both our classrooms and our community. If that's the overall college experience you're looking for, we'll welcome you to campus next fall.
Best of all, you'll be a Hawk because you expect a great college experience! None of the questions that really matter the most, the things that make a difference throughout your life, are about cost. Make it about value.