Getting your kid into college, 2019 edition.
September 10, 2019 2:33 PM   Subscribe

You're a middle class parent with a bright kid. You navigated the US college system within the last few years. Your kid got in somewhere that won't break the bank, whether that's because it's a lower-cost school or you got lots of grants/scholarships/etc. How?

I have a kid in 11th and I want to understand more about how this process works.

For the purposes of this question, I am talking about:

-- A four-year college/university.
-- A school outside of the metropolitan area where we live.
-- Not interested in the mode of "start at community college, transfer after 2 years" advice.
-- Not interested in "Don't go to college" advice.
-- We're at public school so we'll get some college guidance, but will definitely need to supplement.
-- Assume Kid is already on the proper track to graduate HS with all of the necessary prerequisites for in-state schools.
-- Assume Kid is very bright and does well in school and tests well but isn't some sort of brainiac superstar who will automatically go to Harvard or the like.

So, what did you learn? Where did you learn it? Books to recommend? Websites?
posted by BlahLaLa to Education (40 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
 
Take a really good at the public university system in your state. Especially if you haven't lived there very long, or maybe even if you have, there are often great things you might be missing because you weren't really paying attention. For example, many state systems have a campus that's smaller and focused on undergraduates, more like a liberal arts college. The bigger public universities often have interesting programs and options that can give your kid a great experience. In any case, don't presume that the conventional thinking about public colleges and universities in your state is accurate.

Having said that... If your kid has a special talent or skill or plays a sport, even if not super well, it's worth looking at who wants kids who do that thing.

Also, you might run some numbers through MyIntuition to get a sense of what you'd pay at several private, expensive colleges and universities.
posted by bluedaisy at 3:04 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


(Is looking at schools in Canada an option?)
posted by trig at 3:16 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


Canada not out of the question but we have no particular connection there or any other non-US place.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:20 PM on September 10


Go through all the mail you’re getting now and look for application fee waivers. Alumni of schools might also be able to ask for them on your behalf.

Most college websites provide a financial aid simulator. In our experience, those results were generally within 3-5k/year of the actual offer.

Google “common data set” and the names of schools of interest. A fair amount of the time you’ll find more info than the guides have...for example, how important certain application components are. Related: ‘am I good enough to get in’ may be a less useful metric if a school is turning down lots of qualified applicants. Some schools are looking to attract students who boost stats — which can mean out of staters, first generation students, or other groups in that common data set information.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:28 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I had my kid apply to four schools: a good state university which would be affordable if nothing else worked out, a relatively unselective school that I thought might give him good financial aid because they'd be excited to get someone with his scores/ grades, and two pretty selective schools with good endowments that I thought would give him good financial aid. He got into one of the selective schools with a great financial aid package. If you have more money to invest in applications, you can place more bets.

Friends found that if they called to ask, schools matched others' financial aid, but they did not for us. (We might have already been getting close to the max of what they give.)
posted by metasarah at 3:37 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


One more ancillary thing: Kid's HS is a Title I school. Does that have an effect, even if our family doesn't fall within the specific economic group that makes a school Title I?
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:37 PM on September 10


For non-Canadians, Canadian schools are not a lot cheaper, although you do get a favourable exchange rate at the moment. They're probably good value for the money but they're not cheap in absolute dollars. My kids went to high school in the US and are in Canadian universities, but we're Canadian and thus get the domestic tuition rates. It is indeed a very good deal by US standards.

Anyway, based on your exclusions, you seem to know a lot of the process already. Go to high school info sessions, make a long list of state schools, go on a lot of tours, do the applications. Our high school had good guidance counselors who ran a bunch of very good sessions on the application process. There are a lot of scholarships out there and a good counselor can help you find those out.

Smaller private colleges will definitely cut their tuition for kids they want, but that's pretty hit and miss. Really smart kids I've known get actively recruited - one girl I know of got a full ride to an engineering program that wasn't her first choice, but what can you say to that kind of offer?

A lot of these offers are based on both SAT and PSAT scores, so if your kid did only so-so on the PSAT, well, yeah, they should have done better. Get them to crush the SAT or ACT.
posted by GuyZero at 3:40 PM on September 10


I'm not sure what you're looking for, specifically, but one thing we considered quite a lot was the distance between home and schools. That nixed a lot of possibilities because we couldn't finance a lot of travel between distant points on the map over several years. There's so much general advice out there in books and the like that's just, I dunno, repetitive malarky? If there's a program or field of study your kid is most interested in, let that be your guide--those programs and fields of study all have their own "what you need to know" type resources, especially if there's a specific institution your kid has in mind. Universities each have their own departments dedicated to prospective students (and financial aid questions) and you should feel encouraged to talk to them.

Three kids. The only one who went right to a 4 year school was a very dedicated student during high school and started applying to scholarships halfway through 11th grade. *Lots* of them. $500 essay contest? Sure. $2,000 science fair award competition? That, too. She was super proactive about tracking these things down. We helped her wherever we could (there are loads and loads of scholarship clearinghouse websites these days, and some are very specific about qualifying details like having a particular disability or medical condition), but she was very understanding that it was on her shoulders to find opportunities she wanted to qualify for.

I'm not sure why starting at a community college for the first two years is off your list, though, because it's a huge deal in the state where we live (California) and is the path the other two took/are taking. The oldest spent 2 years at CC and got into Berkeley, which he wouldn't have been able to do right out of high school. Those two years at CC are why his experience didn't break the bank. He graduated last June and has been working at CERN ever since. Not a bad approach. The youngest is following in his footsteps. In both cases, CC was the right thing to do because it's a very affordable way for college students to get their bearings and a better understanding of what major(s) they'd like to pursue. Again, this is a moot point if your kid has a really good idea of what they want to do.

If there are candidate schools or programs you or your kid have in mind, it's a really good idea to spend some time now reading about the faculty there. Read some of their publications, watch their presentations or webcasts at meetings, find details that make those faculty members attractive. This is much more common for students to do at the grad school level, but it's an easy way to gauge how well you might like studying someplace (and it'll give your kid a leg up--knowing material that's part of the faculty's area of expertise is a good thing to know when you're writing all the essays and the like for an application).
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 3:57 PM on September 10 [10 favorites]


Per the previous commenter, the CC to state school path is very practical in California and I've seen a few kids do really well going through it. And it's much cheaper and not an easy academic path, so it's not an easy out.
posted by GuyZero at 4:06 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry that this is true, and I don't want it to be, but some nevertheless-practical advice: as a middle-class kid in an underfunded public school, the ~$600 my parents paid for a private college counselor paid for itself and then some. It's an absurd thing that nobody should have to pay for, but the truth is, the counselor was probably the single most important factor in ensuring that I was investing my time & money somewhere worthwhile and well-matched for me. They also had lots of information that they got through their various college gossip networks about funding, scholarships, etc.

If your kid can do well enough on the PSAT to hit the National Merit threshold, there are a ton of institutions that will offer guaranteed scholarships, including some full-tuition ones. This is much harder in some states than others, since the threshold is state-dependent. Even if they don't hit that threshold that day, if their academics are generally at that level, they will likely be offered merit scholarships that are similar to those from the types of institutions that grant them.
posted by mosst at 4:16 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


Last I checked in California, four year public universities, both the UC and state campuses were impacted and very difficult to get into straight from HS. Being a bright student doesn't do much for the odds getting in. They look for well-rounded students and the personal essay is really key. I too don't know why CCs Is out of the question. If you could follow up as to your reasoning, it could help tailor the answers better. The first two years of a four year university are gen ed courses mostly taught by underpaid TAs who are in graduate school themselves.
posted by jj's.mama at 4:18 PM on September 10


(I am not interested in having the community college discussion here, thanks.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 4:24 PM on September 10 [8 favorites]


I wrote a blog post that might be useful.

BTW, I asked here about scholarships 6 or 9 months prior to that and Ask MeFi was uniformly sure my daughter would never get a scholarship.

She not only got a near full ride for undergrad, she will have a graduate degree in May courtesy of a paid graduate TA position.

Sometimes Ask Mefi is wrong ;)
posted by COD at 4:27 PM on September 10 [5 favorites]


Picking up on gnomeloaf's point above, go through all the mail you're getting now and throw out anything that makes you think, "Wow, I didn't think he/she could get into [nationally-ranked elite school]." For two reasons: one, he/she probably can't. The elites spend thousands of dollars recruiting kids they'd never admit in hopes they'll get excited, apply, get rejected, and keep the school's selectivity rating high. And two, because they are generally pretty stingy with merit aid* and you'll have no leverage because there are several hundred kids who will take your kid's spot if you can't make the numbers work.

(*Side note, some elites have gone to "need-blind" admission, but only a few have gone to "loan-free" financial aid. Here's last year's list of those schools; they are all nationally ranked, extremely competitive and they often have income restrictions for the offer, but it's worth exploring.)

I'ma big fan of looking at schools in the next tier down, where it's more of a buyer's market for students and parents, and colleges have to work to fill their freshman class. Looking at #75-150 on the US News rankings is a decent range to get acquainted with those types of schools, as well as the regional rankings (I would look at 10-25 in the regionals and the whole list of "best value," with the caveat that US News and rankings in general can be problematic.)

We found the national College Navigator to be a good resource for doing targeted searches related to geography, enrollment size, urban/rural, etc. It's slightly less useful for determining selectivity but can provide some context around average standardized-test scores and GPAs.

Once Kid has a short list of 10-12 schools, be sure to register online to get engaged with the admissions process. He/she may end up getting an app-fee waiver (as mentioned above), or even be able to submit a streamlined application with no essays, letters of recommendation, etc. Admissions counselors can be extremely helpful advocates, since they are charged with enrollment goals. The conversion from admitted candidate to enrolled student is the part they work hardest on.

With our first child, who graduated from high school in '12, we felt she would do better in a small, liberal-arts school. We looked at schools where her record put her in the top 25% of their range. (Most schools have a freshman class profile on their website where they share stats like class rank, test score ranges, GPAs, etc.) She applied to three schools and got in to all three, and then had the luxury of entertaining financial-aid packages that eventually lowered our cost about $17k a year, or ~one-third of the annual cost. It was still more expensive than a state school, but manageable for us. She took out $5k of student loans each year in her name, with us cosigning, and we are paying off the loans for her. (One lesson learned late: her merit scholarship stayed the same amount every year, but tuition/R&B went up!)

Our second child, who is a freshman this year, applied to several elite schools because he was curious about whether he'd get in - and I think secretly thought he might, although I'd cautioned him to be realistic about his chances. I think he really underestimated how competitive the admissions process is for the national top 20. He also - this is a big lesson here!! - didn't read the instructions on the Common App carefully, and missed the part where you also have to go into each school's admission portal and see if they have any additional requirements. He neglected to send his SAT scores to the one school on his "realistic" list (an in-state, top-tier public university), so his application was incomplete at the deadline. We did not find this out until April. The school allowed him to complete his application late, and he ended up wait-listed (but nobody gets off the wait list). He was rejected from the elites and had been counting on that realistic option panning out, but instead he is at his safety school this year (the liberal-arts university in our state system), trying to make the best of it and hoping to transfer to the "realistic" school next year.

As others have said, do look at your state system. Here in NC, the public campuses have all adopted a fixed-tuition program where students are guaranteed to pay the same tuition for four years. (Although campuses may raise fees, room/board, and other costs.) Our son, whether he stays at the school he's attending this year or transfers to the more prestigious campus, will end up costing us less than $100k.

One last recommendation: Frank Bruni's "Where You Go is not Who You'll Be"

Apologies for the tome - hope this is helpful!
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:28 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


I work at a community college, in a student advising role*. Colleges and universities in my state are seeing declining enrollments. As a result, many of the private schools are recruiting HARD - with very generous aid packages - sometimes to the point that it makes the private school cheaper than a comparable public school. So - don't discount the privates simply because of cost.

Also, does your local community college offer dual credit courses in the high schools? If your kid is bright, and is going to sit through an advanced math class their senior year of HS anyway (for example), they might as well get some college credit for it that could be transferred to their school of choice. Ask the high school if there is anything available. (Not every dual credit course will transfer, or count toward every major, so you need to ask and do your research.)

Speaking of advanced, if your kid takes an AP course in high school, it can only be applied toward credit at a college/university if they take (and pass) the AP exam. Just taking the class is not enough. I can't tell you how many disappointed students I've worked with who busted their butts during the class in HS, but never got around to (or sadly, could never afford to) take the exam, and missed out on that 3 hours of credit they could have earned for almost free while still in HS.

*Just stating my qualifications, not trying to sell you.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:51 PM on September 10


I am a professor at NC's urban research institution. I have previously taught at another state's regional public school in a struggling region of the country. I attended graduate school at one of the brand name public universities and undergraduate at a selective small private liberal arts university. Just putting that in to say that I have worked at or attended a range of schools.

A lot of college costs depends on whether your state supports higher ed with tax revenue. All states have significantly curtailed their support for higher education, but some states, like North Carolina, have kept their support stronger than others. So, if you are in-state, for instance, in North Carolina, the range of yearly tuition costs at a UNC system campus go from about $6,000 at ECSU and UNC Pembroke to about $9,000 at UNC Chapel Hill. For comparison's sake, in-state tuition at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is nearly $16,000. Rutgers University's in-state tuition for the year is about $14,000. So, it's much cheaper to attend university, even an elite one, in North Carolina, than say, Illinois or New Jersey. You don't tell us what state you are in, but it's a factor when you compare your situation to others. Tuition out-of-state almost always seems to be quite high regardless, although I have seen a few scenarios where schools that are struggling with enrollment drop their out-of-state tuition to attract students from states where higher ed is not as well funded.

The second major factor is that room and board are usually more expensive than tuition if you are just looking at in-state tuition at a public institution. My university costs about $7,000 per year for in-state tuition. But room and board on campus is $11,000 per year.

I am saving money now for my daughter's (hopeful) eventual college expenses. I ask myself when I see room and board figures like that, as someone who is in the system, is it really worth it to spend something like $50,000 on four years (or more!) of room and board just to do college in another city in the state? Would it be better to give her the $50,000 when she graduates so that she could start a business? Or, what if we used the $50,000 for international travel opportunities in school or other special program opportunities?
posted by Slothrop at 5:25 PM on September 10 [7 favorites]


You haven't gone into a lot of financial detail here, so I'm going to emphasize the obvious here: college is expensive. Private colleges are mindbogglingly expensive. You and your child's first step of planning should be to figure out what you can afford. There's a good argument for getting a loan for a STEM degree from Stanford, but much less justification to go into debt for an English degree. I know a lot of people who graduated into the Great Recession with an $40-$70K of student loans and absolutely no career prospects. They got jobs eventually, but they still have an insane amount of debt, and they're mostly furious about it. Don't be cavalier about your kid signing up for $100K+ debt (or even $30K+ debt), just because everyone else is doing it.

Your kid should get the best standardized test scores they can. Have them take a class (supplemental workbooks are good, too, but a class will ensure that your kid learns what they're supposed to and experiences an environment similar to the test). If they aren't scoring well, get an actual tutor. It's worth it. If your kid is in advanced classes, they should continue them. If your kid has the profile (grades, test scores, extracurriculars) that make Ivy league schools a reach, but like...a plausible reach...you can search for less selective schools that give out big merit-based scholarships. Otherwise, apply to the best in-state school your child can get into. If their hearts are absolutely set on doing something that would be better out-of-state (marine science??), even then it would be better to start local and transfer out for the final two years.
posted by grandiloquiet at 5:40 PM on September 10


The elites spend thousands of dollars recruiting kids they'd never admit in hopes they'll get excited, apply, get rejected, and keep the school's selectivity rating high. And two, because they are generally pretty stingy with merit aid*

Sorry, this is quite misleading. The top schools for the most part give out little to no "merit-based aid" because they are committed to meeting the full (demonstrated) financial need of all accepted students and they aren't going to pay the bills of the rich kids. It's often a significantly more generous package than it was in my day, too, recognizing many more incidental costs. There's just more money sloshing around these institutions than elsewhere. (Additionally, as a number of these schools require/strongly encourage four-year on-campus living, you get a nice predictable room and board cost rolled in to the budget.) Now, drop a tier and you start running into more restrictions, pretty fast. But a family that is actually rather than denial-based middle class should be paying a relatively small amount to send their kid to the actual top tier. If your family makes $75K a year it will usually be cheaper to send them to Harvard than to Michigan out-of-state.

some elites have gone to "need-blind" admission,

I'm sure there must be some weird exception, but, generally speaking, if your school isn't need-blind, at least for US students, it isn't elite and should not be paid for as such.
posted by praemunire at 5:41 PM on September 10 [16 favorites]


Make a list of any schools your family is an alum of that your kid might also be interested in—any college your kid’s parent, sibling, or grandparent attended for undergrad or grad school. Reach out to the alumni association or admissions office to talk about any legacy benefit. Some schools don’t care much but others bend over backwards to help legacy students (some public universities give legacy the same admissions treatment as in-state students, which seems crazy but is true).
posted by sallybrown at 5:44 PM on September 10


You might want to take a look at Norway.
posted by Floydd at 5:44 PM on September 10


I would be looking at what local/regional flagship public uni is sending you, and also maybe contacting them to ask for advice or an offer.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:08 PM on September 10


I'm not in admissions but I am a higher ed scholar. A couple of things that might be useful:

1. With some exceptions, there is tremendously more variance in students' experiences within an institution than between institutions. In other words, there's pretty good empirical evidence to support the idea that college is what you make of it (provided you know how to "make" it or what you're trying to "make"). There's a lot of homogeneity in U.S. higher education when it comes to many student experiences and services e.g., most of us have counseling services, we all have oodles of students clubs, there are internships and research experiences nearly everywhere if you look for them. A few potential differentiators include specialized or focused mission and identity (as an employee at a large public university, I have serious mission envy for some smaller colleges and specialized institutions that have a cohesiveness and focus that we'll never have) and location.

2. Private colleges rarely charge full ("sticker") price so don't be put off by that if you're exploring any private institutions. They almost always provide discounts in the form of institutional grants. (It's probably too subtle for a non-specialist to figure out - I'm not a financial expert so I can't figure it out myself - but an institution with too high of a discount rate is one that may be in serious financial trouble. Some small colleges are on the precipice of going under because they're giving too many discounts to convince students to enroll. Some analysts believe that our current demographic downturn in high school graduates makes it inevitable that a large number of non-competitive small colleges will be closing over the next few years. Especially in the northeast, it's a real buyer's market for students and parents once you look outside of the elite private colleges who have a large enough endowment and strong enough reputation to survive regardless of enrollment pressures.)
posted by ElKevbo at 6:09 PM on September 10 [6 favorites]


there's pretty good empirical evidence to support the idea that college is what you make of it

This is a really important point, and it may save you and your kid some angst over the search for the "perfect" or "best" school for them and their needs. Trust that almost every institution on your list will be able to offer the basics of a good education and safe housing. Not long ago, I went to a middle-of-the-road, non-flagship public school in the UNC system, and not only did I save a ton of money on tuition and fees, but I was able to establish myself as a "big fish in a little pond" to excel in my majors and make connections that would later be helpful in getting into a top graduate program for my field. Plus, I had a great time and wouldn't change anything about the experience. Others in my cohort left after a year to transfer to the flagship school in Chapel Hill because it was important to them, but I think we've all wound up about about the same level of professional satisfaction.

Another point, and a generalization (so take it with a grain of salt) is that if your child goes to a non-household name school, they may find a lot less pressure to "keep up with the Joneses" in terms of branded fashion, furnishings, nice vacations, Greek life, etc. This is an area where you could save a ton of money and give your child a solid foundation for living frugally and authentically (again, a massive generalization, and it's possible that your family already instills this).
posted by witchen at 7:30 PM on September 10 [4 favorites]


It's mercifully been 20 years since I was in this situation myself, but I agree with mosst that the money my parents spent on a college counselor was extremely well-spent (although it was probably more than $600, but I live in a wealthy suburb of San Francscico). She helped me figure out what colleges would be a good fit for me and would likely give me a scholarship. She also helped me figure out what to write about in my college essay. I got a 50% ride to a private college, so that more than made up for her fees.

Oh also if your kid has not had SAT prep, we discovered that private tutors were about the same price as the prep class, and I liked the individualized training. And it definitely boosted my score 100 pts from the PSAT.
posted by radioamy at 7:53 PM on September 10


3 kids in college at once here. Best thing was one opted for an ROTC scholarship. One, applied for and got merit scholarships and they were not Harvard material either. The third took a gap year and established residency in another state and ended up going to that State's University.
posted by AugustWest at 8:03 PM on September 10 [2 favorites]


The Los Angeles Public Library offers free SAT and ACT practice tests and test prep sessions, as well as college & career resources.
posted by mogget at 8:06 PM on September 10


Do you happen to have family in NY State where he can establish residency? It takes 12mo, but NY State Residents can got to SUNY schools for free. Yup. Free.

My kiddo is also a Junior, but has already found a small art school outside Boston that is their first choice. It doesn't cost and arm and leg (only a few fingers and toes) like some of the larger schools. About 60-70% of the students receive financial assistance based on merit or financial need. We are planning on applying for early admission and are shooting for merit-based assistance. The school doesn't require SATs, but my Junior is going to take them regardless.

Fortunately, my kid was able to spend a month at the school over the summer doing a pre-college intensive study. They earned three college credits, got to know the staff (and they got to know them). The improvement in skills was unbelievable. The experience solidified their decision that it was THE place, and the school has already indicated exactly what needs to worked on for their portfolio. Kind of a win/win situation all around. We're now in kind of a hurry up and wait holding pattern.
posted by dancinglamb at 9:56 PM on September 10


Consider visiting nearby schools to help get a sense of the different types/ characteristics of colleges (urban vs. rural, liberals arts college vs. university, etc.). There's no need to fly across the country in order for your kid to realize that actually schools in cities are not for him (for example).

You might want to check out Colleges that Change Lives for examples of schools that are off more off the beaten track.

When you compare financial aid packages, you might want to consider any requirements (e.g. minimum gpa over x semesters) for keeping merit aid scholarships. Relatedly, while the net price is usually the more important number, the list price might be relevant in certain instances. (E.g. kid is failing a class and wants to drop it on the last day of the drop period. However, dropping the class will cause the kid to lose full time status, and thus will lose the merit scholarship. Can the family pay "full price" for a part time course load or will the GPA need to take the hit instead?)
posted by oceano at 10:01 PM on September 10 [1 favorite]


I wanted to add that this school is less than a half hour outside Boston, yet has something like fewer than 500 kids. In our particular case, this is exactly what my child will benefit from. I think they would be *really* overwhelmed in a giant school with tons of competition.

You may want to consider looking at a school with the idea that it may NOT be the school where your son will be for all four years. He doesn't have to go to a CC; he can go to a smaller State School, get his feet wet, figure out his major and then transfer. Not only could it potentially be cheaper, it might be easier for him to get in.

I don't know how independent he is (or how well he will do without parental oversight), but given what I know about my kid's friends, I can see that working for a lot of them. I love those kids, but unleash them on their own? Hooo boy!
posted by dancinglamb at 10:04 PM on September 10


Is there a chance your child is good in German? Consider taking the TestDaf exam and then entry into a German university where the cost is MUCH lower than the US. I know this because I knew someone who crammed German for a few months, did the TestDaf and then went to Berlin for school.

I agree with the folks above to apply to first-tier schools with no fear about the sticker shock. The schools with the largest endowments usually have the best financial support. It gets grim at the state level and below when it comes to financial support. Besides, you don't win unless you try.

If you have not already done so, get them tutoring to improve their SAT/PSAT/ACT. Knowing how to take an exam is a crucial skillset that is handy for university and beyond.

I fully agree about taking college courses while in high school. It is more cost-effective for them to get fully transferable lower-division courses than gamble on AP scores being high enough to get university credit even after paying the exam fees.

In a previous life, I was in university recruiting and academic advising. I can also speak as a person who slogged through the California system and first in my family to go to university. Aim for the fences.
posted by jadepearl at 3:03 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Here's a weird tip that might have limited applicability, but look for smaller endowed programs within larger schools that aren't necessarily known for that specialty. My relative works at a fancy university, for the art department, which has a huge endowment. Usually people interested in art end up at a more renown "art school" but in order to encourage kids to come to this university, there are a lot of scholarships available. So many that he sometimes has trouble giving them out. But a relatively interested/talented kid who is willing to major in art alongside whatever else they are interested in? Has a great chance at a big scholarship. [hmu if you have an art kid!]
posted by LKWorking at 7:57 AM on September 11


My opinion: size of school matters, so check if your kid wants would be comfortable at a giant public school or a dinky private school. Distance matters too, if cost or relative independence is a concern. After that, they are all pretty much the same.

Have you already taken the SAT or ACT? There is a button you click or fill in or whatever and have your score provided to Universities. You will then get tons of mail about universities and start going through all that to see which ones interest you.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:03 AM on September 11


I have twins in their junior year of college now and the process can be overwhelming to say the least. If you have the means to pay for a college counselor, go for it, but you can definitely do the work yourself.

The number one thing that I would suggest is to start now thinking about your budget and what you can realistically pay for each year. Many families go into the college application process without any idea of how much it will cost. Scholarships (merit or need-based financial aid) are available, but they are not as readily available as you would think. Being up front with yourself and your kid now will prevent lots of headaches, tears, and disappointment later.

Here are some tips:
-Go to your school college info night if they have one and get to know the guidance counselors. Find out if your school has Naviance (a program that can help match your child's qualifications with a school). Everyone always says to apply to a variety of safety, match, and reach schools, but it is ultimately up to your student. Just make sure what you think is a safety or match, really is. (Most students have unrealistic ideas about match schools) Also remember that applications cost money! Just applying can cost between $40-$100. (BTW, throw away all the brochures you get in the mail. Everyone gets them.)

-Starting junior year, your kid should be thinking about test prep, focusing on what extra-curriculars they want to do, and letters of recommendations (don't get them until senior year, but can prepare). Both my kids did their own test prep and did fine, but some folks swear by classes. The summer before senior year, they should be working on their essays, narrowing down schools to apply to, researching/applying to scholarships, and visiting schools.

-Start doing as much online research as you can about schools. Concentrate first on researching programs and cost. Do they offer the major that your child is interested in? That can eliminate a choice fairly quickly. As far as cost, most colleges websites with an online NPC (net price calculators) along with very detailed info on the COAs (cost of attendance = tuition + room/board + books + etc). Start with your in-state options first.

-Keep a close eye on deadlines for admissions and scholarships. Many scholarship deadlines are early (October-November). Look for scholarships like your are looking for a job.

-Consider universities that have automatic admissions/scholarships. Certain schools like Univ. of Alabama have programs that guarantee admission and $ if you meet certain criteria (for test scores, etc.). There are a number of them out there, but the key is to get your applications in early.

-After applications have been put in, prepare for putting in the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The FAFSA has to be filled out by parents/guardians in order for your kid to get financial aid based on need and/or loans for most schools. The paperwork can be a bit tricky but with some preparation, it's doable. The FAFSA gives you an EFC (expected family contribution) for each child. The FAFSA takes into account your income, assets, as well as how many children you have in undergrad college. The EFC is the number the colleges will look at to determine how much (if anything) they can give you. Each college has their own calculation, so do not expect them to make up the difference between your EFC and the COA. When your child has been accepted to a college, don't assume the financial aid or scholarships are forthcoming.

You may want to visit the College Confidential website. The forums there can be brutally honest, but you can get good info about admissions, financial aid, etc., from experienced folks as well as folks in the industry. Memail me if you have any specific questions.

Last but not least, try not to stress too much about things you cannot control. In the end, there are good options out there for almost any student. Good luck!
posted by jraz at 8:15 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Consider universities that have automatic admissions/scholarships. Certain schools like Univ. of Alabama have programs that guarantee admission and $ if you meet certain criteria (for test scores, etc.). There are a number of them out there, but the key is to get your applications in early.

many of these automatic scholarships are posted on websites under freshman scholarships and you can see exactly what a student might qualify for automatically even before outside scholarships. i have one daughter who qualified for 5 figures based on being ranking number 1 in her high school class. My other daughter qualified for a large percentage off out of state tuition based on ACT scores alone.

As far as state schools go, smaller regional schools will be less than large D-1 type schools. Tuition is less, fees are generally far less and housing may be less. If your children have specific interests often you can find regional colleges that are very well known for one thing - say teaching or nursing or i even know of one whose specialty is aerospace engineering.

Don't discount out of state public schools - some may give adjoining state students in state tuition and be less expensive than a state school.
posted by domino at 8:52 AM on September 11


If middle class does not mean upper middle class - look into Trio, specifically upward bound. They also have resources for first generation college students and rural students.
posted by pintapicasso at 8:52 AM on September 11


A few things I have learned:
- Elite private schools have more money for scholarships than other places. Don't rule them out based on costs until you see what kind of scholarship package you get.
- Apply to a lot of schools (see if you qualify for fee waivers) Make sure your kid has a safety school that they are really willing to attend if they don't get in elsewhere.
- Some state schools have amazing special tracks for the more gifted students - it can be good deal, special attention at state school pricing.
- Small liberal arts schools if it comes with a scholarship can be fantastic, especially if your student would stand out. As a California student applying to North Carolina, my daughter had a diversity advantage that she wouldn't have had anywhere else.
- Make sure your student can be successful at the school they are attending It can be demoralizing to be a C student at a highly elite school - find the place that balance challenge with opportunities for success, especially if they are not likely to be going for an elite PhD afterwards.
posted by metahawk at 10:50 AM on September 11


When a colleague of mine went through this process a few years ago (I am still a ways away from having to think about this myself), one thing he said proved really useful was talking with a financial aid advisor. They'll tell you how to optimally array your assets for the best possible financial aid package, and given that moving some of these things around often takes time, the sooner, the better. Just passing on what he mentioned was really helpful (I'll plan to at least talk to one of these guys when the time comes for me).
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:05 AM on September 11


My kid who went to a small charter school and did well, applied early decision to Northwestern and got in. Full ride.

We don't know exactly why she got in aside from her stellar grades. She wasn't particularly active on campus in extracurriculars, because she needed to work. I do think that geography plays a part (they want a wide range of kids from all over) and few students apply from northern MN, her essay was very good (and not too standard), and she wasn't at a gigantic school where a lot of kids also applied to that school. It also helped that she was a female interested in STEM. Also, doing early decision also certainly helped, because the pool is smaller, and they know you Want In.

The only drawback to all that is that she's a bit of a fish out of water at an elite school with loads of rich kids.
posted by RedEmma at 11:20 AM on September 11


As someone who used to work at a high school and helped with this process:
1) go to College Night(s) if your kid's school offers one/them
2) bug your kid's guidance counselor(s) and ask for applications for every dang scholarship that your kid can apply for*
3) fill out every dang scholarship application that your kid gets, yes every dang one
4) have your kid take every college tour that his/her high school offers and during spring break, you and/or other parent should go with your kid to visit the top 3-5 choices, if possible

*you might be surprised to learn that not only merit scholarships are offered. there are scholarships for dozens of ethnic groups, for employment (your or other parent's industries may offer them), for well-written essays on various topics, for music, agriculture, sports, student government and all sorts of interests. Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 2:25 PM on September 11


Here is what I experienced with my child, who just started college in August, and another child in their sophomore year. Colleges have a variety of ways of deciding financial aid, and these methods are not always consistent nor obvious. There are issues that arise with "early decision", because by applying early you are basically promising yourself to that school without knowledge of the financial aid packages. I am divorced, and my older child's college only asks for my information, not my ex's, so they get a pretty good package. My younger child, had their heart set on a school located in L.A., that is 100% need based for financial aid. They not only asked for my info, and my ex's, but also his second wife's. My kid got a total of $10,000 in aid from the college (plus what ever federal loans she qualified for at all schools), they refused to give more upon appeal. The second choice school gave them a $40,000 a year, valid for all four year merit based scholarship. (As an aside, there are some schools that give fantastic financial aid packages for the first year, but are not guaranteed for all four years.) My child opted to go to the second choice school and is so far, happy there.
posted by momochan at 4:18 PM on September 15


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