Before College: College Affordability Is About Fit As Well As Finances

Last week we discussed financial issues to check out when comparatively shopping for schools at which your children will pursue postsecondary learning. Today we focus on an equally important issue — shopping for institutions that are good “fits” for your students.

Yes, dollars and cents are important. But they’re not the only thing to take into consideration. Even if the net price of School A is somewhat higher than School B, it would still be good to select School A if it better conforms to student needs.

Students attending institutions that don’t fit their needs is are more likely to suffer emotional distress, which often causes poor academic performance. Even if they don’t flunk out, they’ll face three choices:

  • Transfer: If you’re lucky, new institutions will accept all courses your students successfully completed at their prior schools. But transfers frequently must retake at least some of those courses. This inflates their costs, because they pay twice for the same classes and because they may need extra academic terms — and the expenses that go along with those terms — to complete them.
  • Persist: Students unhappy with their colleges can always tough it out and remain their until graduation. But this often generates extra costs for support services (counselors, tutors, etc.). It may also lead to some terms during which it all becomes too much and they “stop out” — again, increasing costs by lengthening time to degree. Either way, unhappy persistence can affect grades and/or graduate school test scores, limiting the ability to get admitted to such schools and/or to receive assistantships and fellowships to help them pay for them.
  • Drop Out: Students mismatched with colleges or universities may throw up their hands and simply drop out. Results? A substantial financial investment is lost. Educational loans still must be repaid, but without increased earning power that accompanies postsecondary degrees. And even if they return to college a few years later, scholarships initially awarded to them won’t be there, causing increased reliance on debt to pay costs that rise in excess of inflation almost every year.

Fortunately, you know your students’ ambitions, passions, turn-ons, and turn-offs. Take these into account during campus visits and frank conversations with trusted friends already at various schools as you consider:

  • Campus Characteristics: Do your students need small church-related liberal arts schools, or campuses in small towns or rural areas, or would they flourish at large, diverse universities or in the midst of big cities? Would they fit better in vibrant on-campus communities or be OK at commuter schools where most classmates go home every night and weekend?
  • Class Characteristics: Is it important for your students to have small classes versus large lectures and clinics?
  • Student Body Characteristics: Would they be compatible with other students who are conservative or liberal or of one or the other gender? Do they want to associate with fellow students from diverse ethic and racial groups?
  • Campus Locations: Should they attend colleges close to or far from home and family?

In short, don’t ignore how much postsecondary affordability and success are related to fit as well as finances!

College Affordability Solutions also evaluates your student’s financial aid offers, determine the net costs, and identify funding gaps your student will incur at institutions making those offers. Email collegeafford@gmail.com to arrange free consultations if we can help.

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