This is from my segment on Atlanta & Company on May 25, 2009.
It’s that time of year again. Colleges and universities are filled with students taking in the sites. Yes, high school students and their parents are taking college tours across the country. They are checking out classrooms and dorms and wondering if this is where they will call home the next four years. If only the college tour included price tags on all the sites.
College is expensive but no doubt worth it. According to the Census Bureau the average high school graduate earns $31,000 whereas the average college graduate earns nearly double that. But do you have to go to a big name school to earn big bucks? While it might have been true for the parents’ generation, it is no longer the case.
Get Started Early– Colleges and universities have greatly expanded their choice of programs and majors. Each program has its own requirements and applications. High school students should begin looking at colleges early in their junior year in order to be able to research and compare all the programs. They need to begin to cultivate relationships with the college admissions advisors. Ideally, the senior year should be about finishing and submitting applications and the mountains of forms not researching schools.
Network With Young Alums – Most high school students have a chance to talk with current college students and perhaps meet older alumni on other occasions. But the real wisdom comes from young alums. They just graduated and can give you real advice and feedback on their education. They are also more comfortable talking about financial aid and scholarships now that they are done. Current students tend to be more guarded about talking about money and other important details.
Don’t Count on a Backup School – The dynamics of college admissions have changed in this economy especially in states with lottery or state supported scholarships. Traditionally, private schools have been harder to get into than public schools. But in a tough economy public schools have been flooded with applications from well qualified applicants looking for lower tuition. So you can no longer rely on the state school as your backup.
Paying For It
Pay For a Tutor Not Tuition – It’s cheaper to pay for a tutor in high school than tuition in college. So focus your efforts on getting stellar grades in high school and on admission tests. These scores can literally be worth tens of thousands of dollars in college tuition. The better your scores the more likely you will qualify for private and public scholarships. So investing in a good tutor in high school could literally payoff big in college.
Get Started Early – Money goes fast so if you will need money to pay for your college you have to be the early worm. There are many sources for aid so you should research your options early and get organized so you don’t miss any deadlines. Sources for aid include private scholarships and college-based scholarships awarded on merit as well as need based aid provided by the federal government and many private schools.
Make Yourself Special – There are billions of dollars of scholarships awarded every year. You can get a piece of the pie too but it isn’t going to be served to you on a silver platter. You have to work for it and spend time and effort finding and applying for scholarships. A great resource is http://www.finaid.org/ There are many scholarships for specific groups, organizations or companies so think of everything the student or parents are affiliated with and don’t leave any stone unturned. For example there are scholarships through AAA, Google and even Coca Cola.
Pay For Learning Not Amenities– Colleges are not immune to the keeping up with the Jones’s syndrome. They are spending millions of dollars to add new bling to their campuses like fancy dorms, dining centers with international cuisines and climbing walls. So don’t fall for the fancy new tables and chairs look at the quality of the faculty and programs. Would you rather sit in a new classroom learning from a new TA or an old classroom learning from an experienced professor with a PhD?
Forget the Big Names – If you are looking at taking out tens of thousands of dollars of student loans to pay for a big name school you think will lead to big gains in the future, think again. Big names no longer equal big salaries and opportunities at graduation. New studies have shown there are very little salary differences between graduates of prestigious universities and public universities. And if you are thinking it’s the connections you’ll make, rethink that too. The old-boy networks are eroding and a study from the University of Pennsylvania shows that the number of top executives with Ivy League degrees is decreasing while the number of top executives with public university degrees is increasing.