It’s July, close to the beginning of college search season for high school juniors and seniors. I looked at colleges 6 years ago, and there were several aspects of my search that I found valuable: starting research early, discussing financial parameters with my parents, and applying to a broad, varied list. Maybe my experience will be helpful to you or a high school student you are fond of.
I genuinely enjoyed doing college research as a high schooler. It was fun to think about which subjects I’d pursue and what I prioritized most in choosing a college. My parents set few boundaries and encouraged research at a young age. By beginning research in sophomore year, my interest grew with every campus visit (both organized and informal). The professionals agree with this strategy – Todd Weaver, a partner at Strategies for College, advises students to “research, research, research.” I think it’s important, too. I saw many of my friends apply to a random list of colleges for haphazard reasons (“a friend told me of this school”, “my girlfriend is at this school”).
That holds true for researching financial aid as well as the colleges themselves! A colleague and good friend, an admissions counselor at a small liberal arts college in the northeast, told me that everyone should apply for financial aid unless the family income is greater than $400k and net worth exceeds $1M.
I liked that my parents talked finances with me and set expectations. It taught me about money and allowed us to be on the same page. They were clear and transparent with me about money from the onset. In my experience, this is rare. I saw many of my friends have awkward conversations with their parents and have their expectations deflated.
I learned more about money because part of my financial aid package involved working on campus for the four years. I enjoyed this because it taught me the significance of a dollar, improved my lifestyle, and felt good to work alongside my parents for my college degree.
Financial aid packages can vary greatly from one school to the next, so I wanted my application list to be large enough to account for denials and aid packages that my parents could not afford. Both informally and formally, I saw approximately 22 college campuses. Even seeing a college briefly as my family passed through a town left me with a meaningful image. My parents advised me to jot notes and feelings down immediately after touring (or reading about) a college. It really paid off. It’s hard to keep everything straight in your mind — especially at that age!
Another thing I learned was the value of applying to a variety of schools with different requirements and prices. Casting a wide net meant I had choices. My parents had reviewed their personal financial standing and goals so they let me know which of my accepted schools they could afford. There were three. I was pleased with the three I could choose from because they were all on my “personally approved” list. Any insider will tell you that there is a bit of serendipity involved in which students each school accepts and how much financial aid they offer each year. I combatted this randomness by constructing a good list of schools (for me) and applying to enough of them so I could take the punches of wait lists or less than generous offers.
Only now am I able to take full stock of the lessons my parents taught me throughout my college search process. I learned a lot about setting expectations, financial considerations, figuring out what I wanted, and planning. I learned almost as much from choosing a college as I did from being there!