One look at today’s news headlines will highlight how far some parents will go to ensure their child’s acceptance into the “right” college. Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions a student and her family will make. Costs are rising, there are a multitude of schools to choose from, and competition for acceptance is intense. My husband and I have one daughter in college and two daughters in high school, and college selection is an ever-present topic of conversation. While we would be thrilled if they chose (and were accepted to!) Harvard University, we really want them to attend a school where they will thrive academically, socially, and personally.
In this guest post, Tanya Shaw Steinhofer, CFA, CFP®, offers a practical approach to college selection. Tanya is a financial life planner passionate about helping women and families with young kids with their finances, and we appreciate her sensible guidance in this complex process.
Going to college is a rite of passage for many Americans. For many young adults, it’s the first time they live away from their families and take responsibility for their lives. Due to years of above-average price inflation, college has gotten to the point of being unaffordable for many or at least a significant financial commitment. And now we’ve learned that the admissions process at many elite universities has been gamed by wealthy families, further exacerbating the inequality involved in getting a college education.
Fortunately, you can still provide a great college education for your child, even if you don’t have the money to bribe your child’s way into an elite university, in addition to paying the high cost of attendance. Here are a few steps to ensure your child finds a good college fit:
- Stop encouraging a focus on a few elite schools that everyone is trying to get into. Current scandal aside, the admissions rates at elite schools are ridiculously low and legacies (children of alumni) and recruited athletes account for a disproportionate share of the few admissions. Parents are a big part of the problem by encouraging a focus on schools to which the student has little chance of getting accepted.
- Encourage your child to explore what they are passionate about. From a young age, help your child explore a wide variety of interests, instead of making them focus on one or two things too early. Observe them to see what they gravitate towards or seem particularly passionate about. Encourage them to pursue these passions further. In high school, encourage them to take any aptitude tests offered by the school career counselor. Have them talk to other adults about their careers and life journeys. Travel with them to show them the broader world.
- Help them build a list of “best fit” colleges before peer pressure causes them to focus on the schools everyone else is applying to. There are many resources for researching the thousands of universities and colleges, including books like the Fiske Guide to Colleges and The College Finder. In addition to their passions, have them explore what type of environments they are more likely to thrive in and find colleges that offer this. Do they do best in a large school or small school? Close to home or far away? Warm climate or cold climate? Which schools have strong departments in the topics that interest them?
At the end of the day, which college your child attends will not determine their ultimate success in life, but rather their internal drive and motivation. Help them find a college that will foster this inner strength and allow your child to thrive and develop.
Tanya Shaw Steinhofer, CFA, CFP®
Redwood Grove Wealth Management
Financial Peace of Mind for Busy Families