Setting the parameters in the college search process – the right school for the student… and the parents

choosing the right collegeNarrowing your choices — this is a biggie for parents. While students get to select the schools that interest them, most parents must set some parameters. What is too costly? Too far to reach by car? Is a school too small, too big, too urban? As your student selects colleges for his or her “wish list,” you need to set the parameters. Some of these considerations are geographic, some deal with the manner in which the school is funded and some deal with the size of the student population. This may be the first time that you have a serious discussion with your child about the cost of college, the cost of loans or the cost of transportation.

It almost makes you thankful to be a middle class parent. It won’t be the first time that your child has heard, “We can’t afford that!” However, don’t despair. Many Ivy League, and some state schools, now offer bargains for your student. Stanford just offered students full tuition if their parents make less than $100,000 per year; the offer rises to full tuition and room and board if parents make less than $60,000. The catch is, your student has to have the grades, test scores and activities to be admitted to these highly selective schools. For those of us who don’t have students competing at that level, we must deal with the following decisions:

In-state or out-of-state?

the-right-choiceThere can be quite a large difference between the costs of these two. Some private schools in your state may be less than paying out-of-state tuition at a publicly-funded school. My older son was disappointed to learn that one of his out-of-state choice ONLY funded scholarships to in-state students. This helped him to make his decision.

Public or private?

Don’t totally dismiss private schools due to the cost! 35+ years ago, the parameters that my parents set for me were that I could only look at in-state schools. The tuition structure is different now and private schools often give much more money in scholarships. My current senior has received a scholarship offer from a very good private school in our state. The $10,500 offered each year makes their tuition only a few thousand dollars more than similar state schools.

Urban, rural, suburban?

Where would your student fare best? This is a tough call. Some students thrive in small towns where students create the activities that drive the college’s social life. Other students can’t imagine going to school that doesn’t have major sports teams, symphonies or theater productions.


classroomWill he or she be comfortable in a school of 1,000? Of 50,000? Will YOU be comfortable with that size of school? The best advice that I received from my friend Krista was to take a road trip to a small, a medium-sized and a large school. Your student will be able to tell you which feels comfortable after visiting one of each of school. My older son visited a private school of 1,000 undergraduates. He hadn’t decided on a major but learned that there were only 20 students then majoring in Math. He left saying that he “couldn’t go to a school that was half the size of his high school.” This decision knocked six schools off his “wish list” and he started concentrating on schools with larger populations. I was happy as it meant six fewer application fees.

Throughout all the decision-making, be sure that your child knows that there is more than one “right school” for him or her. My senior has been accepted to four schools. I know that he will succeed at any of the four; now he just has to choose ONE!


The College Search