Finding the right college

choosing a collegeMy 18-year-old son dreams of being an influential college football coach. On any other given day, he also hopes to be a World War II expert or the next great video game designer.

So, where do we begin to look for an all-around great college or university that can give him a glimpse at all of these professions along with enticing more of his interests or talents to the surface? And how do you find one that won’t bankrupt this family with no savings and two self-employed parents in a rural area of Iowa?

Our search began last summer with me probing, questioning and hinting to him that he has to start looking through the college catalogs. He likes the state university’s football team, so he chose to look at that school with more than 22,000 undergraduates.

I also persuaded him to look into something smaller and private that offers more one-on-one help. We are looking at a small, liberal arts college in Iowa, with 1,600 students.

Scott’s grade point average hovers above a B and he ranks in the top 35 percent of his class of 145 students. Those grades probably will secure him an admission in any of the public Iowa universities and many private schools – if he keeps up his grades till graduation and he passes Algebra II. That class will be haunting him until the end. Math has never been his strength compared to his science and history courses.

At this point, we’re not even concerned about the price of a college. That sounds rather strange coming from a family with no college savings. But until we fill out the financial aid forms and get all that figured out in February, we just want to make sure he has been admitted to a few places of his choice.

application-processAs a farming family who doesn’t own the land, we have been told by those in the same circumstances that we may be getting some great financial aid. Our tax forms get very complicated with farming expenses, deductions and depreciation.

Just to get a feel for the state university, our family took a general tour. I felt like the dorms — which looked more like rooms in a prison — and even many of the academic buildings were run down and antiquated. Scott didn’t seem to mind.

The school does have a great reputation for its academics, but it is going through some safety issues with assaults on campus and a controversy of whether campus security guards should tote guns.

In the next month or so, we will take the 2 ½-hour drive to the small college to check out its campus. Each week, Scott gets a friendly letter or e-mail from this wealthy college promoting their programs and inviting him to visit soon.

In the end, it will be Scott’s decision depending on the type of financial aid he receives. Even though the state U. is a public university, the full price for tuition and room and board next year will probably top $17,000. The private college will go over the $32,000 mark.

By Lee


The College Search