College Planning: Who makes the final call on where to go?

Posted by Lindie Johnson on Oct 6, 2013 3:25:00 PM

One of the least enjoyable parts about college planning is deciding what college your child will attend. Conventional wisdom suggests the person paying the bill should have the final say. But the person who must endure the actual college experience, the child, should have some say as well. So, how do you even begin weighing this delicate matter?


In an ideal fantasy world, all college age children would score full scholarships to the Ivy League and America's other top rated universities. As is, many parents must reconcile themselves and their children to certain realities, the cost of tuition, college selectivity, and the limits of financial aid among them.

Yes, everyone deserves to explore the dream of obtaining higher education. But at the same time, the financial reality of doing so is inescapable.

Before frank discussions about the feasibility of one institution over another can take place, better to speak plainly about the many things most colleges and universities have in common.

For example, a respected city or state school will provide a very similar core curriculum as at, say, Yale University. English (no one escapes Freshman Composition, except for those at the few schools without a core curriculum!), Math, perhaps another humanities class, and a sort of Intro To College Life class.

Most colleges offer an Intro To College Life. They are a study skills and positive thinking, life management mash-up that is typically mandatory. Occasionally, even this credit is transferable though its value depreciates across institutions.

Beyond undergrad, grad schools look at a variety of qualities, but primarily undergrad GPA, GRE scores, recommendation letters and the prospective student's personal statement/essay and/or interview. So whether your child attends a fancy, expensive college - maybe one that requires you to take on a lot of debt- is, sorry to say, not always relevant.

Beyond college, work force recruiters and grad school boards don't care always what university or college name is on your child's diploma. Often times, they just want to see your child has one, and that they show motivation and work-readiness.

What is most important at the undergrad level is maximizing whatever academic/experiential opportunities a given university offers. Participation in government, groups, extracurricular activities, challenging coursework, independent research—this is what creates standout undergrad resumes. These kinds of opportunities are available at just about any college.

Bear this in mind before letting your child get hung up on one college and only one. During your college planning, have backup institutions on your master college list: Options B, C, D, etc.

And during your assessment, don't forget to consider that every family is potentially eligible for financial aid, grants and scholarships. Factor this possibility into your suggestions (look for the "Net Price Calculator" at each institution's financial aid page online to get an idea of what the college will cost a family like yours after financial aid) and use it to compromise with your child about college options.

If your child thinks attending an expensive school that you received little financial from is worth taking out a bunch of loans, ask them "who will repay those loans?" Explain what repaying college costs entails long term and make sure that they understand what their potential salary and monthly payments might be after college. Then help your child to make the wisest, most practical choice both you and they can live with.

College planning doesn't have to be agonizing. When you add up college costs, available aid, and other corresponding fees, and when you consider the difference in numbers between multiple schools, the final decision often becomes obvious and easy for you and your child.

To help with details, utilize the many online calculators and college prep resources available. Start today.

Topics: College Financial Aid, College Planning, Parents and College Planning