Jill Haley: 5 mistakes students make when picking a college | TheUnion.com

Jill Haley: 5 mistakes students make when picking a college

Photo for The Union John Hart
Jorn Hart | The Union

Picking the right college is a stressful decision for both parents and students. And potentially a costly one.

Let’s look at some of the most common mistakes.

Not doing the research. Considering that the cost of a four-year college can be as much as purchasing a small home, some students do very little research before accepting an offer of admission. Look at the college website and talk to admission reps before making that final decision.

Never make a decision without visiting the college first. Most colleges have Admitted Student Days in the spring. These open houses focus on incoming freshmen and often include overnight stays in the dorms to give you a real feel for the campus.

Not knowing the true cost to attend. This is a big one. Accepting an offer of admission and assuming you will make it all work can be a huge mistake. Look closely at the financial aid award letter. Most colleges “package” loans within their offers. Taking out too many loans can put a student in debt for 20 or more years.

Assuming location is everything. Initially, students invariably put colleges on their list based on location. Anywhere near a beach is popular, but they are also often the most difficult to get into.

Some of the best colleges are located away from the coasts, and are less selective because of their location. These colleges also may offer greater financial aid.

After all, students are so busy most of the time, they hardly ever make it to the beach. It is the opportunities and connections that a student participates in, and makes the most out of, that can affect their overall experience.

Listening to other people. I often see students taking colleges off their list because they hear from a friend, or a boyfriend’s mother, that they know a student who hated the college.

Yes, it does happen that someone has a bad experience, but that does not mean every student will. It is important to make a decision based on what the college can offer you, not what someone else thinks.

Thinking that rankings matter. Although I say it all the time, students still pay way too much attention to the rankings. Just because a college rejects over 90 percent of their students, doesn’t mean it is THE best college to attend.

What matters is if it is the best college for each student. Does it offer the right majors, extra-curriculars or financial aid? This is much more important than where it is ranked by U.S. News and World Report. There is no evidence that attending the most highly ranked college assures success in later life.

In the end, it is often the community a student makes that matters most of all. Having people in your life that think and feel the same way you do is important. And the friends you meet in college often last a lifetime.

Jill Haley is a retired high school counselor, who now works as an independent college counselor. She can be reached at http://www.getyouintocollege.com or jillncca@gmail.com.

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