The countdown is on! May 1 — known as National College Decision Day — is right around the corner, and students have only 30 days left to narrow down their choices and select a college that suits them academically, financially and personally. The stakes for choosing wisely are high: The national student debt has exceeded $1 trillion, the college freshmen dropout rate hovers at 35 percent, the unemployment rate for young college graduates is around 10 percent and the underemployment rate is nearly double that. Much like buying a home, selecting a college is a big decision and investment that requires careful of analysis and planning.
Nicholas Tynes, Vice President of Programs at the Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) — a high-impact supplemental education program that turns underserved New York City middle and high school students into high-achieving college graduates —offers five tips to help high school seniors and their families choose the right college.
- Assess financial obligations. College tuition has been rising steadily for decades. According to the College Board, average tuition and fees for out-of-state students rose by 4.2% to $21,706 for public four-year institutions. With student loan debt surpassing credit card and auto-loan debt, students – especially those from low-income families like many students at HEAF – need to truly decipher the cost of college. How much is need-based grant aid and how much is loan-based aid? What will it cost to travel to campus? What incidentals will be required? Will my mother or father need a second job? How many hours will I be allowed to work on campus?
- Take size into account. Gone are the days where students have to sit in a 24-seat classroom with one teacher. Students now have the liberty of picking a college (whether large or small) suitable to their individual learning styles. When choosing a college, factors to consider should include class size, teacher-to-student ratio, academic reputation, and what options are available on campus – research centers, sporting events, internship opportunities, clubs and organizations, course choices, faculty members and more.
- Consider location. Part of the value of college is learning to live on your own, away from your family, and in a city you choose. Students should push themselves to learn how to be successful in a new environment but also still need a support system. Students should consider how far away they can be and still feel comfortable – for some it’s a short car or bus ride, for others it can be a cross-country flight, which can create an additional financial burden.
- Examine academic programs. Colleges and universities reported nearly 1,500 academic programs to the Department of Education in 2010. Today, this number continues to grow, making it more challenging for students to decide on a major. For students, it is important to remember that you don’t need to declare a major to pick a college. With this in mind, students should choose a college or university that offers a variety of courses, curriculum and majors available.
- Ask for your family’s input. Your family is one of the best resources. Talk to the people you admire personally and professionally, and find out what they liked about the school and what they wish they had done differently. Your family is a great source for guidance but, remember it’s ultimately the student who decides on what college to attend.
The Harlem Educational Activities Fund (HEAF) is a high-impact supplemental education and youth leadership nonprofit that turns high-potential but underserved New York City public school students into high-achieving college graduates. HEAF enrolls qualifying students in middle school and supports them until they are successfully admitted to ― and graduate from ― four-year colleges. HEAF offers a variety of after-school, Saturday and summer educational and youth development programs that enable students to develop the intellectual curiosity, academic ability, social values and personal resiliency they need to ensure success in school, career and life. HEAF’s track record of success is unmatched in the industry: 100 percent of HEAF students graduate high school, 98 percent go on to higher education and 35 percent obtain advanced degrees. For more information about HEAF or to get involved, visit www.heaf.org.