college

College search: finding your best school

Before you choose: Examine all financial aid components

Unfortunately, says Wes Habley, ACT's principal associate, students often choose the least expensive school, even though it is not necessarily the best institutional fit.

Students who receive financial aid generally experience less financial stress and have lower dropout rates than those who receive none, reports the ACT.

Compare the net cost over four years for all schools you are considering and, "Don't confuse loans as free money -- they need to be repaid," says Roger Dooley, co-founder of CollegeConfidential.com.

Consider debt-to-potential-income ratios. The average student loan debt among graduating seniors, excluding PLUS loans, was $23,186, according to recent figures calculated by FinAid.org.

"A good rule of thumb is that a student's total education debt should not exceed their expected starting salary," says Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org. Says Dooley, "You don't want to saddle students with many years of debt -- particularly in many categories of degrees where the student isn't likely to earn a lot of money."

Recap: The problems

Campus culture shock -- If the campus and its student body don't match the student's personality, the student will ultimately feel out of place.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Lifestyle transitions -- Students often underestimate the difficulty and challenges of collegiate life and have trouble handling transition issues, such as developing time management and study habits, forming new relationships and choosing a major.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Financial stress -- Students who must work to pay for college are at greater risk of dropping out than those who are more financially secure, according to an ACT college retention report.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Unprepared for college -- Most students are not prepared academically for college, according to an ACT report.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Academic mismatch -- Colleges that are either too easy or too difficult, often cause students to transfer or drop out altogether.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Lack of academic guidance -- One of the primary factors affecting college retention is the quality of interaction a student has with a concerned person on campus, often in the form of an academic adviser, says an ACT report on improving retention.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
Students outgrow the school -- "Many students are thinking ahead in terms of going to medical school or law school or getting graduate degrees," says Rosa Pimentel, associate director of undergraduate admissions at UCLA. They may find, though, that the school doesn't have the resources it needs to move them ahead.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »
School selectivity issues -- An ACT survey shows 72 percent of students in "highly selective" schools -- those with the majority of freshmen in the top 10 percent of their high school class -- graduated within four years, as compared with 49 percent at "selective" schools; 31 percent at "traditional" schools and only 30 percent at "open enrollment" schools.
Solution: What to consider before you choose »

 

 

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