In our last post, we described how a number of us here at SageBroadview have been on personal quests to send our kids to college … and have lived to tell the tale. Today, we share some of the key insights Lynn Iannetta Baker discovered as she, her husband Scott and their daughter Sarah looked into schools that seemed best suited for Sarah’s educational aspirations.
Combining two parts of practical wisdom with one part of emotional fortitude, here is Lynn’s experience and advice.
A wise person (my sister Sheri) once told me that the college admissions process is not for the faint of heart. Now that we’ve gone through the experience with Sarah, I know how right she is!
We were a little luckier than some, because Sarah already has a career in mind. She wants to be a physician assistant (PA), and she had a specific wish list that helped us to narrow down our search. She wants to attend a college that has a PA program, preferably with an accelerated, five-year versus the usual six-year schedule. It should be within driving distance of our home, be near a big city, and have a good PA academic course load that she could start on as a freshman.
Even with these filters, we still ended up visiting 13 schools up and down the mid-Atlantic seaboard. Here are some tips I can offer based on those visits:
- Bring along younger siblings too so, by the time they’re looking, there are fewer trips, or at least better-prepared ones.
- Don’t try to take on more than one college visit a day. The trips were fun, but exhausting – physically and emotionally demanding.
- We started early, in the summer following her sophomore year, and continued through this past month. We were glad we didn’t try to cram them all in at once.
- It was interesting how we and Sarah did not always see eye to eye on which schools were the best fit for her. Be prepared for open-minded conversations.
- One realization for us was how important it was for Sarah to be able to envision herself walking around campus. School is hard enough without feeling out of place from the outset.
Testing and Applying
We also made some discoveries about college entrance exams. While we were looking at schools, Sarah took both the SAT and ACT. I recommend the same for you. Some kids find one or the other to be a better fit for them and can achieve a better outcome. Most schools now are allowing either one; some do not require any.
Once our initial trips were done, Sarah narrowed down her choices and applied to six schools. She was great and did the entire application process all by herself. Bless her soul! She just asked for our credit card now and then for the application fees. Here are a couple of ideas on this front:
- Make sure your child asks his or her teachers for recommendations at the end of the junior year, before summer vacation. The teachers may not follow up right away, but at least you’re toward the top of the pile. We did know about this and it still held up some of Sarah’s applications.
- Follow up to see that the school actually receives all the components that they require. Many schools offer a student portal on their websites, where you can create an account and track your application’s process.
- Sarah applied for the “early action” plan for as many of her chosen schools as she could. This is a non-binding plan where you receive early response, but you still don’t have to commit until May 1 for a fall enrollment. There’s also the “early decision” plan, which is a binding arrangement. A student who is accepted as an ED applicant must attend the college.
Funding and Financials
As Sarah started to hear back, she was lucky to receive some merit money offers from many of the schools. Okay, she did not receive as much as we had anticipated … we may be just a teensy bit biased on our assessment of her brilliance. The point is, be prepared to embark on some realistic financial number-crunching well in advance of the actual event.
Based on my processes at SageBroadview, I decided to create a spreadsheet to see how much this was going to cost in black and white. Sometimes, it was hard to obtain the necessary numbers. Believe it or not, as my husband and I called many of the schools to learn more, several of them had a hard time providing us with all-in figures. They were often focused on first-year expenses rather than the grand total for the five- or six-year PA degree program we had in mind.
As acceptances came in, I updated our spreadsheet. Then we sat down as a family to look at the qualitative advantages and disadvantages, and the quantitative financial picture for each school. We felt it was important to share all of the financials we gathered with Sarah. College costs are so huge these days; students really need to be aware of how this can impact their own future and their family’s fiscal health, as well as how much they should expect to contribute to the cause.
Making Choices and More Money Management
After we reviewed all the information, Sarah’s decision came down to three schools. At that point my husband and I called each one to ask for more award money. It seems crazy, but apparently it’s part of the process. My perception was that they expect you to do this. In a few cases, she was awarded more. I also recommend filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and the College Scholarship Service (CSS) profiles, even if you don’t think you’ll qualify. Not all awards are needs-based – some are merit-based – so you may be pleasantly surprised. And note that some schools require you to fill out these forms even if you are awarded merit-based aid.
Financials aside, we also wanted Sarah to be in an environment where she could thrive. She decided to eliminate one school because it was too far from a big city – “in the middle of nowhere,” as she put it. To choose between her other final picks, we attended day-long “accepted students” events at both of them. We parents went to one room to listen to administrators speak, while Sarah and her fellow students went on tours or participated in campus activities.
We really enjoyed these events and Sarah did too. She meet some really nice girls, one of which she hopes will be her roommate! These trips helped Sarah make her final decision. She said, “Mom and Dad, I can really see myself here.”
With all the other prep work already completed, that was all we really needed to hear. We put in the deposit at Philadelphia University, went online to the school store to buy some college gear, and proudly put the school’s sticker on the back of the family car. Sarah is so excited and so are we, as we see our baby go off and start her new adventure.
“Sniff, sniff,” say Mom and Dad.
SAGE Serendipity: It can be so inspirational and occasionally surreal to listen to a great graduation speech. Since they are preserved for praise and scrutiny on the internet these days, we’re pretty sure the time and effort put into them has increased tenfold. Here’s a great list from Kicker.com for this year’s graduating class, The 15 Best Graduation Speeches of 2016 including speeches from both POTUS and FLOTUS as well as Bill Maher coming to you from the future. To accompany this list, here’s one for the surreal camp compiled by mental_floss.com of 7 Strange Commencement Speeches. This list includes the voice actors of Spongebob and Patrick not going out of character, and the comedians Will Ferrell and Sacha Baron Cohen in his Ali G persona at Harvard. Enjoy!