Congratulations on all of your college acceptances, Class of 2018! Now the question is, how do you decide? Trust me, we’ve all been there. Some of you may have everything all neatly and enviously sorted out. Some of you may have 14 or more choices (good luck with that). People make their final decisions based on a myriad of criteria and I encourage you to prioritize factors that are important to you. However, this article is directed at those of you who may be more concerned about basing your decision on the financial aid packages your top choices have offered you.
How important is being able to pay for college, really? Very, very, very important, especially if you have to take out thousands of dollars in private loans, which lack the fixed interest rates of the federal student loans. Going to the school of your dreams but being $30,000 in debt upon graduation is hard to envision at this moment. Yet, think about a realistic entry-level job salary and then try to reconcile how you will pay for food, rent, transportation, phone bills and other obligations, and then envision another monthly expense to pay off student loans.
According to CNN.com, most student loan payment plans involve a 10-year projection for paying or call for 15% of disposable income to be devoted to payments. Keep in mind, bills start coming six months after graduation regardless of employment status! If you graduate with lots of debt and cannot reconcile paying for an apartment and other living expenses as well as loan payments due to your salary, the prospect of moving back in with your parents becomes closer to reality. The fact remains that paying the bills associated with those loans is a priority because the penalties for lateness are high. In addition to extra late-fees and collection fees, your credit may be damaged, which may hinder your ability to obtain a credit card, receive a car loan, or even in some cases, a mortgage.
For those of you who are considering graduate school, your debt will be even greater since financial aid offers aren’t as generous to graduate students. It may be a good idea to go to a less expensive college and graduate with no debt in preparation for the cost of attending graduate school. Of course, each individual student will decide in the end to what extent financial aid needs to play a part in their final decision. Here are some other factors to consider thanks to Schmoop and US News. Some are silly, but some actually make a lot of sense!
- Proximity to Dunkin’ Donuts/Starbucks/Other major coffee retail chain. Everyone needs their fix, especially in college.
- Seasonal allergies. If you are deathly allergic to pollen, an urban campus may be a good fit.
- Decent cafeteria food. This is very important.
- Mirror sizes. You’re going to want access to a full-length mirror somewhere.
- Beautiful places for potential romantic encounters. I’m not talking about the laundry room in the basement. Think more along the lines of lakes, open meadows, architecturally breathtaking hideaways.
- The college/university has a high job placement rate.
- Religious affiliation of the college.
- The college/university has a high rate of placement into the type of graduate schools you are interested in.
- The athletic department recruited you.
- Ability to take online courses and have credits transfer.
No matter how you decide to weight the financial aid package in your decision to attend a specific college, keep in mind that a lot of your eventual success will have little to nothing to do with your chosen undergraduate institution. Most of your career advancements will be based on work relationships, networking, and items you add to your post-graduate CV. Those jobs that do weigh choice of school in their decision to hire you most often pertain to the choice of graduate or professional institution, rather than where you obtained your bachelor’s degree. Good luck!