I preach a lot on the value of the right college fit. A school where a student will be happy is also where she will be most likely to take full advantage of what’s available to her while she’s there. That’s why it doesn’t matter to me whether it’s the most famous college in the universe or a tiny school almost nobody has heard of—what you do while you’re there will be ultimately much more important than the name of the school where you actually do it.
But affordability is an important part of fit.
If you come out of any college saddled with more debt than you can ever hope to pay off, it’s going to be a lot harder to reap (and enjoy) the benefits of your four college years. A student who doesn’t work all that hard in college and graduates with an empty resume will probably have to pay for his lack of effort by waiting tables for a few years until he can prove himself in a career. But a student who graduates with $100,000 in student debt will likely be paying for it for most of his adult life. And I don’t have to tell you how hard life will be if both those scenarios are true for the same student.
No matter what your budget is or what schools you think are right for you, here are three reminders I’m constantly sharing with Collegewise families:
1. Don’t let sticker price derail your search for colleges that fit you.
Yes, you should be mindful of how the price of each college stacks up with your budget. But some families want to eliminate from consideration any college whose sticker price is one they can’t afford. That’s a bad strategy because you don’t know what your financial aid package will be until you actually get accepted (although you can use the net price calculators on colleges’ websites to estimate how much each school will cost). And as we see every year with our Collegewise students, those who apply to the right colleges in the first place tend to get a lot more financial aid, even if they didn’t qualify for financial need. You should also find at least one financial safety school you’re sure you can both get into and pay for with as little financial aid as possible.
2. When your acceptances arrive, be very careful selecting a college that will require you to take on too much debt to attend.
You might decide that an expensive private school is the only place that’s perfect for you. But if it’s going to take you 30 years to pay back the loans you took out to attend it, a cheaper, even less perfect option starts to look like a much better fit. If you want advice about how to attend college debt-free, check out Zac Bissonnette’s Debt-Free U, the best book I’ve read on the subject.
3. When you get to college, make it your mission to have a remarkable college career.
This is the "what you do while you're there" part. Wherever you go, you'll have four years of opportunities to learn, find what you're good at, cultivate relationships with mentors, and get valuable experience for your resume, all while enjoying good college fun. Don't waste it. Better yet, maximize it. Every single day you're in college is an opportunity. What would your job prospects look like if you made the most of every one of those days for four years?