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Education Enrichment: Should Students Attend the College of Their Choice?

In the latest installment from West Angeles’ Education Enrichment Program, Deacon John Wilson shares 3 tips to help families manage their expectations during the college application process.

Should a student attend the college of their choice? Nearly everyone reading this article will immediately think that the answer to this question is a resounding “YES!”

After all, you might ask, “Our children should get what they want if they worked hard for it, right?” In fact, you often hear a seemingly rhetorical question like this asked in political speeches by local and national candidates, and the idea is also creeping into our national educational policy for sure. In fact, most good, loving and caring parents think that their youth should attend the college of their choice.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with asking the question, as long we also understand that students should actually not get their college of choice! Instead, they should attend the college they are admitted to through their grades and test scores, by the quality of the application submitted, and –  because it’s the one their parents can afford without non-sustainable debt.

College Costs on the Rise

With the cost of tuition rising fast in the last 6-8 years (and even in the 5 years prior) – especially for private colleges – we have to face the real truthstudy that private colleges and even many public colleges out of state are way too costly for 95% of the families with whom I speak, unless their youths have exceptionally high grades and SAT Scores, and earn institutional merit scholarships. Realistically, for college to cost less than $15,000 per year, for a family of three making $70,000 to $200,000, students must have unweighted GPAs of 3.75 or above and SAT Scores of over 1300 on the Redesigned SAT. Below that level of high school academic performance, families usually have to take on debt of $20,000 to $45,000 for a private college.

There are a few private colleges of note that have more favorable financial aid policies (as a rule they do not), but they are not the schools that youth and/or parents would prefer to choose. Your student must be made aware that, as in life, GOOD or even VERY GOOD performance may not be good enough to get what he or she desires. The fact is, a student can be a good student and still not be accepted into the school of their choice.

*Important Tip: If you do not make your student aware of this reality, then you may feel more compelled to spend non-sustainably for college, in order to get them into the school they want.

Accordingly, many parents might resort to taking a Federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS). Since the federal government eliminated non-federal “alternative” student loans that would normally cover the cost of college above and beyond the Financial Aid Award, the PLUS has been the primary loan which has served this same purpose. Private College and the United Negro College Fund have successfully lobbied the FEDs to make the PLUS even easier to attain for students’ families trying to obtain their school of choice, and whose parents are willing to take on the debt.

Lobbying has certainly not discouraged a corresponding 6-year record increase in private college tuition and room and board costs. Parents who want their students to have the school of their choice have been taking on astronomical debt in the past 4-6 years – and private colleges know it. Just a rather common $28,000 PLUS loan becomes a $100,000-$112,000 PLUS after four years and will cost nearly $160,000 by the time it is paid off – if it is. Indeed, the PLUS default rates are on the increase as well.

3 Ways Families Can Prepare

So, what’s the answer if a student cannot always have their college of choice? Here are 3 ways that families and students can manage their expectations during the college prep process:

  1. A realistic college list that has schools to which a student can affordably be admit.
  2. Tough Love…Parents must be willing to discuss the fact that they are not willing to take on unlimited college debt. It will be tough to tell their children this, and the student maybe upset at first, but usually they understand – especially if there are other affordable options.
  3. Consulting with a community-based college admissions support organization like the West Angeles Education Enrichment Program, which can review your 12th grade youth’s transcript and test scores, help develop a Family Income Profile with you and your family, and recommend some affordably-admissible schools for your youth’s application plan.

The West Angeles Church Education and Enrichment Ministry Program offers participating youth mentoring programs such as college admissions prep, college counseling, after school and summer math, science, and writing enrichment programs, and many other exceptionally high-quality educational offerings. In conjunction with its partner, The Princeton Review TM, The West Angeles EEP also offers low-cost SAT preparation and high school course requirement informational seminars to assist youth and their parents with all phases of the college admission process. at significantly reduced cost. Contact Deacon John H. Wilson, III at 323-733-8300.


Featured photo, Getty Images.