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Choosing a college

Tips and tricks for maximizing college selection

Jason N. Adsit, president Mount Saint Mary College

Tips and Tricks for Maximizing the College-Selection Process

Fall is here and for many of you that means the college-selection process is well underway. Whether you are the parent of a sophomore or junior who is looking to get a leg-up on the process, or the parent of a senior who is looking to make an official choice for next year, fall is the peak season for filling out applications, scheduling campus visits, attending open houses, and sifting through the piles and piles of college marketing materials that fill your mailbox. 

With so much information at our disposal – whether it comes through apps, texts, emails, websites, or good-old-fashioned guidebooks – it’s easy to become overwhelmed in your attempt to find the ideal (and let’s face it, affordable) fit. As the proud father of five and a new college president, I am sensitive to how easy it is for parents, students, and families to feel stressed-out when faced with so many options and I’m here to offer you four tips to help make the process a bit more manageable.

1.     It pays to shop around. The Hudson Valley is blessed with colleges and universities of every conceivable type, and they are all locked in an intense battle for students. Starting your search by casting a wide net throughout the region will help you get a better sense of the overall landscape and make you a more informed consumer when it comes time to narrow your choices.

2.     Price matters. A college education is a significant investment, and families want to make sure their dollars are spent wisely. With so many numbers flying around (financial aid, scholarships, tuition discounts, institutional aid, etc.), it is easy to lose sight of the bottom line. With this in mind, I encourage families to pay attention to the net price of a college education. 

Let’s take two institutions, College A and College B, for example, that are similar in most major respects, such as program offerings, distance from home and campus climate, but differ in costs. Let’s say College A has a total cost of $35,000 per year and College B has a total cost of $27,500 per year. If College A offers $10,000 per year in institutional aid and scholarships, and College B offers $5,000 per year for a similar package, many families would choose College A because they would get a better offer. While it may sound nice to say that you child earned a $10,000 per year scholarship from College A (as opposed to the $5,000 offer from College B), at the end of the day, your family would  still pay more out of pocket each year for the school.    

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3.     Understand the institution’s program profile. While you want to find a college or university that offers the degree program your child intends to pursue, it is also important to have a clear understanding of the full range of program options available at the school. Flexibility matters a ton, if for no other reason than that your child may choose to change majors after a semester or two at the school. Moreover, many highly competitive programs, such as healthcare and engineering, among others, offer a limited number of slots for students at the institution and it is often simply a numbers game in terms of how many people are ultimately admitted to the major. We all want our child to ultimately get into the major of her or his choice, but knowing what other options are available at the institution can save you time, energy, headaches, and money if your child purses a different course.

4.     Obsess about outcomes. Einstein once said that not everything that matters can be measured and when it comes to how you and your child ultimately feel about a given college or university, Einstein was right. Sometimes a place just feels like the right fit and I’ve met hundreds of happy alumni throughout my career who explain their college choice in just those terms. That being said, it is also critical that you pay careful attention to an institution’s outcomes, including such things as whether the institutional and/or program-level are nationally accredited, plus the four- and six-year degree-completion rates, job placement rates, graduate school placement rates, first-career earnings versus total career earnings for a given major, and debt-loads and student loan default rates. These objective outcomes, which are published through federal sites like The College Scorecard and the National Center for Education Statistics’ College Navigator, along with state sites, and a broad range of independent organizations.

Selecting a college or university is a big deal – and the process can be incredibly hectic and stressful.  Hopefully these tips will help manage some of that stress by providing you and your child with a toolkit for asking the right questions, gathering the right information, and harnessing the right resources.

 Jason N. Adsit is president of Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, (845) 569-3202, jason.adsit@msmc.edu.