How do you know what makes The Best College for you or your child? There are multiple third party sources that create lists upon lists of the “Best Colleges” broken down by price, region, region and price and any combination of filters you can imagine. What one source (i.e. Princeton Review) considers top in their minds, may not necessarily make it top on the list for US News & World Reports annual “Best Colleges” issue.
As parents, the selection process is overwhelming even though I chose my own college and assisted my daughter in her search about 6 years ago. I can see in my 17 year olds’ eyes a baffling look of confusion about how to even begin a college search. Like riding a roller coaster, eventually you have to just jump on and go. Pick some at random and go visit a few. I found this to be the best way to begin. And so, this week my son and I took a road trip and visited SUNY Cortland, Ithaca College and Elmira College.
They were conveniently located so that we could visit all 3 in a 2 day (1 night) trip – coming from Millburn, NJ. We also made sure to select both private and public options and varying sized student bodies.
Overall, we were both surprised with the physical beauty of all 3 schools. The cost to attend college has skyrocketed and so too have their buildings and amenities. It’s almost as if these higher level institutions compete in a race in to see who can attract the most amount of applicants – because the more applicants, the more selective the school becomes and the better it reflects on their generous alumni.
The Best Colleges – Tips for Parents and Students
Each student’s situation is very different, but we defined “best” for our trip in terms of using 3 critical criteria: price, size and selectivity.Price – A budget of $25,000 – $30,000 per year including tuition and housing Size – My son is more apt to be successful in a smaller school environment Selectivity – my son’s GPA is not reflective of his ability- so getting into a very selective school is not an option. But, at the same time he needs to be challenged.
First Stop Cortland – A Great Tip for Parents – New York State has a rich state school system with over 60 schools to choose from. And they are a great buy – even for out of state students. The total cost of tuition and housing for the 2012/2013 school year for out- of-state students at Cortland is $28,791.50; which is $1,000 less than the cost to attend Rutgers as a New Jersey resident. With a magnificent campus, a relatively small student body of about 6,500, and a decent student to teacher ratio of 17 to 1, it seemed to meet a lot of the criteria we were hoping for. However, we weren’t the only ones who were attracted to Cortland for these reasons. Because, the school received more than 11,000 applications for this past freshman class and accepted only 44.5% – it means Jack has less than a 50% chance of getting in. Clearly, this is a great school and the word is out. So it meets only 2 out of 3 of our criteria.
Ithaca College – A private college, ideally located on top of a precipice overlooking Cayuga Lake- one of the NY State monstrous Finger Lakes. Unlike Cortland’s traditional architectural style of Georgian brick buildings with pillars, Ithaca’s overall campus setting is very modern. Buildings are made of glass and stone, they have curved shapes and some are quite futuristic looking. The student body is similar in size to Cortland, offers many more degree programs (100 versus Cortland’s 40),and has a thriving college town within a 1 mile walk. A major difference is the school’s renown music and performing arts programs – which generate top level on-campus entertainment by students and celebrated artists, like Bob Dylan who will be performing there next month. With tuition and rooming just over $50,000 it doesn’t meet our important criteria – price. So, further investigation is necessary with regard to scholarships and grants. However, Jack’s chances of actually of getting in are much better since 65% of applicants were accepted.
It is a tiny, private liberal arts college with only 1,200 students. The benefit of such a small institution is the personalization they are able to give each student. With a 10:1 student to teacher ratio it is an optimal environment for my son. Small colleges can often feel claustrophobic considering you will be there for 4 years. However, this campus felt just as big as any of the others. There are 2 large quads – one for academics and one for housing, the student center, and the bookstore.
Founded as the first college where women could attend and graduate with a BA in the mid 1800’s- this school is steeped in tradition and the campus’ architecture reflects it every step of the way. While the costs are up around $50,000 the school offers generous scholarships and grants especially to students from out of state. In reality, it would most probably cost no more than a NJ state institution.
Another differentiating characteristic and a big draw for my son’s needs is the school’s Trimester schedule. Students take two 12 week trimesters with 4 courses and 1-2 courses in the last trimester beginning in April, which is only 6 weeks. During Term III the school offers study abroad programs with Elmira professors, internships and research projects to encourage experiential learning.
For these reasons- I thought it might be a great option for Jack. However, ultimately it is his decision to make- let’s hope this was a way to jumpstart the selection process and make it less overwhelming for him and for you.