Mom’s Perspective – Lessons Learned in the College Search

Published by Wendy Nelson on

If I had it to do over again, and I will with two more children, there are things I would do differently in the college search process.  Here are a few of them:

  1. Encourage my child to take both the ACT and the SAT – in our part of the country, the ACT is more prominent.  The high school in our town hosts the ACT, but not the SAT.  I have found a good deal of research that indicates some children do better on the ACT and others on the SAT.  For a good explanation of who may perform better on each test, check out this post on The College Solution blog, The Difference Between the SAT and ACT.
  2. Encourage my child to look at schools farther from home – By sticking mostly with our home state and all of the bordering states, we missed out on a ton of great schools.  My daughter wanted to be able to travel less than 4 hours to get home.  We went with 4 hours by car and didn’t consider 4 hours by plane.  Yes, airfare can add many hundred dollars to the yearly school cost, but what if she found a school with a high enough merit scholarship to make it the same or cheaper than schools closer to home when travel costs were included?
  3. Encourage my child to look at more “big name” schools – When I look at the list I compiled in my last post, Minimize Your Out-of-Pocket College Cost – Part 2, I see 42 of the most well-known and very selective schools in the country.  My daughter only applied to one school on this list.  Most of them are also farther from home, but the distance could have been justifiable if a great school offered a great merit scholarship.
  4. Let my child take a few days off of school to do college visits – When I look back, I realize she has not yet had to take a day off of high school to visit a college.  We visited on Saturdays, school holidays and in the summer.  Was that the best way to see a school?  Probably not.  We missed the bustling atmosphere of students making their way around campus.  We also missed classroom visits.  Now that she has some acceptances, she is getting to sit in on classes at one or two of her top choice schools, but I think it would have helped to do some of that earlier.
  5. Push harder to meet early app deadlines – I am talking non-binding early notification, not binding early decision.  The non-binding early notification process just means your child submits the application sooner and gets a decision sooner.  The decision could be accepted, declined, or deferred to be considered in the pool of regular applications.  In our case, there was only one school that my daughter missed the early app deadline on, but it is a BIG one.  It is the hardest to get into and if she gets accepted there, it could be the game-changer.  The regular app decisions don’t come until late March.  We will have all of the other decisions by February 15.  This means sitting around waiting for a month and a half for this last decision.  That’s a big deal!
  6. Run Net Price Calculators on more schools – We only ran Net Price Calculators on about 10 schools we thought were “top” choices in my daughter’s college search.  I think we may have added other schools to that list if we had a better idea of what the net price might be.

These are lessons learned for our first college search and some things to keep in mind for child #2.  By sharing these, I hope that some of you can avoid making the same mistakes.

In my next post, I will share some lessons learned for the time spent preparing for the college search process – like the first 16 years leading up to the college search process.