Starting the College Search

Published by Wendy Nelson on

11971018181388374865dstankie_Birthday_cake.svg.medMy middle daughter turns 16 today and yesterday was the last day of her sophomore year.  I guess that officially makes her a high school junior!  We are ready to officially kick off her college search.  She will be going on her first planned college visit next weekend to Loyola University Chicago.  She thinks she wants to go to college in a big city.  She attended many college visits with her older sister, but says she is not interested in any of those schools.  That means we will be doing a totally new and different college search this time around.

First Steps in the College Search

I have already done a few of the most essential first steps in the college search.  These are things I suggest that all parents do when starting the college search.  A full list can be found here – Parents: Do This Before Your Student Starts the College Search.  I have done the following:

  • Evaluated my daughter’s college savings account and the planned contributions over the next two years until she starts college
  • Ran the FAFSA4caster to see the difference in expected family contribution for the years my middle daughter is in college.  I will have two kids in college the first year and two kids in college the last year.  Although we won’t qualify for any financial aid at most schools the two middle years, when she is the only one in college, we will potentially qualify for some the first and last year with two kids in college.  I am not counting on this, but it is at least something I want to look into further.  Most parents won’t be expected to foot the entire college sticker price for two (or more) kids at the same time.
  • Determined a target amount for tuition that will be affordable out of my daughter’s college fund.  My husband and I have committed to all three girls to fully pay room and board out of cash flow except for the years we have two in college at the same time.  We have told our oldest daughter that she needs to save earnings over the first three years of college so that she can at least partially pay for room and board her senior year. 
  • Started a college search spreadsheet of schools that may be affordable.  I am determining these based on my daughter’s college savings and the amount of merit aid offered by the schools.  I don’t want my daughter to get her heart set on any schools that will not be affordable.  As she starts college visits, we will expand and refine the list of schools on the college search spreadsheet according to what she thinks she wants in a school.

The college search can be an enormously complicated process.  My main tips for parents starting the college search are these:

  • Determine your ability to pay for college early
  • Start college visits early – late sophomore year or early junior year
  • Limit your college search and college visits to schools that are affordable, including potential merit aid and/or need-based aid

Next week, I will talk about what your student can start working on over the summer – preparing for standardized testing.