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Four Key Questions for College Decision Time

This is the time of the year when many students choose which of the colleges that accepted them to attend. It is a major decision that for many will clearly be shaping their future. How well will their college have prepared them for the challenges of life, including their economic well-being, health, family, civil engagement, and achieving their dreams.


A very significant factor for many in making this big decision will be the amount of sacrifice of time and money that will be involved as well as whether the investment will be worthwhile. An essential part of the equation will be whether the intended course of study is offered by the institution and how well the individual will "fit" the institution's culture and community.


Yet there are a number of other factors that students and their families should consider as they attempt to evaluate education options.  


Here are some of these important questions students should be asking about their prospective college or university:


Will I Make it to Graduation? -- What is the retention rate of students from first to second year? Similarly, what is the retention rate of first year students to graduation and to on-time graduation? 

Can I Really Afford It? -- What has been the rate of increase in tuition over the last several years? Does the institution publish its financial aid policies, including whether it meets the full demonstrated need of all of its students and how the student's receipt of outside scholarships might impact the school's financial aid decision? What are its renewal policies for the continued receipt of student aid, especially any scholarship assistance?

Will I Get a Job or Get Into Grad School? -- What is the job placement rate of graduates in full time positions? What is the acceptance rate of graduates to professional and graduate school? 

How Much Debt Might I Have? -- What is the average student debt of graduates and the institution's student loan default rate? 


Answers to many of these important considerations should be found in the school’s own literature or Web site. If not, the school’s representatives should be able to provide the information. You have every right to ask.


For most students, there will be some level of sacrifice involved. Having some "skin in the game" can actually serve as a positive motivation for students to succeed. While finances typically will be a very serious factor in the final decision on college, they may not and perhaps should not be the ultimate "deal-breaker." In the long run, the return on investment as measured by answers to the four questions above, may well prove to be more important to evaluating the chances of ultimate success.