When it came time to apply for college, you probably sent in applications to multiple schools — some you felt certain you could get in and some you thought were a stretch. Either way, you may have had a first choice — your dream school.
Now that you have acceptance letters in hand, it’s time to be realistic about making your final choice. While it is exciting to anticipate going to a college or university you’ve dreamed about, are you and your family prepared? College is an investment in time and money, and you want to make sure you invest both wisely. Here are some questions that can help you evaluate your choice:
How will you pay for your education at this school?
Now that you’ve been accepted, are you and your family prepared for the cost? Have you looked at the total cost of each school you’re considering and decided whether you and your family can handle college costs comfortably. Remember to consider what you can afford out-of-pocket, as well as financial aid or scholarships the college may have offered. College costs vary by institution, so make sure you compare the cost of each and, if you applied for financial aid, compare the aid package each offers to see if what you’re responsible for covering financially is manageable.
Figure out the amount that won’t be covered by financial aid, and think carefully about how much your family can reasonably cover. Any gap between this amount and the total amount of your college will most likely will require applying for education loans that will need to be paid back when you leave college.
Does the school have your desired major?
The first and foremost goal of higher education is to prepare you for a career that you can be happy pursuing, and if your dream school won’t do that, it’s time to reevaluate why you want to attend. Did you pick it because the school has an excellent athletics program, or because you want a Greek life experience? Evaluate whether your reasons are truly as important as your future career.
What are starting salaries in the major fields you’re considering?
You may not be sure yet what your focus will be; however, if you have a field in mind, do you know the typical starting salary? Take a look at career information to be realistic about money you are likely to make when you first graduate from college.
Additionally, The Reality Check on the College Foundation of North Carolina website will give you a better perspective of a starting salary in your future career and how you can get a handle on your post-graduation budget — a big help in knowing which school you may be better able to afford.
What will your loan payments look like?
The answer to this depends on how much you borrow. To keep your future payments lower, don’t borrow any more money for college than you actually need. If you borrow in order to live a more extravagant lifestyle while enrolled, your after-college life may be much more constrained. Though there are a variety of repayment schedules you can consider, student loans typically have to be repaid within 10 years, and the more you borrow, the higher your loan payments will be.
There are many ways to evaluate the colleges you are considering, but taking a realistic review of your financial situation is an important part of making your final decision. Your dream school should inspire and delight you, but it should also be within your budget.