I'm just another voice of reason as you make your final decision. I'm speaking only from my experience and the things I've seen these last 17 years. Some of this you may already know but I'm sharing it anyway as I do with all my students.
CHOOSING A COLLEGE/MAJOR:
I recommend making a list of the things that you value, like 3-5 things that are "core values". Parents and students can both do this exercise. These should be values that are part of every day life NOT related to a specific college. Such as friends, faith, education, sports, family, kindness, integrity, whatever. Students’ values will likely be different than parents’ values. That's ok. Then look at which school fits your core values best. Once you identify the best "fit" then you move on to the financial piece.
Students don't have to know what they want to do for the rest of their life at age 18. But it is important to have a few ideas of what interests them and make sure the college they attend has the resources/majors to help them accomplish that. So look at the strength of the career center for internships (and plan to take advantage of that office) and employment rates after graduation. Many have heard me say this before but basic business degrees are a dime a dozen unless a student gets good summer internships (a.k.a work experience!) starting summer after freshman year. *This is key!* Earning a college degree is one thing but gaining valuable experience is equally important!
Financial aid packages are never what we expect but it is important for families to understand them thoroughly. Let me offer advice through an example: A family has received their financial aid award and it will cost roughly $12,000 out of pocket for the first year. Most colleges offer a monthly payment plan which would be about $1,200 a month for ten months. (There are a few things that can help make this a little more affordable but not much such as cheaper meal plan, renting books instead of buying, etc.)
The student’s maximum federal loan amount is $5,500. This would be the ONLY loan I would recommend taking. (I *NEVER* recommend private student loans because the interest can be higher and there is not much flexibility with repayment options after one graduates.) The federal loan amounts will gradually go up each year which can be a little helpful. ($6500 as a sophomore, $7500 as juniors and seniors). One thing families should understand is when it comes time to repay these loans (6 months after one graduates), payments are made on time as this starts your official credit history (assuming the students hasn’t established any credit up to this point.) This is one thing my dad told me when I signed for my student loans years ago. Pay them back on time! (I couldn't buy my first car because I didn't have any credit until I made my first student loan payment on time.) The federal loans can adjust the monthly payment amount based on your salary at that time unlike the private loans, another benefit of federal loans.
Students can also inquire about work study which could allow for a little more financial help toward tuition. However, consider if you are going to play a sport or march in the band, this could be tough to work during season. Maybe a good question to ask coaches/professors if you would be able to work during the season.
If parents are denied a parent PLUS loan, students are typically given the option to borrow another $2,000 more in federal loans.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
I hear far too often from parents "If he/she doesn't like it, they can always transfer." This is true but it's usually at a cost. Let me explain. In my opinion, this is giving the student an "out" so students go into it without as much commitment because they know they can always come home or transfer. If a student doesn't stay at XYZ college after his/her first year and chooses to transfer, this can cost the student (and parents) a lot of money in lost credits that don't transfer. In addition, transferring can cause a student to attend college a 5th year. Federal loans typically do not cover a 5th year of college, again costing thousands of extra dollars. (For example in your situation, without a student loan of $5,500, the cost of XYZ college is now $17,000 instead of $12,000 for the 5th year so while it is ok to transfer, it is also important to make sure that enough credits transfer and that it doesn't put you behind an entire year.) I always stress to my students that college is not easy and at times may not feel like they've made the right decision but transferring to another school doesn't always make it better, in fact it can often times make things worse so before making the decision to transfer make sure they are choosing to transfer for the right reason. (Side note: Students should keep all of their syllabi as well because colleges they transfer to may ask to see copies of syllabi before accepting credits from another college. It's all about money so it's up to the colleges what credits they accept and what credits they don't.)
I know this makes it sound like I'm putting pressure on making the "right choice" the first time but I want to make sure families understand the down side of transferring. There are definitely times when transferring makes the most sense but knowing the flip side ahead of time, I believe, is important.
RESILIENCY (a.k.a. strength, endurance, toughness, perseverance, determination):
This whole process can teach resiliency not just for the student but parents as well. Remember that this is not an easy process for the parents or students. It is stressful and emotional. This is normal and it is also the beginning of the letting go process. Just remember when things get hard (this is specifically for the students), ask for help. You CAN do it. When things get tough (usually 6-8 weeks into the freshman year) students can get discouraged and homesick. It is easy for parents to say "Come home for the weekend!" (because let's face it, parents are also homesick for their kids!) but statistics show that if students get involved on campus within those first few weeks of college, they will stay! They grow! They learn to be (a little) more independent! It is part of the "growing up" part of life.
There isn't a magic 8 ball (believe me, I wish there was!) but I try to make sure my students have as much information as possible to make the best decision possible. Remember to breathe. (Seriously, take a deep long breath right now. Inhale..... Exhale......) Trust your decision and don't look back. I'm not going to lie, it is scary. Very scary. But acknowledge that emotion and then move on. It's only when we allow ourselves to stay in that moment of feeling scared, that makes it hard to move forward.
Onward and upward Class of 2018!