Might Be In Over My Head…Maybe?

So You Want Your Child to Go to College...OK...How: Selecting Colleges to Apply to Part 1 www.wifemomhouseohmy.comIf your child did their homework, then they probably have an idea of not only what they might want to be and their passion but also their potential major. This is the best starting point for determining what schools to apply to. It numbers it down. Sometimes more than others. For example, if your child wants to major in Manufacturing and Developmental Engineering, you are going to have a much smaller pool than say Business Administration or Chemistry.

With over 2,000 plus colleges in the country, you can’t apply for all of them. And frankly, even if you could, you shouldn’t. But how do you even begin to number them down and to how many. This is not something you do over night but give it the proper amount of time and your son or daughter can determine a manageable list of colleges and universities to which they can apply for admission. Since it is a rather large topic, I’m dividing this up into two parts – the set up of your, really your child’s, organization system and how to determine to which to apply.

Manageable Forms and Folders are Mandatory

If you have been following along on Wife, Mom, House…Oh My!, then you have probably figured out I am all about organization. Determining what colleges to apply to and managing the application process for each absolutely demands that you be organized. I have found that an expandable folder that has 10 to 15 compartments and a spreadsheet program such as MS Excel or Apple’s Numbers are paramount to weeding your way through a very deep ocean of potential colleges and universities.


First create a spreadsheet. Its easier to do this in a computer but you can do this by hand. You, or better yet your child, will want to make the following columns (below is a description of what and why under each):

College Name

Fairly self explanatory. It helps to know what school your research information is for.

College Location (City & State)

Somewhat self explanatory. With school names such as Duke, Baylor, Clemson, Georgetown, Brigham Young University, Pepperdine, etc., its not always easy to figure where out a school is.

Geographic Area

By this I’m talking southwest, northwest, Midwest, northeast, southeast, Pacific coast, Atlantic coast, plains, great lakes, etc. I know this might seem like a “huh?” kind of category but it does serve a purpose. For example, my stepson LOVES, LOVES, LOVES to fish. Bass fishing specifically. The southeast happens to be a huge bass fishing area. Since he wants to be on a bass fishing team, its a smart idea to look at schools in a prime bass fishing area. Perhaps your child can’t stand being cold or doesn’t like long winter nights, then this can help rule out schools in the northwest or northeast.

Development Classification (Urban/Metropolitan, Suburban, Rural, etc.)

Sort of like above. If your child grew up in a fast paced metropolitan area such as New York and they love that type of environment, then rural based University of Oregon is probably not for your child. Knowing where a school is located can help really weed them down and fast depending on your child’s preference.


So this one is another self explanatory one but it should be included. For example, my stepson wants to major in engineering and eventually get into research and development for the fishing industry (told you he loved fishing). That said, engineering is a very board major. When he goes to list the majors offered for the school he is researching, he would put the specific engineering major he is applying for or the broad major of engineering. For example, Cornell offers a Materials Science and Engineering program that is a very specific engineering program directly related to my stepson’s career goals. By listing the specific majors/programs offered that relate to your child’s desire major/career goals can help take a huge number to a manageable number. As I’m sure you can imagine, there are a whole lot of schools with engineering as a major but not nearly as many with a Materials Science and Engineering program.

Average Admittance GPA

Not that your GPA is the end all of admissions but it is a good guide post. Depending on if you are looking for various scholarships or funding or just seeing where your child stacks up against average applicants, GPA is a important filtering criteria. However, if your child’s school list only includes top ranking academically competitive schools with an average applicant coming in with a non weight 3.95 or higher and your child has an average 3.00 GPA, they may want to broaden their search.

Average SAT

This is the same as the GPA. Its a good filtering criteria as well as a good guide post of where your child is compared to a school’s average applicant’s SAT scores.

Average ACT

The same as the SAT.

Percentage of Tuition Assistance

If you happen to be someone who has been extremely fortunate and you can write your child’s school of choice a check in full for their education costs, then this probably won’t be needed for your child. And congratulations! However, most of us parents will probably need some assistance in the funding part of college admissions. If that’s the case, then knowing the percentage of financial aid/tuition assistance is offered on average to students and is actually funded is extremely important. Some schools offer amazing financial aid packages such as Cornell and Stanford. Recently, Stanford announced that for families under a certain annual gross income, they will fully fund an admitted applicant’s tuition, room and board. Cornell offers a financial aid initiative based solely on financial need. Depending on your calculated financial responsibility, you could receive most or part of your tuition and expenses paid for.

I mention these two specifically because they are high end brand name schools with hefty yearly tuition and expenses totaling upwards of $65,000 annually. This can make many people shy away from applying to them. Yet they offer amazing financial aid packages that could be the equivalent of tuition and expenses for an instate college or university that doesn’t have the resources to offer as lucrative a financial aid package. Knowing what percentage of financial aid is offered on average, such as 97% of students received full or partial financial aid, is huge when calculating the real cost of school. And if you can get an average amount of funding or use a school’s financial aid calculator to get a more accurate estimate, then do it! After all a school that costs $65,000 annually but based on need means you will only contribute $3,000 annually costs less than an in-state university with $15,000 tuition annually and you are expected to come up with $10,000 of that annually.

I like to think of it as TJMaxx shopping. If I can get the Kate Spade tote for $99 that typically relates $398, then why buy the Steve Madden tote of similar design at $125 retail. Its a no brainer. I’d grab the Kate Spade. Same is true with funding percentages. Think of it as an education on sale!

Average Annual Tuition

Again, knowing what a school costs is important, not so much to narrow it down by cost alone but in calculating the real cost of school.

Average Annual Room & Board (Freshman Year Mandatory)

If your child is attending school out of state, then room and board becomes a cost factor. Again, this is used to calculate the real cost of admittance. Additionally, many schools require freshmen to stay on campus. Make sure to find out if freshmen year on campus is mandatory. It could be a deal breaker when it comes to cost. (Sometimes renting an apartment with roomies is cheaper and cuts costs).

Average Annual Miscellaneous Fees

I wish tuition and room and board were the only costs for a college education but they are not. There are books, supplies, insurances, car expense and well, food expenses that need to be considered. Most college sites list book costs and many room and board costs include meal plans. As for additional costs above and beyond, I would put a guestimate in parentheses with what you feel is a reasonable extra money after the listed extra costs on the college site. Such as is a $100 enough for paper, ink, the occasional meal out, gas, etc.

Admissions to Applicant Ratio

I remember going to a college admissions seminar and I heard UCLA, and USC talking about how many applicants they turn down annually (80% plus). But what I remember even more was when UC Davis’s representative spoke, he stated we accepted about 45% or more of our applicants (they went down to about 38% acceptance recently). The reason I remembered this was not because of the acceptance rate but rather they were focused more on accepting students, not weeding them out. And that’s what is important! You want your child to go to college, then finding schools that agree is paramount. Acceptance rates tell you that.

For example, if you are applying to say Yale or Harvard, you are one of over 50,000 applicants. They only take about 6% of their applicants. Doesn’t mean that your child won’t get in; it just means the odds are against them. On the other hand, University of North Carolina – Ashville has an acceptance rate of 77% and your child could be one of the 85.1% of students accepted into the University of Las Vegas. In fact, there are at least 100 schools that have an acceptance rate over 91%! On the other end, number 100 in the lowest acceptance rate for university had an acceptance rate of 33.6%. That tells me that there are a lot of schools that want your child!

Retention Rate

I don’t think many people think about this one when applying to college but in my mind its critical. What good is getting into college if the school’s burn out (my synonymous words for retention) is 75% or higher. You want your child to go to college – more specifically you want them to graduate. So what if they get into UCLA if they don’t graduate. As many as 1 in 3 incoming freshman college students won’t return as sophomores. That’s pretty high at 33.3%. The reasons vary but it could be that the school you are looking at are not great at taking care of their freshmen. The higher the retention, the better the odds are that your child will graduate – which is the ultimate goal right?

Average Class Size

This may seems a bit picky but to me this was one of the most important factors when I chose where I wanted to go to school. Freshman classes at many universities are notorious for being HUGE. We are talking 500 student lecture halls. I knew that was just not suited for my learning style and I definitely wanted a major advisor who knew me. I knew someone who wanted to remain anonymous so lecture size classrooms were perfect for him. It’s all about preferences and learning styles. Again, this can help narrow down the 2,000 plus schools.

Offered Sports & Extracurriculars

This really factors in to the application process if your child is looking at an athletic scholarship but can also be helpful if your child has a particular interest. From an athletics standpoint, if a school doesn’t have your sport, then there is no athletic scholarship. Most schools have a basketball or football or baseball team. But not every school has a gymnastics team or a bass fishing team. In the case of my stepson, he wants to be on a bass fishing team. It was really easy to narrow down schools based on engineering and bass fishing teams.

Your child may want specific clubs or interest based activities to use as outreach or social connections such as Christian Club. It comes down to the whole package that a school has to offer.

Expandable Folder

Ideally, your child will want to narrow down their choices of colleges to which to apply to about 10 to 15. That should correspond to a separate compartment for each school within the expandable folder. Each one of these compartments will become a specific school’s base camp for application information, acceptance letters, and financial aid offers. You’d be surprise the number of recruitment materials your child will receive – especially after they take an SAT, ACT or PSAT.

Using the expandable folder helps keep each school organized. It’s then easy to pullout information for a select school when needed. They key is determining what, or rather where (meaning which college) is going in to those slots. See you next post for Part 2.

Until then.

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