Thursday, March 10, 2016

Which Acceptance Do You Accept?

In the next few weeks, our High School Seniors will be attempting to choose the right College that suits their needs. This blog post will provide some insight in making that decision easier. Today, we have a special guest blog post from "Dad" Peter Brusoe. Pete is a Past International Master Councilor for DeMolay International, currently residing in our Nation's Capital. 

The College search process is nearly at an end for the Class of 2016.  Acceptance letters are out and soon it is time to make a deposit and indicate which school you wish to attend.  Hopefully you have several highly competitive offers with financial assistance, which school do you choose? The one that goes to the NCAAs all the time? The school with the highest female to male ration? The one with the cutest mascot?  Below are some things to think about as you make your final selection.

1) Money: College is not cheap. There is tuition, housing costs, food costs, technology fees, athletic fees, lab fees, book fees, alumni-student partnership fees and student activity fees among other costs.   I have a friend whose study features copies of her children’s diplomas next to a picture of a beach house because it reminds her of how much that college education cost.  You will want to ask yourself the following questions about the financial aid package:

(A) Of the total package, how much is the scholarship component? Several schools have taken to including federal loans in the financial aid summary. This is a bit deceptive because loans are not aid, and you will need to pay them back with interest.  While a $30,000 scholarship from a private college sounds impressive, a $10,000 scholarship at a public university may mean less overall cost.  

(B) Focus on the cost of attendance.  Every school has an estimated cost of attendance that should include estimates for everything that you need to pay for including text books.  Colleges and Universities are increasingly finding ways to raise revenue by adding on new fees.

(C) Will the scholarship increase as tuition increases? Say the cost of attendance is $25,000 and you have a $12,500 scholarship.  Half of your costs are covered. But if tuition goes up to $26,000 now only 48% is covered.

(D) How much does tuition go up every year and who controls this? Most schools should have a reasonable and rational tuition increase every year.  Ideally it should be between 1-2%.  However, if schools have been putting off tuition increases you may get hit with a significant tuition increase during your time there.  It also depends on who controls tuition increases, in New York our state legislature controlled the tuition increases and would do so on the back of the students.

(E) How does the work study program work?  If there is a federal work study component in your aid how many hours a week do you need to work? Are you guaranteed those hours? Do you have a choice among your work study options or do they pick it for you?

(F) Remember the fine print of the scholarship awards:  Many scholarship offers are dependent on you still maintaining good grades the last two quarters of high school; others require that you maintain a certain GPA. Some scholarships like athletics, cheerleading, and band will require that you participate in that activity, if you stop participating the money will probably go away.  If you are doing an ROTC scholarship and you decide not to continue, what money will you need to pay back?

(G) Renegotiate: If your financial aid package is not what you expected, feel free to ask for more, but be specific.  You want to attend this college, but you can’t afford to do this unless your award goes up by a certain amount.

2) On time Graduation Rate:  You will graduate in four years or less. Each school should have statistics on what percentage of their student population graduates in four years.  In more and more advertising materials colleges will cite a five or perhaps a six year graduation rate.  This is great for marketing, but you really want to know if you will graduate on time or not.  How flexible is the school with changing majors? This is an important question as it relates to people changing their minds on programs.  If you go from a Political Science Major to a Chemistry Major will you need to add on time?

3) How often are required classes offered?  Some majors may have a required class that you need to take before taking upper division classes in the field.  If that class is only offered once every three semesters, that may goof up the rest of your academic plans.

4) What credits will transfer and how do they transfer?  Many students come into college with AP, or CLEP credits, or possibly classes at the local community college.  If you can knock out some credits it will enable you to take more classes in your major or some extra electives. However, college credit transferability can be problematic.
(A) You will want to make sure that the college you are going to will accept them, or will only accept them with certain grades. 
(B) It is also worth having the conversation about how they will accept them as equivalent class credits.  If you took English 101 at the local community college, some colleges will say you have three credits, but will still make you take the class again. 
(C) After you enroll, can you take classes at other schools and transfer the credit in?  During the summer you may want to take a couple of classes at the local community college and then transfer them in to get you closer to graduation.  Some schools will not allow you do this after you enroll (the fancy word is “matriculate”) or will require you to get special permission. 

5) Career services:  College is an amazing experience. However, college has a definitive goal in mind. At the end of four years you should be able to start a career.  The school should help you with this through internships or co-operative learning experiences, mentorship and other career services.  Schools should have some statistic about the percentage of their graduates who are employed or in graduate school within six months of graduation.   If your goal is to go to graduate school, you will want to ask where students go to grad school, law school or medical school.

6) What unique experiences does the school provide?  Schools provide outstanding opportunities for students to do neat things.  Things you should look for include study abroad experiences, Semester in Washington, combined bachelors and masters programs, Bachelors and law degrees.  These programs can add value to your experience.

7) Will you have the support that you need at the school?
(A) If you have an EOP or a 504 plan in place, will the school be able to provide you with reasonable accommodations? How supportive is the community? It may be worth asking to speak to a student like you for their experiences.
(B) Is your faith tradition supported on campus?  It is worth checking out the Campus Ministry program, the Hillel, the Newman Center, the Hindu Student Association or the Muslim student association to see what level of programing and support they have for students.
(C) What support does the school provide students for difficult classes?  You will struggle with some classes in college.  I was horrible at calculus, but thankfully UAlbany had free tutoring on Tuesday nights in the Academic Support Services office.  I was there every Tuesday trying to grapple with the material with a very understanding graduate student.
(D) If you identify as LGBT does the school provide support for their students? 

8) Sit in on a class.  I was deciding between two schools for college, one of my mentors said to me “Sit in on the class and listen to the students and the interaction they have, you will notice a stark difference between UAlbany and the other school.”  She was 100% right.  Sit in on a class, maybe do an overnight and experience what it is to be a student there. Make sure that you are comfortable being there.

9) Reach out to DeMolay alumni who went to the school:  Somewhere in our Masonic Family we know someone who attended the university or college that you are looking at attending.  If you don’t know of someone reach out your chapter advisor or deputy executive officer.  There is someone out there who can give you insight or advice.

10) Do not go to the school solely because that is where your love of your life is going or your best friend is going.  College has a way of changing relationships and you do not want to be stuck at a school just because your friend was going there. 

Good luck as you make your decision in the coming weeks!

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