This summer, my oldest son and I spent some time visiting colleges he might be interested in attending in 2020. Those of you who have spoken to me about college for your children know that I am a proponent of starting the process early. We visited seven schools in four days, and my son was generally one of the only rising sophomores in attendance. But we began this process over a year ago in a hope that by being educated about what different schools are looking forward, we can best plot his path forward and more clearly define his own goals.
We began our tour in Philadelphia and worked our way back to North Carolina. We visited Drexel University, Villanova University, Georgetown University, Hampden-Sydney College, the University of Richmond, Elon University, and High Point University. My son is, at this juncture, interested in sports management, business, and communications, and all of these schools provided programs that might fit. The schools ranged in size from 1,100 to 16,000 students and ranged in setting from downtown urban to secluded rural. All in all, we got a very good picture of the different types of schools, of the interesting programs they offer, of the financial aid opportunities, and of the requirements for acceptance. A few takeaways:
1. Colleges are easy to visit and get to know
Colleges and universities offer information sessions and tours daily, usually multiple times per day and frequently on Saturdays. Larger schools like Drexel sometimes offer “add-ons” or specialized tours toward a specific major. Almost all of the schools offered an online mechanism to schedule the tour and information session and then used e-mail to remind us of our tour, give us information about parking, etc. After you have registered, you are on the school’s mailing list and can receive updates, and generally when you are at the school, you can meet the regional admissions counselor who handles admissions form your area, in our case, North Carolina. They will often be the first reader of your application, so it’s good to put a face to the name!
2. Colleges and universities are developing very interesting programs
Many of the colleges we visited, as well as several in North Carolina, are developing honors colleges. Acceptance to one of these select programs can mean reduced tuition, special dormitories and “learning communities,” unique professors and classes, priority class selection, and more. In addition, some of the schools are developing incredible programming: Drexel has a co-op program where you can spend up to three semesters in paid internships for credit, Elon has a top-of-the-line Communications school, complete with a fully functioning television station, and High Point requires all freshmen to take a “Life Skills” curriculum designed around being successful in business exchanges and situations. There really is something for everyone.
3. College is Expensive
All of the schools we visited are private colleges, and they ranged in tuition, room and board, and fees between $44,000 and $64,000. That’s a lot of money, and pretty intimidating. But all of the schools discussed a variety of scholarship programs and financial aid to try to make it work. One school that was in the mid-50”s in terms of cost told us that the average financial aid award was $44,000. If one were to receive the average award, the school would potentially cost less than a state school’s tuition. Several of the schools were committed to meeting 95% or 100% of demonstrated need, which means they will meet the need amount generated by one’s financial aid paperwork. Learning all this was daunting, but also hopeful, and helped me realize we should not eliminate a college strictly on sticker shock.
4. College Visiting Is More About Today Than The Future
College is three years away for us, and yet this trip demonstrated to us something we already knew - that it is also very present in our lives, even today, and it should be. It’s a big decision, and a large financial commitment. Perhaps the most important part of our trip was seeing my son come to this realization on his own, seeing his excitement about college and his expanded sense of possibility, seeing and hearing him talk about his goals and his understanding of what needs to drive him going into a new school year, and feeling his newfound investment in the process. Hopefully, this will be part of him creating a vision for his own life and motivating himself to pursue that vision.
I encourage each of you to think about when the timing might be right to start visiting colleges with your child or children. There may be incredible benefits gained from the experience and from the knowledge gained. And of course, the administrators and teachers at Harrells are here if you need any guidance as to where to start. We are honored to partner with you on this journey.