1. What is your goal?
College is expensive, challenging, and time-consuming. Understanding why you and your student are investing in college will help you make better decisions. Ask your student: “why are you going to college?” Discuss the answer. It may be surprisingly difficult to get to a definite answer, but for most families, the goal is either to prepare the student for a career or for additional education (bachelor’s degree or graduate school). Once you have clarified the goal, you can select the right degree or certificate program and plan how to take advantage of internships, part-time work, student activities with leadership opportunities, and college services like tutoring and academic advising.
2. How much is a degree worth to you?
Students who borrow money to attend college are often still paying off their debt decades later. This restricts their financial resources and makes it more difficult for them to buy a car or house, and start a family. Is the “full college experience” worth the debt? Community college costs less and students who attend a community college borrow less money, a fact that leaves them with more in the bank to use if they want a bachelor’s degree. But one of the best reasons to attend community college is to gain credentials that students can immediately use to get a well-paying job. With a job, they can work and (if they choose) use their paychecks to help afford continuing their education.
3. Is the college student-centered?
When choosing a college, be sure to ask how many graduates find a job after graduation and how many successfully transfer to a four-year college or graduate school. The answer indicates whether student success is considered important there. Be sure to ask how many students are usually in each class, whether your student will be advised by a faculty member in their major or by a professional advisor, and how often faculty and staff members engage directly with students. For example, at MWCC, our President often eats lunch with students.
4. Is this college a good fit for you?
Find out by going to campus and observing a class in session (make arrangements in advance with the Admissions Office). Take notice of whether the instructor encourages questions. Eat in the cafeteria and visit the library and student center. Take notice of whether the students interact and engage with each other. These experiences will give you a feel for what the college culture and environment is like.
5. Why haven’t you filled out your FAFSA yet?
The FAFSA should be filed 11 months before the student starts college, or as soon as possible after that. There is no obligation to attend college after you file, it simply puts you in line to receive aid. If you are waiting until you decide where to apply or if you are putting off your search for income tax returns and or other documents, remember this: you are losing money the longer you wait. The fact is, students who file later often don’t have their full financial needs met. Financial aid is limited and given on a first-come, first-served basis. When the money runs low, late filers lose. A recent study found that community college students are more likely to file late or not at all, causing them to receive less state aid and institutional grant aid. How much do they lose? Often enough to pay for an additional course during the year.