Does Going to College and Buying a Car Have Anything in Common?
Comparing a college education to purchasing a car is certain to offend many: parents, prospective college students, and faculty and college administrators. But before you press the delete button consider the following scenario.
You begin looking for a car by reading reviews, maybe Consumer Reports, (college guide books) and after investigating and comparing, you narrow your choices.
You make an appointment to meet with a few car salesmen (college admission counselors) and arrange to visit a few showrooms (college visits).
After comparing features and costs, you meet with a bank loan manager (financial aid counselor) to determine how you will pay for the car and the average monthly payments.
Before making a final decision, you read reviews from previous buyers (alumni surveys).
After comparing benefits and costs you make a final decision on which car to purchase (May 1st admission deadline date).
After driving the car for three months you notice problems with the ignition (first semester economics course).
You contact the salesman who sold you the car. He recommends that you speak with their technology mechanic (director of retention services/academic advisor).
The problem is solved and you have a better understanding of how the car operates. You spend the next four years driving the car without a problem (college graduation).
Still with me? Even I confess that this is a crude and superficial comparison because enrolling in college is not the same as buying and driving a car. But certain similarities can withstand comparison and scrutiny.
Purchasing a car and financing a college education are both major purchases.
Would you purchase a car before comparing several options?
Would you purchase a car before knowing how you would finance the car payments?
Would you continue to drive a car if there were problems with the ignition or steering?
Many families have outsourced the selection of their child’s college education either to overworked high school guidance counselors or private, expensive college counselors.
Many families have outsourced the financing of their child’s college education to the federal government or to colleges and universities with promises of generous merit or need-based scholarships.
Many families wait until after college acceptances arrive in the mail before considering how they will pay for tuition and fees.
Many families assume that college is a six, not four year, experience.
Many families do not believe that career counseling is an important factor in college selection.
I would suggest that before a single college application is filed, you ask and compare answers to the following questions:
Where do I want to go to school? Is the school’s location agreeable to my parents?
Do I know what I want to study?
Who will teach me in the first year?
What is the average class size for first year students?
How many first year students return for the second year?
How long will it take me to graduate?
How safe are the schools on my list?
Can I afford this school?
What kind of financial aid is available?
May I get an estimate of my financial aid package before filing an application?
Will I receive the same amount of financial aid each year if my family’s income does not change?
What are the average student debt and the average parent debt?
When does career counseling begin?
What about recent graduates’ employment rates at graduation?
This Is What I Believe
There is a college or university for every student who wants to enroll.
There is a college or university that you can afford to attend.
You can graduate in four year, not five or six.
You can graduate with manageable debt.
You can position yourself in college to get a job after graduation.
Marguerite J. Dennis was a university dean of admission and financial aid at St. John’s University in New York, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and Suffolk University in Boston. She is the author of: The New College Guide: How to Get In, get Out, and Get a Job.