Why the College Search is Like Buying a Home

College Search

(c) My College Planning Team

This is for all the parents out there who are feeling anxious about their kids’ college process.  Let’s think back to when you first bought a house.  Were you overwhelmed by the process?  Did you do your due diligence?  Did it work out okay?  Better yet, did you survive that process?  The college search and selection process has many similarities and parallels to the house buying process.  Here are a few of them:

The choices are often overwhelming

There are almost 4000 colleges out there to choose from and there are even more houses out there on the market.  You must know what it is that you are looking for in a house and in a college so that you can narrow down the options for yourself.  Do you want to live in a big city, in the burbs or out in the country?  Are you looking for a particular feel or atmosphere?  Once you figure out what you want, it’s much easier to find what you are looking for — whether it’s in a house or in a college.  And remember, the ideal house or college for someone else is NOT the same as your ideal so please don’t be persuaded by someone else’s needs.  You must find the right fit for yourself.  Also, there is no cookie cutter or one size fits all or perfect anything!  So, pick and choose what’s best for you.  You may need to compromise but if you have some things that are non-negotiable, you will have an easier time deciding.

You need some professional guidance

For buying a house, you likely used a realtor, an inspector, a lawyer and a banker.  For choosing a college, you will likely need a counselor (either someone from the HS or an independent coach from IECA or HECA), teachers for recommendations, admissions counselors from the college, financial aid officers from the college and a personal financial adviser. These should be people who have already done this process countless times with other students.  They know the ins and outs and all the details so that you feel less stress.  You should be able to ask them questions and if you don’t know which questions to ask, they should still keep giving you pointers so that you stay on top of the process.

This is a big financial decision

You probably saved long and hard for the down payment for your house but you probably did not plan to pay for all of it outright. Similarly, you have likely saved for years for college but you may not have saved enough to pay for all of it.  How will you finance this education?  Will you stick to a budget or buy a dream that you can’t afford?  What is the return on your investment going to be like?  You don’t want to end up in foreclosure for your house or to have your student drop out because the bills can’t be paid.  I hate to think of education as merely a transaction where the customer is shopping but given the costs of higher education today, everyone must think this through carefully.  At the end of the day, a house is both an investment and a place to live for years.  A college education is tied to a possible career but it is also a place where tremendous growth happens.  This is the time to make some good decisions about how to use your money wisely.

Sometimes there is a big selection process

In house buying, there are homes that are sought after as perfect ideals that multiple buyers want at the same time.  They may end up on a bidding war where someone pays more than market value and others are cast out in the process.  However, most home buyers out there have enough choices, especially if they take the time to look.  Similarly, there are some schools that are highly selective and cost more than prime real estate.  There may be limited spots at that school.  Is your student willing to take on the stress of that application and possibly face rejection?  Or are you all willing to look around and see what the choices are and realize that you don’t have to face rejection if you look carefully?  I don’t know about home buying but over 80 percent of students get into their first choice school.  Unfortunately, we hear too much about the rejections but there is much more good news out there than we think!

There is a research process here

When buying a home, most people put together a list of criteria they are looking for and then go online to do a preliminary search.  Then they will ask around for a realtor who can give them more information and will ask them to get pre-approved by a bank.  They tour houses and go back for 2 or more looks at places they are serious about buying.  Then the process of bidding and inspection happens, where they find out if this is a reality for them.  Finally, there is the closing and move in.  Sigh, maybe.  Sometimes you move in to find unexpected things which can be positive or negative.  The college search process has a very similar story line.  Most students think about what they are looking for, talk to a counselor for input and then start touring colleges.  As they narrow their list, they apply.  Once the acceptances and financial aid awards are in, they must look again to make sure this is the decision they want.  Finally, they accept and move in – hurray!  But are there unexpected issues?  Is this place the place of perfection they dreamed of?

Life is what you make of it!

Once you move into a house, you spend time making it yours.  You make fixes so it can be what you want.  It may not be perfect but you do what you can to make it perfect for you.  You may overlook a few things like maybe your neighbors are crazy.  Would that make you move?  Probably not but you make the best of it.  Similarly, a college may not be as awesome as it sounds on the glossy brochures.  Maybe you find out that they don’t have the sports team or club you always wanted to join so what will you do?  Switch schools or make the best of it?

So many choices!

I firmly believe that every young person has many choices about what they want to do next.  It’s important to research and go through the self-learning process to discover a good fit for a college.  It’s also important to know that the college you go to will be great if you choose to make it a great experience for yourself!

For more help on the college search and selection process, contact us at My College Planning Team.  If you would like to schedule a complimentary consultation with our academic team, click here. We will walk you through this process so that you can find a great match!