College Planning: Beyond the Dollars

Some were visibly anxious. Others were enjoying the complimentary hors d’oeuvres and refreshments. And some were pretty relaxed over the whole affair – “She’s the first of three kids and used to being the guinea pig.” We were parents of about 100 prospective college freshmen attending a college orientation visit.

Funding your student’s college education may be the easiest parts (or focuses your search). “What do I want to do be” and “Which school” are the bigger decisions.

Here are some thoughts about preparing for your student’s future of success.

Better trained, skilled and educated

Whether it be vocational training or a college degree, you’re putting things better in your favor – opportunities, lifetime earnings and lower unemployment.

Kids are taking their futures more seriously

The recession, uncertainty, and tight finances may be driving students to hit the books harder. Trends in the 2011 annual survey of college freshmen by UCLA’s Cooperative Institutional Research Program included a reduction in grants or scholarships (economic downturn) and positive changes in academic behavior (more AP courses, more hours studying in high school, and less drinking). Top reasons cited in going to college included “getting a better job” and “learn more about things that interest me.”

Bottom line – we’re trying to help our kids to better put things in their favor. Part of the art of parenting is figuring out when to give her a nudge and when to let her make her own decision.

Here are four things to help your sons and daughters figure out what to do and where to be:

Grateful the mermaid-thing has passed?

Many young people, and some older, don’t know what they’d like to be when they “grow up.” That’s ok as there are future careers not yet invented, and many will have multiple careers. Prepare for stepping stone opportunities that help you figure things out. And many employers seek attitudes and values… they’ll teach and hone the skills.

Campus was larger than my hometown

Campus sizes vary. Larger campuses may offer greater resources, options and diversity; the smaller ones may offer greater personalization and closer relationships with faculty.

Pathways and gateways

Will he or she be able to integrate academic and professional development? What mentoring is available for course and majors planning? What roles do advisors, counselors, alumni and corporate partnerships play with internships, networking and campus development?


One of the best pieces of advice given to me during my daughter’s search was “Brian, it’s got to feel right.” Things are a lot different than three decades ago. I walked three campuses with my folks – One was a bridge too far away in San Francisco, another a highly esteemed agricultural school but it was a hot July day, and the third was close enough for me to ski Lake Tahoe and I liked blue and gold. Take advantage of campus visits, sit in classrooms, talk with faculty and do the overnight stays.

Henry Ford once said “If money is your hope for independence, you’ll never have it. The only real security that a person will have in this world is a reserve of knowledge, experience, and ability.”

May your student have fruitful lessons on campus.

About Brian Loy

Brian Loy writes insightful and inspiring articles about the ever-changing world of personal finance and the global trends that affect the risk and return on investments and shape the financial- and retirement-planning process.
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