Here are two ways to get the colleges themselves to give you a return on all the money you paid just to get into college.
With many students applying to twenty or more colleges these days, the costs can run into thousands of dollars just to pay for required standardized tests, transcript forwarding, and applications. On top of this, many parents also pay for tutoring, test prep, sports, outside activities, private college guidance counselors, and travel to visit colleges. So what can you expect for your return on the money you spend just to get into college?
I am not talking about your return on investment with respect to intangibles such as elevated reasoning skills, increased breadth, an expanded core of knowledge, and a heightened understanding the world around us. What I am talking about is your monetary return on investment from the colleges themselves.
Plan A: Get money directly from colleges that are recruiting more economically diverse student bodies
Many top colleges are now using their endowments to recruit more economically diverse student bodies. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between the quality of colleges and the size of their endowments. These endowments are monies or assets donated to colleges, and over a long period of time they can accumulate to sizable amounts. The colleges invest the base amount of their endowments and then use the earnings to pay for things they need. Many colleges are now making larger portions of their endowment earnings available to help students pay for college.
This sounds very noble and charitable, but we all know that you cannot get something for nothing. We also know that things sounding too good to be true simply are not true, right? Well, these adages are only applicable to a degree for cases in which colleges are “need blind.” Need blind means that admissions examine all students for acceptance in the same way without regards to whether or not the students have enough money to pay for college.
Here is where the adages do apply: Just needing financial assistance in the form of financial aid or academic scholarship is not enough to get help. You must also be a top student with a great GPA, high test scores, and interesting outside activities. Non-need blind colleges that are highly competitive strongly consider whether or not you will need their assistance to pay for college. You have to let these colleges know during the application process that you will need assistance paying for college. For non-need blind colleges ranked in the top ten, if admissions knows you will need help paying for college, the probability of being accepted changes from virtually impossible to just plain impossible since applicants needing financial help must be stronger than those paying full price.
Where the adages do not apply is at need blind schools where applicants only need to be as good as the students paying full price, not better. When I visited Vanderbilt last year I was given the inside scoop on Vanderbilt’s admission trends before and after it changed into a need blind school. Top students applying to Vanderbilt have the same amazing backgrounds as they did before the college adopted its need blind admissions policy. However, the bottom accepted students are increasingly stronger. Turns out that the average ACT score of accepted students increased from 32 to 33 that same year Vanderbilt turned need blind.
For need blind colleges, this policy enables them to recruit economically diverse students while at the same time increasing their rankings since rankings are in part determined by the competitive level of admissions.
Plan B: Pay for college with extremely gracious offers from slightly lower ranked colleges
Moving ahead with plan A does sound somewhat risky. What if you spend a lot of money trying to get your high performing child into a top college, but then she doesn’t get accepted? The fact is that there are far too many brilliant and talented students applying for the few available undergraduate openings in top colleges. These top colleges simply do not have room for all the qualified applicants.
There is good news for these students. Slightly lower ranked colleges are eager to accept these talented students. These colleges recognize the many benefits of having these students at their colleges, and they routinely offer bright students special honors programs, opportunities to work directly with professors, and especially offers of greatly discounted tuition.
At Hunter Programs Education Services, over the years we have even seen extremely bright and talented students accept generous offers from lower ranked colleges where they can be superstars even though they were accepted by much higher ranked colleges where they would only be one of the many there. You can learn more about, “is it better to be a small fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a small pond” by reading Malcom Gladwell’s latest book, David and Goliath.
Need help figuring out if you really want to attend a top university or if instead you should grab a generous offer from a lower ranked university? There are many college ranking systems out there that can be used to help you make a decision. To learn more about how use college rankings, take a look at this article. Although we don’t advocate relying heavily on those rankings, learning to understand the criteria used in the rankings can go a long ways in helping you decide what is important to you when selecting a college. In another post, we have explained four different rankings, their criteria and weighting of those criteria, and why we like these four rankings (put link here to rankings post once the post is written).
Summary and Conclusion
At the beginning of this article, I did say to remove the intangible benefits of your college education in determining your return on investment. However if you get financial assistance from a highly ranked need blind college that is moving towards recruiting a more economically diversified student body, you get both, the intangibles and an extremely low cost education. On the other hand, if you opt for a lower ranked college that offers huge amount of money, you get the intangibles and an extremely low cost education. Either way, if you are spending money on your talented child’s K-12 education with your eye on getting into a highly competitive college is seems likely you will come out ahead.