Vail Daily column: Guide for college planning
Over the next few days and weeks, there will be a flurry of activity for Eagle County kids related to decisions on where our juniors and seniors will be heading off to college. Battle Mountain High School will be hosting College and Career Night on Thursday, and we’ll be taking buses loaded with hopeful college-bound kids to Aspen on Sunday for the Western Slope College Fair. In addition to these two formalized events, some parents across Eagle County are also making plans for college visits this fall with their aspiring graduates.
Planning for college these days is tough work, no matter what your income bracket. But there are a few tips parents (and soon-to-be graduates) should consider when they think about their college choice.
Tip No. 1: Define college broadly. Practically all jobs that will earn graduates a decent living in the future require some kind of training after high school. We’re well past the transition to a knowledge-based economy and students need to get serious about acquiring more education past high school. For many professions, the traditional college route is the way to go. However, in many others specialized technical and professional schools will do just fine and set the student up for sound and well-paying employment. Think hard about the field the student wants to end up working in and design the education toward that end.
Tip No. 2: Get a head start on credit. Eagle County Schools offers an abundance of dual enrollment courses in collaboration with Colorado Mountain College. In addition, there are broad selections of Advanced Placement courses available so students get the chance to earn college credit before they set foot on a college campus. On graduation day, it’s not uncommon for me to shake the hands of students who have already earned an associate degree as part of their high school education. Effectively, this is a two year scholarship for these graduates. I can’t stress enough what a tremendous benefit and opportunity this is for our local kids — don’t let it pass you by.
Tip No. 3: Pay attention to costs. I cringe every time I hear about one of our graduates taking on (literally) hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to attend a college neither they nor their family can afford. Choose a college with a good program for your field of study that has a cost the family can handle and then work like heck to graduate from it with no debt. Working a college job is a character building experience for any undergrad and will teach some life lessons about sacrifice and dedication you won’t get in the lecture hall.
Tip No. 4: Crimson and Cardinal versus Buffalos and Rams, oh my. Once individual aptitude is taken into account, the evidence on the return on investment for going to an elite (and expensive) private college vs. more affordable options is not all that clear. In some careers (like business), the connections, networking and pedigree one gets at an elite and selective school means a lot. In other careers (like the sciences) it doesn’t matter much at all. I’ve earned degrees from large public institutions (I have a B.A. and two master’s degrees from the University of Kentucky) and small private institutions (my doctorate is from Seton Hall). While I treasure my experiences at both of these schools, I’d advise parents and grads to not overlook a quality in-state and public institution that might deliver a great education and a life-changing experience for the student.
Tip No. 5: Choose the size, location and culture that fits. Colleges and Universities vary dramatically in size and location. There are differences in teaching philosophy, research opportunities for undergrads, athletics and intermural sports, social life and more. Our own Colorado Mountain College will offer a very personal experience and an unbelievable quality of life. But, that experience is going to be markedly different than going to school in Columbus, Ohio, with 65,000 of your Buckeye friends. Neither of these experiences is necessarily better than the other, but they are different. Think hard about all of the components that define a school to determine if it’s going to be the right fit.
Making a college choice is a big and important decision for our students and their families. Thinking through these five areas can help set a college student up for success during their college years and for their life ahead.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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