College Selection, Not for Party Conversation

In the late summer of each year, colleges/universities across the country greet their new and returning students. They offer a robust “Congratulations and best wishes to all!”

Students have a myriad of reasons for selecting and enrolling in the schools they are attending. But, some people are so opinionated regarding the manner in which schools should be labeled, grouped, described, evaluated, sifted and ranked during the consideration and selection process that you can scarcely have a comfortable conversation with them. And, such should not be unexpected. College selection is probably not an ideal topic for party conversation.

An undergraduate education may cost up to $300,000-plus dollars/year when considering tuition, fees, room and board, books, and so much more that occurs as additional expenses during the students’ lives. This is no small amount, and actually exceeds the value of the average American home, and is equivalent to six times the average 2017 household income. So, any consideration of such an investment should be countered with the questions regarding post-graduation Return on Investment, and interim value as the students progress through the education process; particularly since historically, only fifty percent who start will ever graduate.

As people consider thousands of options, the internet and traditional news sources primarily report about institutions that are tripping over their own feet, making bad social decisions, misusing budgets, and incurring wrath precipitated by their insensitivity to the society in which they are delivering services. Many educational institutions are also confounded by attempts to placate political and legal systems with broken values compasses.

College fairs are marketing opportunities for schools, as is unsolicited mail. Colleges and universities support independent journalistic sources that post stories covering topics with regards to which they will rankly highly in polls (e.g., best food, greenest campus, nicest dorms, best… ). And, high school counselors are challenged keeping up with all the college-related data, much less the strategic approaches to admissions.

Families with substantial resources and education are able to make the most critical choices. Their students may attend schools you never heard of. Try using the following resource: and search for a particular college. Then scroll down to the “Admissions” data, and note on the right side of the data block a list of schools the “Students also applied to … ” You will see a set of schools of similar “ranking”, many of which will be unfamiliar. If you follow this process three or four levels deep, particularly into distant geographic regions, you may find that there are numerous schools that could fit your desired criteria (superficially) with which you are completely unfamiliar, and they are not as well marketed as the Ivy League, top NCAA DI schools, and other big names promoted by sources such as U.S. News, Forbes, and Princeton Review. However, no matter how brief or extensive your list of selection criteria may be, easily accessible data are unlikely to get at the nuances of information in which you may be interested. Nor will these data represent the exact nature of the experiences your student(s) will experience.

Lastly, all parents’ and students’ backgrounds (including resources), experiences, perspectives, skill sets, interests and expectations are different. Discussions with others need not degenerate into use of defamatory or denigrating language. However, because conversations on this topic are markedly affected by personal biases, as well as current knowledge, college selection (past and in process) can be a very sensitizing topic.

Interested in a college education? Where? College selection is probably not for party conversation.