Choosing a College

Content brought to you by Wayne County Community College District

lossy viewbooks display photos of picturesque campuses, complete with images of students excited to be there. College admissions counselors tout their schools’ top-ranked programs while stressing affordability for families. Interactive university websites tailor the viewing experience to address prospective students’ interests in hopes those students will submit an application and enroll if accepted.

It’s a lot for high school juniors and seniors to digest as they attempt to decide when, where and how they’ll continue their education past graduation. Maybe a large public university is the best fit for some, while a small, private, religiously based school works for others. A weeklong college bus tour might sell some students on a historically Black college or university, while those needing maximum affordability and the ability to commute from home might find a community college or urban campus to be good choices.

Colleges and universities are as unique as the millions of students who attend each year, but finding the right match can be challenging for potential students and their families.

The right school for you

In his article “How to Find Your Best Fit College,” Rob Franek, senior vice president and publisher at The Princeton Review, suggests students examine their needs in terms of academics, culture and financial aid-and find the schools that provide the best balance of all three.

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Although the university’s website or viewbook contains much of that information, neither compare to seeing the campus itself and finding out firsthand what the school can potentially offer.

“In general, from the student perspective, the most valuable piece of advice I’d give is to make campus visits,” says Kevin Kucera, associate vice president for enrollment management at Eastern Michigan University. “A good campus visit includes interactions with students, faculty, maybe a coach if a student is interested in athletics, and a financial aid presentation.”

Many colleges, like EMU, offer campus visits throughout the week and on weekends-and have special open houses to introduce potential students to university. There, students are able to meet with deans, faculty and advisers in multiple academic majors, speak with admissions staff about the application and financial aid process and take a tour of campus.

In addition to arranging one’s own campus visit or attending an open house, students interested in a historically Black college or university can join a church or community organization’s multi-day tour. Offered annually, these trips give students a chance to visit multiple schools over the course of a few days; organizers typically contact high school guidance counselors to spread the word about the trips.

David Palmer, a 2011 Cass Technical High School graduate, was motivated to apply to some of the schools he visited after participating in an HBCU tour.

“At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to study, but I knew I wanted to get out of Detroit for a while and see other parts of the country,” he says. “I applied to some HBCUs and received some scholarships.”

Palmer ultimately decided to join the Air Force, but he found the tour and the campus visits valuable in his effort to figure out where he might want to land after high school.

“But how will I pay for it all?”

That might be the biggest question for concerned students and parents after narrowing their list down to a few schools. And with good reason. Horror stories abound about students burdened with thousands of dollars in student loans and the prospect of paying them well into their 40s.

The value of community college

Starting at a community college is one way to avoid taking on an unmanageable debt load. Credits are generally cheaper than students might find at four-year schools, and if students can continue living at home, room and board costs aren’t a factor. For the fall 2015 semester, a credit hour at Wayne County Community College District costs $105 for district residents, while a credit hour for a lower-division class at Wayne State University is $347.20 for Michigan residents.

“It’s quite a savings to be able to complete up to your first two years toward a four-year degree at a community college,” says CharMaine Hines, associate vice chancellor at WCCCD. “Students can take their general education courses at a more affordable price.”

The credits are guaranteed to transfer to universities throughout the state, thanks to the Michigan Transfer Agreement. Online, students find out course equivalencies between community colleges and four-year in-state institutions.

Many four-year schools also have articulation agreements in place with community colleges. Such agreements allow students to complete requirements for a specific program by taking designated courses at the community college that would then transfer to the four-year school. A student interested in earning a bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice from EMU, for example, could enroll at WCCCD, for instance, and take courses toward an associate’s degree in criminal justice. Those courses would automatically transfer to fulfill Eastern’s requirements toward the bachelor’s degree.

EMU’s Kucera, however, says potential students shouldn’t automatically rule out starting at a four-year school because of cost. University financial aid counselors are trained to compile packages to make the cost of attending college as affordable as possible.

“Schools can come up with creative ways to put together a financial aid package to make the cost of a college education affordable, whether that’s at Eastern Michigan or somewhere else,” he says. “We can be more affordable than most might think.”

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