A Good Deal Goes Beyond the Numbers

The college’s website should be able to address any issue you can think of but if it doesn’t, try another popular site: Facebook. The campus may be on the other side of the country but your child can log on to the popular social networking site and search for current students to query or groups to join. Talk about going directly to the source! Here are a few more subjects to factor in to determine if your child’s school-to-be is a sound financial investment and can give your child the full college experience.



Curriculum

Declaring a major usually isn’t required until a student’s sophomore or junior year but having an idea what they would like to major in can make some schools more attractive candidates than others.

If your child has always wanted to be an engineer but two of the schools on their wish list don’t offer that major, those institutions should be removed from consideration immediately. Why waste your money when your child will need to transfer?

When your child has somewhat of an idea of their course of study (the ever-popular communications major, for example), check out the college’s school for that particular subject; it will house many majors under a large umbrella so if your child starts out on one path but diverges onto a related one, any credits earned can still be put toward their degree.

Then there are the undecided majors, the kids that have absolutely no idea what they want to major in. If your child falls into this category, a large state school should get a second look because they truly do have a major for everyone…or an individualized major program if no one major is a perfect fit.

Faculty

You want your child to learn as much as possible during their time in college and as such, they should be gaining that information from the top instructors in their field. Spot the financial faculty heroes and zeros with these tips.

A quick online search should produce sufficient information (alma mater, degrees held, focus of study, classes currently and previously taught, etc.) on professors and lecturers but there’s no substitute for actually sitting in on a class and watching the professor in action.

Classes deemed as general education requirements are great for this because they are geared toward first-year students that may or may not be extremely familiar with the subject matter. If your background is in accounting, maybe survey a course on Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies or another subject opposite your undergraduate curriculum. If the professor is able to not only inform but engage you, he or she is one your child could learn a great deal from and one that will provide the most bang for your educational buck; however, if the professor simply reads PowerPoint slides in a monotone voice, your child may elect to skip the class in favor of a nap, which wastes precious funds.

To be clear, the methods of one professor won’t reflect that of all educators on the campus so survey a few classes or log on to sites rating professor performance to ensure your dollar will be stretched as far as possible.

Housing

Think about the dorm rooms you’ve seen on television. Now think of the opposite. Instead of living in a massive, tastefully decorated apartment their first year on campus, your child's on-campus housing will consist of sharing 11’-by-14’ room with at least one roommate and a bathroom with residents from their entire floor. Is this arrangement worth their while (and your wallet)?

Some schools offer freshman-only housing replete with first year experience programs but they can cost a little more than other dormitories; opinions vary on if programs like this are worth the extra fees but if you think about it, all the freshman who either can’t get a spot or elect not to reside there have to end up somewhere so it’s likely your child will be placed in a dorm with these same students and gain the same kind of residence hall experience minus the inflated bill.

As the years pass, your child will have access to other housing options like suites or on-campus apartments. Living there will also cost you more and often, off-campus housing is far less expensive; just be sure the neighborhood is safe, the building is structurally sound and the lease is legit if you’ll be the one paying the rent.

Of course, if the university is close to your home, present the idea of commuting to your child. It will save you the thousands of dollars that would have gone toward room and board – money you could put toward next semester’s tuition or use to help your child purchase a reliable vehicle to get them to and from campus. Of course, you may have to work out some new rules or compromise on some old ones once your child starts displaying their independence but that’s completely free of cost.

Cuisine

They may not be the home-cooked meals your child is used to but dining hall offerings will likely be their main source of nourishment as a freshman. How does one determine the right meal plan or funds for food?

We’ve all heard of (or even experienced) the Freshman 15 but if not, it’s the weight a college freshman gains during their first year brought on by easy access to not-so-healthy foods. When parents aren’t there to insist their children finish their broccoli or convince them to opt for salmon over double cheeseburgers, extra calories add up quickly. Many schools are aware of this trend and have done their best to buck it by offering a variety of healthier cuisine choices – a relief to many a conscience and waistline.

If the dining halls at your child’s preferred college seem to have their menus in order, paying for a meal plan is a no-brainer but choose wisely: The unlimited plan is appealing because you know your child will never be without nourishment but students often skip meals if they are running late or have a class during what used to be their time to sit down for breakfast. To save without starving, consider the second or third dining plan options, which are less expensive but still offer plenty of access.

If meal choices at the college are less diverse, consider giving your child a stipend for off-campus dining at the beginning of the semester; this will force them to adhere to a budget and make informed dining choices while on campus and ration the stipend until they come home for break (hello, introduction to money management!).

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