College? Start with simple questions

Dennis Kelly - Contributing columnist

Making decisions about attending college can be difficult, especially when you’re among the first in your family to try and navigate these uncharted waters.

Before delving into this often challenging and daunting process, start with the simple question: “Should I go to college?”

Persons attend for many reasons, at least initially. Some follow in family members’ footsteps to higher education, while others wish to pursue a specific career-centered area of interest like biology, education or agriculture. Some see college as a means for earning a degree while continuing participation in an activity they enjoyed in high school, like sports, music or theatre.

College is not for everyone but, for many, earning that degree provides a foundation for career and life success. In fact, Hart Research Associates recently polled executives and hiring managers, who overwhelmingly agreed a college education is worth the investment.

Here’s my advice if you are contemplating higher education. Construct a grid and list the five most important factors across the top. Your factors might include cost, academic programs, location, size of school and special interests such as athletics.

Then, on the left side of the grid, list five colleges or universities you’d consider attending. With five items on both the top and left side, create a grid of 25 equal-size boxes and assign a numerical scale from one-to-five, with five being the highest rating.

It’s time to do you homework.

Visit those five institutions’ web pages and contact them for information. Participate in group chats with students at each school, attend open houses and speak with their admission counselors.

Visit the colleges so you have some familiarity with each school and rank them based upon the important factors you determined at the top of the grid.

Tally each institution’s score left to right and the highest two numbers are your top two choices. Why two? What if you’re not accepted at your top choice or if the cost, after you’ve determined financial aid, is too expensive?

Was location a major factor in your grid? If so, it’s important to know a few things when considering commuting to school or residing on campus.

First, college and universities’ average cost for housing and meals is $10,000 a year — $40,000 for four years — and most schools’ financial aid scholarships and grants are taken off tuition, not room and board.

Many students qualify for state and federal education grants, however, you will forfeit many state grants if you attend a college in another state. Local two- and four-year schools offer students the opportunity to cut the cost of college by commuting from home.

Some students do this in their first years of college and save funds to purchase a limited meal plan, engage in travel abroad study trips or even reside on campus during their latter years.

When you’re ready to get serious about going to college, you’ll benefit if you plan it on a grid, do your homework and make it a family decision.

The News Journal invited Dennis M. Kelly, a nationally known enrollment administrator, to present periodic columns about higher education as a service to our families with students looking to further their education. Kelly is the senior vice president for enrollment management at Wilmington College. He led WC’s enrollment team that brought in the two largest entering classes in the institution’s 148-year history.

Kelly has consulted and presented extensively on higher education and post-graduation career choices. The White House and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognized Kelly, a Vietnam-era veteran, for designing free courses for families of veterans serving abroad. He also received the Transfer Champion Medallion for his work in finding Hurricane Katrina victims special scholarships to attend colleges after their schools were devastated by the storm. Locally, he supervises the Clinton County SUCCEEDS program, which this fall led to a record number of local residents attending Wilmington College.

Dennis Kelly

Contributing columnist