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College and Career Corner

Separating truth from myth in college planning

Separating truth from myth in college planning

September 16, 2002|by ROSE RENNEKAMP

If you're like most parents going through the college experience with their teens, at some point you'll scratch your head and wonder why college planning has become so complicated. Why did our experiences seem so much simpler?

A number of factors make college planning more complex today. Students have more options when choosing colleges and majors, more possible sources of financial aid, and much more information to digest from the web and college recruitment messages in e-mails, letters and phone calls.

When I was entering college, community colleges were relatively new and unfamiliar. It wasn't as acceptable to borrow money for college as it is now, and it was more common to go to a specific college because of family traditions. My choices were limited by what I could afford, and I perceived my choice as being among the three four-year institutions in my state.

If you're facing unfamiliar territory, you're probably trying to categorize the realities and the myths. I hope to dispel a few of them that might be making college planning more difficult than it needs to be. Here are some answers for the next time your son or daughter says

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Statement: "It doesn't matter which classes I take in high school as long as my grade point average is high."

A: Challenging courses prepare students to do college work. College admissions personnel look at GPA, but they also pay close attention to course selection throughout high school, especially senior year.

Statement: "I need a high test score to get accepted into college."

A: It's true that the test score shows how prepared you are for college work and what areas may need strengthened. Colleges and universities use an integrated approach where they look at a number of performance factors and the test score is just one of those factors.

Statement: "I have to have a major when I arrive on campus."

A: College is certainly not an inexpensive proposition, but it's an investment. The important thing is to have an idea of interests and strengths and to be open to other possibilities, even if you have declared a major. If selecting a major is difficult, take some courses to experiment and learn about different areas of study.

Statement: "There's one, perfect school for me - and I'll find it."

A: With more than 2,000 four-year colleges and universities in the United States, you can find more than one that will fit your needs. Visit the schools, research them and make notes of the features you like. Keep an open mind and see which school, or schools, reach the top of your list.

Statement: "I can afford to attend a public university, but not a private college."

A: Don't overlook a college based only on cost. You might be surprised at the financial aid you can receive at a private college through grants, work study or loans. For more information, call 1-877/4ED-PUBS (433-7827) and ask for a free copy of the "Managing the Price of College" handbook, or go to www.ed.gov/pubs/collegecosts/cover.html on the Web.

Rose Rennekamp is the vice president of communications for ACT. Have a question you want answered in a future column? Send an e-mail to AskRose@act.org.

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