College Part 2 - Helping your child choose the right college

In the previous article on choosing a degree, I stated a premise.  This is an important point to keep in mind so I am going to repeat it here:

The ONLY reason to pay for college is to get a better job.

I began with the article on choosing a degree because not all kids need to go to college.  If your daughter wants to be a photographer, she will get more experience working for a a pro than she will studying about theory and a degree is not a requirement for the job.  On the other hand, if she wants to be a lawyer, well, there are specific requirements for that one.  Before picking a school, our children should have job in mind and an understanding of how the next 4 years at school will improve their chances of getting that job.

There is a fair amount of debate over whether it matters which school you graduate from and how it affects the quality of your life.  Some will claim that it is absolutely essential that your child get into and graduate from the best school he or she can.  Others will say that it is the student not the school.  This article is meant to advise parents on how to help their children choose the right school for their career goals.

Since we began with choosing a degree, we can take the next step directly from there and narrow the list of possible colleges to the ones that offer that particular degree.  If the degree is pretty standard like accounting then it will be difficult to find a school that does NOT offer it.  However, remember that specific is better and for some programs there may be limited options.

Next we should eliminate all the schools that are out of budget.  This can be a complicated exercise as you and your child evaluate the possibilities of student aid or scholarships, many of which are school specific.

I recommend that our children try to go to school where they want to work.  The professors will have local connections and there will be a history of hiring from the school by businesses in the area.  After 4 years in cloudy, overcast Syracuse, NY I had no wish to spend any more time there than absolutely necessary.  Unfortunately, the majority of the companies that came to the school career fairs were all from the immediate area.  Returning to NYC was challenging where I was then competing with local graduates from NYU, Columbia, etc.  If your child says something like this: "But Daddy, I don't know where I want to work yet."  Then she does not go to college until she figures it out.  This is not a small investment and asking our children to give it some serious thought is a reasonable request.

In general, a big school is better than a small school.  Everyone is affected by brands, even employers and there is better name recognition from a big school.  With a larger student and alumni population, the chances of your son's interviewer being from the same college or fraternity also increase.  A friend was recently invited to lunch at the Princeton Club in NY.  This is an exclusive members only organization for alumni of Princeton University.  There are meeting rooms, restaurants, fitness equipment and even hotel rooms available for members.  Just graduating from this one school gives your child a ticket to shmooze with the other senior alums and established business people who frequent the club.  Compare this to the small college in upstate NY which I graduated from.  The alumni are mainly US based with the majority staying in the northeastern US.  A search of the alumni directory for those alums in Japan brings a grand total of 4.

Finally, with a list of schools that offer the appropriate degree, are in your budget, are big and in the right locale, you can look at the school rankings.  For example, US News and World Report has rankings based on the degree.  The University of Texas in Austin is #1 for accounting.

The cost of college continues to increase.  When my son heads off to school in 2019 I will need $174,000 to see him through graduation (based on the World's Simplest College Cost Calculator).  We parents must take an active role in this choice and not only by controlling the checkbook.  It is unfair to our 17 year old child to ask them to figure it out for themselves and expect them to know what the future will hold for them based on their choice.  We have seen a lot more of this world than they have and they deserve the benefit of our wisdom, even if they don't always appreciate it.


  1. Here is an interesting article for those who wish to read more on this topic:

  2. Here is a good article from the New York Times with an argument for the benefits of college, even if you don't know what you want:

    Even for Cashiers, College Pays Off


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