The cost of education isn’t going anywhere but up, up, up. Yet, when you’re a high school senior, the idea of touring expensive-to-maintain campuses that may put you in debt for the rest of your life is romanticized. Nothing’s wrong with the campus being nice and up-to-date, but it’s important to know which areas to fall in love with to ensure you, personally, are getting the most bang for your buck over the next four years.
Here are the top three things to look for as you’re visiting different colleges for campus tours:
- The Financial Aid Office. I don’t care how pretty it is or how storied the history of the building is. I care about how the people working behind those desks are treating me. Do they seem ready to help me or ready to get me out of their hair? Can they provide me with a list of scholarships–both internal and external without simply referring me to FastWeb? Are they willing to understand my specific situation, or do they just cut me off and fill in my blank incorrectly without listening? These people are going to be the ones affecting your finances for the rest of your life, so make sure they are good at their job. Go visit them outside of a guided tour when smiles might be feigned. Going without your parents is also a good way to see how they work in a candid situation.
- Facilities for Your Major. If your philosophy class is in a shack, it probably won’t matter unless you’re a philosophy major who doesn’t like drafts. If you’re majoring in electric engineering and the university has you studying everything out of a textbook, you may have a problem. Certain majors lend themselves to being studied hands on, and that requires facilities. Assuming you researched the program before you decided to tour the campus, the facilities are probably right in line with what you were expecting. The important thing to keep in perspective here is that these facilities are going to be a lot more important than a sweet dorm room.
- The Cafeteria. The cafeteria in and of itself isn’t a deal breaker for a school (or at least shouldn’t be.) What should be considered is the cost of the school’s meal plan and if you’ll actually like and use it. Meal plans can save money, but not if you’re going out spending your money on other food because your fare isn’t edible or desirable. So while you’re touring campus, ask to see the cafeteria, ask what the different meal plans offer, and sit down to actually try the food before purchasing a plan for the entire school year.
It’s easy to get distracted by mega stadiums (which may be important to you if you’re a student athlete, but otherwise shouldn’t effect your educational decisions.) It’s easy to get distracted by gorgeous dorms. It’s easy to get distracted by a place’s history and “feel” or vibe.
Try to remember that the vibe is very expensive, the mega stadiums won’t guarantee you a job after graduation, and a bed is just a place to sleep. Instead, focus your touring efforts on the places that are likely to save you unnecessary spending or give you a good return on your financial investment in your education.