Evaluating College Options: A Parent’s Perspective

When you’re trying to help your son or daughter in evaluating college options, the myriad choices can be daunting. Especially when the marketing materials from the big name schools invade your mailbox. Then there’s the cost factor.


Unless your high school graduate will be receiving a scholarship, the college proposition can be costly. Even if your child receives a “free ride”, the cost of room and board can add up. Does that mean community college is the only affordable option? Not necessarily. But it requires some forethought.


Here are three steps to evaluating college options.


Begin with the end in mind.

Talk with your child about what interests them. More importantly, listen to what they have to say. Find out what captures their fascination. Not what they think they should do, but what really gets them excited. Be careful not to ask them, “What do you want to do?” That question is very limiting. It narrows them to a particular career. Instead, ask them, “What problem do you want to solve?” That gets them thinking about how they could contribute to society. You can then look for an education path to help them get there.


Be willing to think outside the box.

My oldest daughter is now a college graduate from Liberty University, but she pursued a rather non-traditional route. At 14 years old, my daughter told me she wanted to do college online. As a graduate of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, I had no idea what that would look like. I came across a consultancy agency, College Plus (now known as Lumerit Scholar Unbound). It was started by a homeschool kid who graduated from college in six months with only $5,000 in expenses. And that got my attention. The program fit her goal of doing college online, and the cost of her degree—including the consultancy fees—was significantly less than it would have been if she had done the traditional college route.


Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Do not rely on a brand name school to open all the doors for you. Have a plan to leverage your education—and experience. My high school best friend went to a school that did not have a big name, but it was the best school in the particular field he wanted to enter. As a result, that set him up for internships and exposure to key people in his field, which put him on a path for a successful career. In my experience of hiring people, I am not so much interested in where they went to school; I want to know what they have done. I don’t really care so much about what they know; I want to know what they can do. Make sure your child takes the opportunity to do internships and apprenticeships. That will give them the credibility to be successful early on in their career.


In summary, as your high school graduate considers their college options, the school they choose will not make or break their future. But choosing a costly educational option without a plan of how to leverage that degree can definitely start them off on the wrong foot.


Robert McFarland is President of McFarland Messaging LLC and the Blogger-in-Chief for www.RobertMcFarland.net. He paid for his oldest daughter’s education and plans to do the same for all six of his children, thus affordable higher education is of great interest to him.