Comprehensive College Readiness Series: Admissions and Financial Readiness

This is the fourth in a series of five blog posts examining college readiness by Julie Sweitzer, director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota.

Although it sounds relatively straightforward, the word college can create confusion. Too often, college is assumed to mean four-year institutions, yet community and technical colleges proudly bear the title as well. Most adults in the United States who went to college likely attended only one type of college and know little about the alternatives. Even a child who grows up knowing that college is in his or her future likely doesn’t know what college means or the choices he or she will have. Admissions readiness changes that.

To begin with, many fields have a variety of preparation options. For example, a student interested in computers, engineering, or nursing can find related degree programs at technical or two- and four-year colleges. A student who starts at a college that does not meet the student’s needs and must transfer risks the loss of credits and spending more time in school (thus, increasing costs). A college-ready student understands the different types of colleges and intentionally picks one that meets his or her goals.

Many high school students do not understand that colleges vary in academic offerings and challenges and choose colleges for which they are academically overqualified or underqualified (Roderick, 2008). Entrance exams, college visits, and completing applications on time can be overwhelming. Supporting students in that process can help them identify and apply to colleges for which their career goals, academic achievements, and personality fit (Tierney, 2009).

Another issue in admissions knowledge is that too often college choices are driven by financial barriers – both real and perceived. A college-ready student has learned to look beyond posted tuition rates. The student’s family has used a financial aid forecaster to see what grant aid the student may be eligible for, and the student has searched and applied for many scholarship opportunities (Tierney, 2009).

Two-year community colleges are often accurately promoted as less expensive and an affordable way to begin college, even when a student intends to ultimately complete a four-year degree. For some four-year degrees, however, the sequence of classes is so highly structured, and perhaps specific to that institution, that a transfer student likely needs three more years to complete the degree, negating the initial savings. The college-ready student has considered these factors in planning his or her postsecondary education.

Finally, the college-ready student understands the basics of budgeting, credit cards, and loans. Because the majority of states do not require personal finance classes and families of all income levels often don’t talk about handling money, students need to learn that some college loans in reasonable amounts can be "good debt." Most financial aid comes in lump sums that make a student feel temporarily well off – but it takes budgeting skills to make it last until the next semester.

Julie Sweitzer is director of the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota. For more information see www.collegeready.umn.edu and www.rampuptoreadiness.org.

Photo credit: Flickr and taxcredits.net (this image was not altered or edited). 


References:

Roderick, M., Nagaoka, J., Coca, V., & Moeller, E. (with Roddie, K., Gilliam, J., & Patton, D.). (2008). From high school to the future: Potholes on the road to college. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research.

Tierney, W. G., Bailey, T., Constantine, J., Finkelstein, N., & Hurd, N. F. (2009). Helping students navigate the path to college: What high schools can do: A practice guide (NCEE #2009-4066). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. 

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