Usually the first consideration in any college search is big public school or small private one. Each has its benefits, and you'll probably find schools in both categories on your final list. Here are ten reasons you might want to go to a private college.
They're more affordable than what you've been told.
The "high price" of private colleges is just a myth. Smaller colleges typically work with families individually to offer attractive financial aid packages. And unlike public universities, it doesn't matter if you're a state resident.
You won't get lost in a mob of students.
Private colleges tend to be smaller, and the classes are smaller, too. Many students prefer a more intimate learning environment as opposed to the arena-like classrooms of bigger public universities.
Your voice will be heard.
With smaller classes, you'll have a greater chance to contribute to the conversation. You'll have a true dialogue with professors and other students, during and after class.
You'll have support.
From your academic adviser to the career services office, at private colleges you'll find many people who can help you identify and achieve your career goals—and who genuinely care about your future success.
Your professors will know their stuff.
Classes and lab sessions are taught by professors, unlike public universities, where graduate students often lead the class.
You'll have greater access to research opportunities.
Private colleges are more likely to support research for undergraduate students. Faculty mentors are available to guide you through these learning experiences.
You'll find a college education that has value(s).
Private colleges often have a religious affiliation, but how that's expressed in campus life varies greatly. If spirituality is important to you, look for a school that reflects your beliefs.
You'll find a campus that feels more like home.
With a smaller student population and a more intimate campus, you'll know the people around you. It's also easier to take leadership roles on campus.
You'll have access to a committed alumni network.
With fewer graduates, alumni are more likely to work with new alumni to provide support and access to career opportunities. You'll become a member of an exclusive, yet powerful group.
You'll make a worthwhile investment.
According to a national survey, 77 percent of private, liberal arts college graduates rated their experience as "excellent," compared to 53 percent for graduates of leading public universities.
Choosing a college is a huge decision, so make it a team effort. Work closely with your child from the very beginning, and all that school pride can be yours, too (just don't overdo it in front of your child's new college friends).
Do your homework.
Maybe you've been planning for college since your child was in a onesie emblazoned with your alma mater's mascot, or maybe you're just getting started. Either way, your child is doing research. Join in.
Talk. A lot.
Then talk some more. You and your child must agree on a number of different topics. Establish them early and keep an open line of communication. You'll thank yourself later.
Have the money talk.
Resist your parental instinct to protect your child from harsh realities. Have a discussion early on about what financial limitations may exist and how to accept or overcome them. But remind them that paying for college doesn't have to be scary, if they do the work to find scholarships and other sources of funding.
Go on campus visits.
Do it while school is in session, don't try to make it a vacation, and definitely talk to strangers. The more questions you ask, the more answers you'll get. You know, just like in college.
Trust your child.
She knows what inspires her, what engages her, and what makes her happy. Discuss it in terms of study and career prospects and realistic goals, but at the end of the day (and at graduation), it's all about your child (see #10).
Trust your gut.
Your parental instincts are there for a reason. If you feel your child's college goals are unrealistic, let him know early (and give him an honest chance to convince you otherwise).
You have expectations of what college will be like, and so does your child—the real experience lies somewhere in between. Establish some give-and-take, and the process will work for everyone.
How far away is the school? How will your child get around campus and travel home for the holidays? Where will your child live, how will he eat, and who's paying for what? The time to ask (and answer) these questions is now.
Establish ground rules.
And a mechanism to enforce them. Enough said.
Remember: It's not about you.
The knowledge your child gains in college is hers. The friendships and mistakes she makes will be hers, too (though we're sure she'll share both). Keep that in mind, and college will teach you a lot.
A little hard work and resourcefulness can help you manage the costs and achieve your degree. It's about more than securing funds—it's just as important to find a school that's a good value.
Crunch the numbers.
Tuition is just the start, so estimate every cost—housing, food, and books. The sooner you know the numbers, the sooner you can start looking for aid (and developing your budgeting skills).
Learn the lingo.
FAFSA, SAR, EFC—is it the world's scariest bowl of alphabet soup? No, it's the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the Student Aid Report, and the Expected Family Contribution, respectively. Knowing them is key to affording college (and not all that scary).
Apply on time.
Colleges use the FAFSA as a starting point to determine your eligibility for financial aid. Filling out the FAFSA (fafsa.ed.gov) is easy, but you need to make sure you do it on time to secure the funds for which you're eligible.
Once you've completed your FAFSA, make sure you submit any additional documents that might be requested. Stay on top of the financial aid process by carefully reading your e-mail and all the letters you receive.
Work with the school.
You might be surprised how hard a college will work to help you afford to attend. The fact is, they know where the money is, and they'll help you find it.
Shop for scholarships.
There are need-based, merit-based, and some—like community scholarships—based on a single special talent or a defined set of characteristics. Search online, and even ask teachers, administrators, coaches, and counselors. You'll be amazed at what you find.
Look in strange places.
Are you an accomplished duck caller? Over 6'2"? Thinking about making a prom dress out of duct tape? There's money out there for you, and finding it can be half the fun (and yes, those scholarships do exist).
Show up to work.
Having a job (or jobs) and saving during high school and throughout college is key. Most colleges offer work-study programs, and a part-time job can actually help you focus on classes (seriously).
Finish on time.
Every additional semester you spend on your degree generates all kinds of expenses, and (are you sitting down?) delaying your entry into the workforce can cost you around $250,000 over the course of your career.
Defer to better judgment.
Your dream college might not come true for you—not right away, at least. Once accepted, you can apply for a deferment, giving yourself extra time to get your finances in better shape (and show up a lot wiser).
Big university or small college. Public or private. Visiting a campus in person is the best way to learn about the environment where you'll be spending the next four years of your life. It's an opportunity to sit in on a class, or even spend the night in a residence hall. And during your visit, be sure to ask these ten questions.
What made you choose this college over the other ones you were considering?
Not too long ago, these students were in the same situation you're in now. Something helped them make their decision. Maybe it'll tip the scales for you too.
What are a few things you wish you had known before arriving on campus?
This is how you'll get the inside scoop—the information you won't find in the guidebooks.
What are the most popular majors on campus?
Get insight into certain programs, and find out what students are actually studying.
What's the average class size for first-year courses?
Yes, just first-year courses. It will give you a better idea of what to expect from day one.
Which professor has had an impact on your college experience, and why?
Technically these are two questions, but you're bound to get interesting answers to both.
What connections exist between the college and local residents?
This is another way to learn about the community that will be your second home for four years.
Which students live where?
Some colleges require first-year students to live on campus. Some don't. Either way, you'll learn the best places to live.
What do students do for fun on weekends?
Ask everybody you meet. Especially people who look like they're having fun.
How do you get around?
This tells you whether you'll be walking, biking, or shuttling between class, the store, and your room.
Who has the best cup of coffee or slice of pizza?
Actually, this should probably be the first question on the list.