The Cost-Conscious College Search: Return on Investment

iStock Checkforcollege 300x199 The Cost Conscious College Search: Return on InvestmentWithin the past few months there has been much conversation in the popular press about the ROI – return on investment –for a college education.  While much of this analysis rests on a simple average salary to cost of education ratio – we believe that there are more, and more nuanced ways to determine the gains a graduate gets from his or her college education.

As you begin or continue the college search process with your student, keep these thoughts in mind:

  1. Students go to college for more than preparation for a good job.  Yes, getting a job after college is important – but the larger reasons to go are to gain the skills to insure financial independence, become accomplished in one’s chosen career and to find ways to be happy – to be fulfilled.  Don’t let a focus on the fabulous job the top student in a class at College X blind you, and your student, to the results for the bulk of the graduates.
  2. There is tons of research about What Matters in College.  In fact, that phrase is the title of a book written by Alexander W. Astin which defines the educational experiences leading to a successful college experience.  Look for college programs built upon inter-active teaching and learning, evaluations that rely upon written and oral expression (not just true false or multiple choice), strong mentoring and advising, and opportunities for involvement and leadership in extra-curricular activities. In other words, look for places where students and faculty are engaged – with each other!
  3. One of the Best Bets colleges we profile in our book, The Financial Aid Handbook, is St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.  A recent addition to the College’s website is a section about the ROI of a St. Olaf education.  Take a look at it to gain a strong sense of ways in which the investment in a college education can be measured – or at least considered.
  4. And finally, remember that you, as parents, must balance the financial investment you make in your student’s college education with the other investments you need to make for your own retirement, health care and basic living expenses. Don’t bet the farm and over-commit to your student’s dream school if it means putting your own financial welfare at risk.  Do make investment in the education experience a priority – more important than a new car, dinners out or buying more “stuff.”  Be willing to pay for the advantages of a college that embraces your student and has an involved, enthusiastic faculty and staff, as opposed to a college that may welcome your student, but force her to find and create  meaningful interactions.


Carol Stack and Ruth Vedvik, seasoned college admission and financial aid professionals, are the authors of The Financial Aid Handbook:  Getting the Education You Want for the Price You Can Afford.

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