Scherrer in the WSJ on the college admissions/choice process
A funny but useful article from Robert Scherrer on the process by which parents choose a college with their children (h/t: Linda Chr.)...
Scherrer opens by taking pokes at the wide-scale "college tour". Is it worth visiting a few campuses that are convenient to you. Sure! (We just had the older two kids take the campus tour at Western Carolina when I was speaking there: a low-cost taste of college!) But going out of your way and incurring big expense in terms of time and money? I can't recommend that as a high-benefit exercise.
As Scherrer notes, "a good fit is a college that your parents can afford with a strong program in the field you want to study. Plus a place to buy Cheetos at midnight."
Scherrer notes that folks are obsessed with "the elusive idea of 'fit'.” Is there something to the idea of "fit"? Sure, but you can figure out most of that without taking a trip. For example, what are their (strong) majors? Do you want a large, popular school with excellent networking, but huge lecture-hall classes taught by grad students and research-driven faculty-- or a smaller school with faculty who love teaching? It's really not all that complicated.
I suspect that the "college tour" idea has peaked anyway. The growing aversion to debt and the concerns about rate-of-return will increasingly drive people to smaller regional schools in their local area or larger state schools in their state. (Notable exceptions: those who have a ton of money and those who have already set aside a big chunk of money for college in 529's and expect their kids to stop with an undergrad degree.)
In any case, why drive all over the place? In our area, you can look at U of L, IU Southeast, IU Bloomington, and a mid-size school like SIU or Ball State)-- and you've seen the general options. You might go to another school, but if you've seen U of L, you've seen U. of Cincinnati; if you've seen IU-Bloomington, you've seen UT and UK; and so on.
Scherrer continues with pokes at:
a.) the college essay on applications, given its call for introspection from teens
b.) standardized tests: "your belief in the validity of standardized tests is strongly correlated with how well you did on them" (Std tests have some explanatory/predictive power, but in our experience/data at IUS, less than high school GPA, high school quality, and when you applied to school!)
c.) financial aid forms-- which he describes as far more cumbersome than tax forms
d.) "the U.S. News & World Report race"
I agree with Scherrer's conclusion: "To be honest, I don’t think it actually makes that much difference where you go to college. Or at least not as much difference as some people would like to think. For good students, I would estimate that about 90% of future success depends on their native talents and willingness to work hard, about 5% on the college they attend and about 5% on luck..."