Selecting Colleges for More Than Just the Name

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By Jamie Dickenson

Taking a holistic approach to college selection may be more beneficial than pursuing the “best” name.

As of 2018, a typical year at a West Virginia public university costs about $18,625.1 At this rate, by the time a student graduates, it will cost $74,500—and that doesn’t factor in the annual increase in college expenses. If we assume a 5% annual increase, 18 years from now college could cost $44,851 a year. At this projected rate, four years at a West Virginia public university would cost about $180,000. That’s a pretty intimidating sum, especially for students who will have to rely on loans to foot the bill. This leaves the potential of a student having to borrow almost $180,000 –Astonishing.

To pay back $180,000 in 10 years, you’d pay $2,053 a month, based on the current average federal interest rate of 6.6%.2 Or $1,578 monthly if you extend the loan for 15 years. Let’s add another number to the mix: If you paid back $180,000 over 15 years, you would be paying over $104,000 in interest.


You can do better by being smarter.

Typically, the college-selection process starts with parents wanting to help get their child into a good college.

Here’s the thing: Every college is a good college. They all educate kids. The name of the school can help, sure, but it doesn’t make a student successful. What makes students successful is hard work, integrity, perseverance, and focus—character traits.

There are kids who graduate from Harvard who are total flops, and there are kids who never go to college who are hugely successful.

But there’s so much pressure put on families to go to a “good” college that they make themselves crazy.

The truth is, if you ask the average American family what their idea of a good college is, most of them can’t come up with a name or a definition. Ask families to name 20 good colleges, they will name the top 20 sports teams: West Virginia, Penn State, Ohio State, etc.

There are around 3,900 colleges in this country. And if most people can barely name 20—and those 20 are the ones with the best sports teams—think of the plethora of fabulous colleges that most families totally overlook.

The smarter idea is to find a school that fits your student academically, socially, emotionally, and, of course, financially.

Last year, students graduated with an average of debt of $29,8003. However, there are plenty of families borrowing significantly more. In some of these cases, they’re putting their family’s financial future at risk for a school name. Their perception is that their child will be better off going to a pricey school with a recognizable name versus a lesser-known, less expensive school. A college choice should be logical, not emotional. Because the truth is that you can get a good education anywhere, and you don’t need to pay a tremendous sticker price to do it.

The bottom line is: Parents need to make picking a college as much a family financial decision as they do planning for their retirement and saving for their rainy-day fund.

1 College Tuition Compare, 2018

2 Credible, 2019

3 Student Loan Hero, 2019



Jamie Dickenson, MBA, CEP
Independent Educational Consultant specializing in college admissions and financial aid, motivational speaker, business coach and owner of Jamie Dickenson, LLC., IEC Advisors, and Yoga Power, LLC.

Jamie Dickenson is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. Hartford Funds has separately contracted with Ms. Dickenson to provide additional insight about college savings issues.