Memorial Day is an opportunity pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice in defending this country and everything it stands for. As we reflect and pay gratitude to those who gave their lives, it is an appropriate time to consider services academies for college education. The US Military Academy (West Point), the US Naval Academy, the US Air Force Academy, and the US Coast Guard Academy offer excellent and FREE college educations to students. Students must commit to serving in that branch of the armed services for a period of time and usually enter as an officer.
Earning admission to a service academy is not easy. Often times support from a local congressman is required. This may not be on many families minds, but consider a service academy for (1) the cost, (2) the leadership, (3) opportunity for unique experiences and growth. Many top MBA programs, grad schools and employers covet the unique experience grads from service academies carry with them. Several of my TAs at Wharton were West Point grads, while many of my law school classmates pursued law degrees to become attorneys in the armed services.
Service academies are not for everyone. But for those who are interested in becoming pilots, doctors, lawyers, or gaining leadership experience, it may be an affordable and rewarding path to consider.
Even though the cost of a college education is rising rapidly, parents have some reasons for cautious optimism, The National Association of College and University Business Officers' (NACUBO) annual report shows that more private colleges are offering an increasing amount of merit based and need based financial aid awards. Click here to access the study.
This report demonstrates the importance of keeping an open mind and applying to private colleges that offer generous merit scholarships and need based financial aid programs to attract desirable students.
You or your child may have an ideal college in mind. Whatever is that dream school, it is important for both you and your child to understand the financial implication of attending college on your child and your family. Before getting carried away with the dream of attending any particular college discuss the financial realties of attending college with your child. Explain to her what is possible under particular circumstances. Sure, your family may make sacrifices for your child to attend Stanford, but will it do that any other college?
Creating a family plan can also foster creativity in the college application process. If your child understands your family’s ability to pay for college, she can find colleges that may offer substantial merit scholarships or need based financial aid that fit your family’s budget. Whatever your family can afford, have the conversation earlier than later. By taking into account your family’s finances, your family can craft an appropriate college list for your child to apply to that she will be able to attend if accepted.
Many families ask what activity should their child be doing to get into college. Sadly, there is no magic activity that does the trick. Instead, the correct question to ask is whether your child is excelling in her activity of choice. Admissions officers look for a variety of different skills and passions in their incoming class. A valuable applicant could excel in a niche sport, the arts, or be passionate about conducting research or leading a cause. Colleges offer a variety of programs and odds are that if your child is passionate about something, it is offered at the collegiate level. College admissions officers search for passionate applicants to be a part of that program in the incoming class.
The more skilled an applicant is, the more value she brings to a collegiate organization in that activity, and the more desirable she becomes to an admissions officer seeking an incoming student to add to that organization. Your child should simply dedicate herself to what she is passionate about and spend her time developing expertise in it that a college admissions officer will covet. College admissions involves quality, not quantity.
Families that homeschool their children often ask how they should position their children for success in the college application process when it is structured around a traditional high school education. Families should maximize the flexibility of a nontraditional education by encouraging their children to pursue their passions and finding opportunities for their children demonstrate excellence in them.
Admissions officers may not know how to assess a home schooled applicant’s academic performance. Use easy to identify benchmarks like standardized tests to put a homeschooled child’s academic performance into context. SAT II and AP subject test scores can demonstrate achievement in areas of study and allow an admissions officer to assess an applicant’s performance relative to applicants who attended a traditional high school.
In addition to demonstrating academic performance, parents that homeschool their children should also find opportunities for their children to showcase their skills in high value niche areas that their children are passionate about. Consider competitive sports programs that are not affiliated with high schools like rowing or squash clubs. In addition to athletics, families could consider writing competitions, debate tournaments, and arts performances to a showcase an applicant’s talents and demonstrate value to a college admissions officer.
Many families will consider taking a trip to visit some of the colleges that their child is interested in applying to. While these visits provide great exposure to a college, the costs from these visits add up quickly. If cost is a concern, discuss with your child what type of college she is interested in applying to. Information about specific programs or a college’s unique attributes are readily available online. As a former campus tour guide, let me assure you that the info sessions and tours often regurgitate the information available on a college’s website.
Your child should research prospective colleges before going on any college visits to come up with a list of potential fits for her. You can help your child find colleges that may be a good fit based on her own interests and preferences. An applicant that wants to study business as an undergraduate may not be interested in applying to colleges that do not offer business majors. Before jetting off to a liberal arts college for a tour, ask your child what she is looking for in her college education.
With admissions rates frighteningly low at many selective colleges, it may make more sense to visit colleges after your child has been admitted, especially if the cost of applying to and paying for college is a concern.
A word of advice from my own experience applying to college: I ended up deciding between the only two colleges I did not visit before I applied. In hindsight, I wish I would have saved my parents the thousands of dollars we spent in flights, car rentals, and hotels and waited to see where I was accepted before visiting.
As this school year comes to a close, your child will select classes for the following year. Your child can use the classes she takes to demonstrate maximum value to an admissions officer and increase her odds of admission. Your child should: