The 7 Cs of College Admissions Part 2: Costs, Curriculum

By Elizabeth LaScala, PhD

This article is a part of a series on about how I go about obtaining the assessment information needed to do a comprehensive school search, which in turn produces a well-matched college list. First, I described what in general defines a good college and then I introduced the first of the 7 C’s: Competition and Completion. Next, I review assessment issues related to Costs and Curriculum.

The 3rd C – COSTS (charges and financial aid and scholarships)

I am asking families to be very thoughtful at this point.

1) I ask them to calculate and bring their Expected Family Contribution to a parent interview; sticker price is usually a shock to most parents.

2) I encourage parents to take a hard look at their budget, savings and retirement goals. By looking deeply at affordability they can have a more realistic idea of what they can actually afford in light of other siblings, aging parents, and retirement goals.

3) I review need-based versus merit-based aid – both housed on the financial aid umbrella.

4) I want to understand how they see the value of education and what they would consider to be a good return on investment. What is most important?

  • Is it the school’s reputation or national rank? (e.g., My kid has a degree from Harvard). Prestige is most important.
  • Is it the student’s earning potential that results from the degree path?
  • Is a good return on investment most tied to strong undergraduate preparation for post graduate education?

5) Post graduate education: I like to point out that undergraduate debt may be more problematic if the student has plans for graduate or professional school. A $250K debt from medical school is not a good payoff if parents have paid for a really expensive undergraduate degree and expect the student to handle costs of a graduate or professional degree. I’ve heard so many kids say, ‘My parents are going to pay for the best school I can get into, but med school will be up to me.’ When I hear this, I cringe! I know it’s time to get the family better informed about earnings vs debt.

6) Will debt negatively impact the parents’ or student’s future life course?


The 4TH C – CURRICULUM (academics)

What do I ask parents?

1) What subjects does the student enjoy? If they have a favorite class, is it the subject that inspires them or the teacher? If it’s the teacher and they move on to another class and don’t like the subject any longer, that is very telling and something to take note of in the selection of a college. Undergraduate teaching should receive rave reviews at the college that this kind of learner attends.

2) I ask parents about their expectations related to the major.

  • Will any major do as long as the student is happy and productive?
  • Will only a STEM major do?
  • Is there a ban on arts-based majors?
  • Or on low entry level salary majors like teaching and social services?

3) Does student have any learning challenges? Is there an IEP in place? What kinds of support will the student need in their college years?

What do I ask students?

1) “If you could be paid to do anything, what would you do?” Most kids tell me they would travel!

2) Learning style assessment: It’s not cut and dried, we all know what. A student who loves hands on learning will still have to take coursework at college that requires reading, writing and rote memorization. But I can find colleges with a ‘learn by doing’ model so that coursework is intermixed with opportunities to apply what is learned in the classroom. Many student tell me they are more motivated to learn when learning is applied to the real world.

3) Aptitude and interest assessments: I spend a lot of time on natural talents and abilities as well as interests. In my view building a well-matched college list should start with strong academics in the student’s areas of interest.