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Savvy scouting yields the correct college fit

As more and more Hoosiers pursue a college education, many students and parents are overwhelmed and frustrated by the sheer volume of information to consider. As a college admissions professional for more than 11 years, I’d like to highlight three lesser-known but important facts every Indiana student and parent should know for a successful college search.

First and most importantly, college visits are free, and they are the best way to begin the college search process. I often equate choosing a college to buying a car: Buying a car is a large, important purchase, and you may not know what kind of car you want until you see what is available and test drive a variety of vehicles. Education is also a large, important investment, and if you have never chosen a college before, how do you know whether you want a small or large school? Public or private? One in an urban center or a small town?

Most high schools give students college visitation days to do this. Be sure to use these, even if you just tag along with a friend and visit a college that you know nothing about. You will always learn something, and that is what the college visit is for: to learn about the university you are visiting and find out whether it is a place where you could see yourself living, studying and growing. Please don’t hesitate to come and take advantage of our free lesson.

Second, the federal government requires every institution to list its tuition and fees online and to provide a net price calculator for students and parents. The net price calculator estimates your state, federal and institutional scholarship awards based on your personal and household financial information. College affordability is almost always a factor in a family’s enrollment decisions, and the net tuition calculator can show you that a high sticker price does not necessarily equate to the highest cost for students. This transparency gives you the additional benefit of exploring institutions you previously thought were financially unattainable. You also will have the opportunity to develop an estimated financial plan for your first year of college, rather than waiting until the end of your senior year when financial aid packages are traditionally mailed to students.

Finally, Indiana has 31 private colleges and universities in the Independent Colleges of Indiana, in addition to the large state schools such as Purdue, Indiana and Ball State. Private schools such as Hanover College, Earlham College, the University of Saint Francis, Indiana Tech, and many others offer an outstanding education and a multitude of degree programs. ICI schools also offer Hoosier families the most opportunity to see their student succeed: 20 percent of Indiana’s undergraduate students attend ICI schools, but ICI schools award 35 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in the state.

There is no “one size fits all” solution to choosing a college. Parents and students need to determine the one that is best for them. A school’s personality, cost and academic offerings are all factors in finding that perfect fit.

Monica Chamberlain is the associate vice president for enrollment management at Indiana Tech. She wrote this for The Journal Gazette.