Whether you've just started your college search, or are now comparing financial aid offers, there are some warning signs you should be aware of before accepting an offer from a college. These issues could apply to both schools you've never heard before, or well-known institutions. Find the answers to the following six questions and make sure you understand the consequences.
Is the college accredited?
Colleges can be nationally accredited or regionally accredited, or both. If the school is only nationally accredited and has no regional accreditation this could be a warning sign. Regional accredited is usually looked upon more highly and can be necessary if you want your credits to transfer or if you want to pursue graduate school or certain types of certification. You can learn more about that here.
Is the college on a list?
The government has placed about 550 colleges on a watch list of heightened cash monitoring. This list includes schools with serious offenses, as well as those with minor issues like forgetting to file an audit. If your school is on such a list, it does not necessarily mean you should not attend, but it does most certainly mean you should do some research before accepting. If a school loses access to federal funding that college often has no choice but to close.
Do students actually graduate from here?
Low graduation rates and low freshmen retention rates are signals that something could be wrong. This college is not able to keep students coming back or help them to succeed in their classes. It could also be a signal that the type of student that attends this school is not serious about their education. Either way, you want to be going to a college where you’ll graduate, preferably in four years. Extremely low graduation rates can also compromise the amount of federal aid the school receives, again putting it in danger of closing.
If you need financial aid, are your needs being met?
In theory, colleges are supposed to meet all of your financial need and you should only be responsible for paying your EFC (expected family contribution). In practice, many colleges will not offer enough financial aid to meet your family’s requirements. This is known as gapping. Sometimes colleges do this to discourage a student from attending. If you cannot afford the college you should either decide to attend a more reasonably priced school, or you can contact the college to ask for more financial aid. Just don’t accept a crummy financial aid offer in order to go to a school that may not want you there in the first place.
Is your financial aid offer mostly loans?
A financial aid offer from a college may look like it is meeting all of your financial needs, but if the offer is made up of mostly loans, it really isn’t. Some colleges will even include unsubsidized loans as part of their financial aid offer. These types of loans are available to everyone regardless of their financial need. They are not a good deal! Try calculating how much your student loan payment will be after graduation. You can either then decide to go to another school that is offering you more grants and scholarships, or you can contact the college to ask them to amend their initial offer.
Need help determining if the offer is a fair one? Try this program.
What’s your return on investment?
There’s more to your education than just making money. That being said, you should have an understanding of what your ROI is for this particular college. You don’t want to spend a lot of money on an education that will get you a job that pays as well as the average salary of a high school graduate.
Bonus Question: Is it the right college for YOU?
There are hundreds of colleges and universities in America offering excellent educational opportunities to their students. But that doesn't mean that they are all great fits for you. Make sure you steer clear of any schools with obvious warning signs, but also optimize your success by choosing a college and a major that fits you the best!