The Very Best College

The ‘Very Best College’ for Whom?

You won’t find the very best college by reading the newsstand’s ‘best’ lists or by Googling, ‘Best Colleges.’

As a test, try using Google to find ‘the best car.’  You won’t necessarily find the best car for your family’s needs.  What you get when you Google ‘best cars,’  ‘best value cars,’ ‘best quality cars,’ or ‘best engineered cars,’ is different lists each time.  I tried this and got a list all right, but none of the cars fit my family’s needs.  How do I know my Google search didn’t work? I know because our family already owns the ‘best car’ for us.  It is a 2002 Honda Odyssey.  No, it is not as fashionable as the Jaguar we once owned, but it transported three kids to and from school and more recently it took them and their stuff to college.  It has 307,000 miles, no major repairs and runs just fine.

Sure, just like most people, I like to scan the national college lists and surveys. One recent survey had two colleges I graduated from listed in the top 20.  My pride swelled at first but after giving it some thought I asked myself if I would make the same decision to attend those universities today?  No, I would not because I refuse to pay the high tuition and put up with the crowding.  Other colleges would suit me better.

Finding the best college begins with understanding a student’s and family’s needs, according to my colleague, Dr. Beth Dennard.  She starts with understanding the individual student’s personality, interests, needs, vocational plans, aptitudes, achievements and activities.  From her vast knowledge of colleges, she develops a list of colleges that fits a student and then works one-on-one with the student and family to match him or her to the very best colleges for them.

A student’s individual qualities are not the only factors vital to picking the best college.  A family’s finances also shape the list.  As a college financial expert, I look at income, assets and cash flow.  I want to get each family the best match at the lowest net cost.  Of the possible colleges, which ones will provide the best value, most student success, and the best expected return on investment in terms of lifetime earnings?  I also search for ways to prepare the family’s finances to qualify for the most aid.

Is Harvard your ‘very best’ college?  What if I told you that you have been admitted, but must pay the full sticker price of $270,000 for four years, AND that another college, which fits you, costs $80,000 and its graduates work alongside Harvard graduates in the same jobs?  Or, what if for the same amount of money, we could find a college where you get individualize mentoring from a full professor as compared to a college where you sit in a class of 500 students and get shuffled off to a teaching assistant?  Which is your ‘very best’ college?

Just like the process of selecting a new car, the very best college depends upon you, your needs, not the experts’ ratings.  Meeting your needs is what we do.

Raymond Van Buskirk, MBA

Bright Futures Consulting