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Deciphering the College Profile

Beware of accepting college profiles that you find on web sites at face value because they don’t always give you the full picture. The ratios, scores and percentiles presented in the college profile may tell a different story than what you would actually experience. Here’s what to look for and why:

Average SAT or ACT Score

The average test score is not a cut-off point. In fact, it may be the average score of applicants rather than students who actually enrolled. Some colleges provide the median score and other percentile scores that may show a large or tight range. So, don’t be discouraged if your SAT score is 100 points below the stated average. It may turn out that you are just slightly below the median for those who applied, yet above average for those actually enrolled.

Student/Faculty Ratio

Many leading universities have low student/faculty ratios. You might interpret that to mean that classes are very small and students received a lot of personal attention. In reality, however, it may be that many of these professors focus on research and graduate students and spend little, if any, time with undergraduates. Some may also be part-time faculty. While the ratio may look great on paper, you may find smaller classes and more personal attention at a college with double the ratio. So you need to dig deeper to find out actual classes sizes for introductory and advanced courses, as well as what percentage of classes are taught by professors vs. graduate students.

Total Cost vs. What You Pay

Many students feel that prestigious colleges and universities are out of reach for them financially. The truth is that many schools provide extraordinary financial aid packages to students in need. For these students, the real cost of attending a prestigious private college or university can be significantly less than the cost of a state school. Also, when you do your full cost calculation, consider travel expenses, living and recreation. The real costs of attending college in an expensive city, where most students live off campus after freshman year, may be considerably more than you’ll read in the school’s brochure.

Retention Rates

The percentage of students who return for sophomore year (freshman retention rate) and the percentage who graduate in four years are two very important measures. Happy and successful students generally return for sophomore year and graduate in four years. A low retention rate is a red flag –when you see this, find out why.

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