Make Good on the Educational Investment

Getting the choice of a college right is critical to realizing a strong return on investment.

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Among lifestyle investments, a college education ranks among the most important—and the most expensive—in the life of a young person. Getting the choice of a college right is critical to realizing a strong return on the investment.

Chosen well, a college education sets the table for years of opportunities that will determine comfort and success for graduates, their families, and their careers. Chosen well, every penny of the investment is repaid many times over. Choose poorly, however, and the debt is compounded by lost earning opportunity, reduced productivity, and diminished return on investment.

[Learn more about finding the right school.]

Every year, nearly 2 million U.S. students and their parents invest in education for the first time, in many cases gambling their life savings in the process. Some do it well. They prepare and compete effectively, putting themselves in a position to acquire the type of educational experiences that will serve them well in life.

Regrettably, though, many—including students of all means and backgrounds—fall short of achieving their goals. Either they fail to complete the education they've started (barely half of entering college freshmen will graduate from any college at any time in their lives) or they muddle through their college years only to cross the "finish line" without any real sense of accomplishment or direction.

[Are undergrads learning much in college?]

Frankly, this is unacceptable. We shouldn't be content with a "system" that only works half the time. It's not healthy for the young people who fail to make good on the promise of their own ability, and it's not good for a society that, ultimately, must pick up the slack for them.

The objective of this column going forward is to improve educational outcomes by helping students and their parents make good choices as they engage in the college-going process. Future articles will demystify the selective admissions process and provide an interpretive commentary on "how" and "why" colleges function as they do today. You will be urged to:

1. Challenge assumptions: The college-going process isn't what it used to be nor is it what many colleges would have you believe it is. A healthy cynicism is required for distilling the reality from the rhetoric.

2. Keep your mind open to a range of solutions: In doing so, you acknowledge that success in college—and in life—is less a function of the space one occupies and more a function of how one takes advantage of the opportunities present in that space.

3. Make good choices: These choices must be truly student-centered. Every day presents opportunities for decision making that will have a bearing on not only how students compete for admission but how they live the next day and beyond.

4. Focus on "fit:" The best college for your student is the one that "fits" best. (And it will always be the one that values the student for what he or she has to offer.)

In addition, please be prepared to share your thoughts and questions in the comment box or by contacting me directly at Let's work together to put you in the best position possible to make good on your family's educational investment!

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