College May Be Your Goal…Just Take Care Which One You Choose

The Home Room

by Melissa Melkonian



College May Be Your Goal…Just Take Care Which One You Choose


As a school leader, my goal is to prepare students for the career of their choice.  Some may pursue a trade after high school, while others opt for military service.  But most aspire to attend college.

My advice to any student intent on enrolling in college is to make an informed choice.

In the minds of many parents and students, attending college is a universal good.  It doesn’t matter to them which college you attend; it just matters that you get that degree.  They assume that the benefits of attending college—any college—will set you up for the career, and the income, needed for a happy and productive life.

Unfortunately, choosing the wrong college can have the opposite effect.

Affordability is one of the most important factors in making your college decision, and yet it is something that many families ignore, either due to a lack of awareness about available options, or because their son or daughter has their heart set on a certain school, and they do not want to disappoint them.

A good example is attending a public vs. private or for-profit college.

Two-thirds of CUNY students graduate with zero debt, a huge advantage as young people start their careers and build families.  SUNY schools are similarly very affordable.  By comparison, a single year of college at a private university can cost as much as four years at a SUNY or CUNY school, with employment and salary outcomes that are often very similar.  Instead of graduating debt free, students could amass tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt.  It is not unheard of for students who attended expensive, private universities to exit with over $100,000 in debt.

For-profit colleges come with additional landmines.  While some provide a quality education and good value, many are very expensive, and have poor employment records.  Making the mistake of attending one of these schools could leave students with the worst of all possible outcomes: a large student loan debt, and no marketable degree to help cover the resulting monthly payments.  Instead of teeing up their future, these schools can set students back.

What should families do to properly assess their college options?

In general, find the best college for the least money.  Start with public universities, and look at their graduation rates, the average student loan debt of their graduates, the employment rate of their graduates, and what their graduate’s average starting salary is.  Make sure there is job demand for graduates with your degree, and ask what kind of internships and job placement assistance the college offers.  If you are considering a private university, inquire about their income-based grants, which at certain schools can make private schools as affordable as public colleges for low-income families.

Making yourself a college informed shopper can be the difference between a college graduate with a bright future, and a someone burdened with debt that will weigh them, and their family, down for years.


Melissa Melkonian is Head of School, American Dream Charter School, in the Bronx.

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