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College Choice and Geographic Diversity

Beginning a new series on making and finalizing college choice lists, which most rising seniors will still be doing to some degree at this point in the summer.

One factor to consider, if you are prepared for this emotionally and your family can either afford it or qualify for financial aid, is looking outside your home region of the country for a good fit. One region, since I am writing this primarily for prospective clients in the Southeast, is that private colleges who are using a more holistic rather than mathematical formula for admission consider geographic diversity alongside ethnic and socioeconomic diversity. The aim of the admissions office at a private college is generally to "create a class" which exposes members to a wide variety of life experiences through their social interactions (don't be scared of the word "social engineering", because that's very much what it is), and a critical mass of students from regions/states that send few applications can be an important element of creating that class.

Also, from a personal growth point of view, for some students attending college a long way from home can be an incredibly enriching experience on its own. Rising seniors should think carefully about whether they are emotionally prepared to grow up a bit faster--there will be no weekend trips home, no chance for Mom or Dad to do all your laundry for you or cook your favorite meals. But there can sometimes be more of a chance to make yourself.

A word to the wise: be cautious about state universities heavily wooing out-of-state students. Except for exceptional "public Ivies" (some University of California campuses, UNC Chapel Hill, the University of Michigan, etc., who probably aren't sending you flyers unless you got an extraordinary PSAT), many of them will provide a much lower-tier education than many comparably priced private schools and may even actually cost more, given the lack of a deep endowment to make grant-based aid. Unpopular as this advice may sound, prestige does still count down the road, especially if you anticipate that your undergrad degree will be your terminal degree before your first job. The impressive resume line, and, perhaps more importantly, the built-in network of alumni clubs in person and on LinkedIn.com, is worth a lot of money. And so are you! Those less-than-great public universities outside your state of residence want you as a cash cow. Be cautious. And especially don't fall for being a cash cow at a known "party school"!

(If your high school record isn't ready for an upper-tier institution, but your career will require a graduate degree before you start work, don't despair! Your grad school will be more important strategically than your undergrad. Go to the best fit that you can afford, excel, do student research, and jump to a higher tier for your next degree. This happens all the time.)

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