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How can I help narrow down colleges?

lisadh524lisadh524 5 replies1 threads New Member
My son, class of 2021, doesn't know how to narrow down to which schools he should apply. He doesn't know what he exactly wants to do in life, just that he's interested in studying business, computer science, psychology, and maybe AI.
top 10% of his public high school, which is a tough school but not upper echelon
1450 on his first SAT attempt (will take again in March)
Minimal ECs and volunteer efforts (has worked during summers)
White male, whose parents can contribute $20k/yr.

He has his dream schools of UPenn and Stanford (he might add Carnegie-Mellon), his target schools of GA Tech, UT Austin, and maybe another, but has no idea of what his "safety" schools might be. We are in Central TX and doing campus visits are rather difficult for us as it takes a bajillion hours just to leave the state by car and we're trying to save flights for when he has things narrowed down. He doesn't have any geographical preference other than he'd rather NOT stay in Texas, but is allowing UT Austin in the mix as it does have superb programs in the fields he's interested in.
All that rambling to say, can anyone recommend schools that are respected in these fields that would probably welcome him with open financial arms? Reading all the "best of" rankings aren't really helping us much.
TIA - a frazzled mom
16 replies
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Replies to: How can I help narrow down colleges?

  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 9226 replies93 threads Senior Member
    Your son is going to need to find big merit money to get the cost down to $20k/year, especially if he wants to go out of state. His best bet is to get his SAT score as high as possible.

    GT is a reach for an out of state applicant, not a target/match.

    Is there any chance your son will be auto admit to UT if his grades go up this semester?

    Generally speaking, the most affordable options are instate, non flagships.

    Be aware that at most schools transferring into CS from another major is extremely difficult. If your son truly isn't sure about his major, be sure to research schools with easy transfer policies.

    Hopefully someone from your area will chime in with some schools to check out which would be affordable.
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  • amsunshineamsunshine 852 replies8 threads Member
    edited February 19
    Adding in: this does not directly address narrowing options, but here's a great article for you to read about computer science majors that specifically talks about UT Austin and difficulty of getting classes. Just some food for thought as you look for schools and your son decides on a major.


    eta: Also, agree GT is not a target school for OOS. Take a look through the class of 2024 decision thread for more info.
    edited February 19
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  • lisadh524lisadh524 5 replies1 threads New Member
    @amsunshine WOW! Thanks for the article. I will pass along that information to my son.
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  • momocarlymomocarly 969 replies12 threads Member
    You may have trouble getting your costs to 20,000 at the schools on your list even if accepted. Our friend's son, valedictorian of his hs, tons of ECs, high test scores did not get any money from GT. They wrote it off as totally unaffordable.

    If he wants to go OOS look for the big schools with automatic merit. Go to some of interest's websites and look at the scholarship section. Some may surprise you. Remember that rankings aren't everything. Lots of the big colleges lower down on the lists have great professors and great departments. We ended up having to visit to figure out what my son liked. He narrowed it down to about 6 schools to look at, only one in state (TX). We drove to several over the summer and flew to others.

    He has loved being OOS (Junior now finishing undergrad this year - vet school in the fall). Undergrad scholarships were awesome and we were right about at the $20,000 per year mark with housing. He also drives the 9 1/2 hours back and forth to school with no trouble but is just as happy staying there! Good luck.
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  • Mom2aphysicsgeekMom2aphysicsgeek 4675 replies56 threads Senior Member
    Have you run NPC for various schools? Agree that GT will be unaffordable and should be taken off the list. Are you aware that at a lot of schools that just room and board alone avgs $12,000? (That is an estimated avg. Some go beyond $15,000.)

    Your comment about minimal ECs and volunteer work combined with fairly high avg stats means that in terms of competitive scholarships and admissions to tippy top schools that he won't be competitive. Kids that are receiving competitive admissions and scholarships have something that stands out beyond what the vast majority of their peers are achieving. Not your excellent strong, but avg achieving student.

    FWIW, there are over 2000 colleges and Us in this country. Rankings look at the top 200 or so. It is a fallacy that only the top 1% of schools are "excellent." This country is full of excellent schools. Ignore rankings and look at programs. OOS shouldn't be held up as some great target objective. Sometimes it simply means walking away from really good schools that fit tight budgets. (Our kids have significantly smaller budgets than your ds, so I'm not making a comment about your budget, but how schools need to be considered.)

    Some schools with automatic scholarships that might be within your budget are
    UA Huntsville
    UAlabama (Tuscaloosa)
    Truman State

    There are many others, but those of off the top of my head should probably be affordable.

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  • mamaedefamiliamamaedefamilia 3626 replies24 threads Senior Member

    He probably would qualify for the Amigo scholarship at UNM, which would bring his costs to in-state rates at less than 20K per year. Depending on where you are in TX, it could be drivable or a short flight.


    He would likely qualify for some merit at ASU or U of Arizona with similar ease in air travel.

    Have you run the NPCs for Carnegie Mellon, Penn, Stanford to see how much need-based aid you might qualify for? Is there a big gap between what they say and what your budget is?

    I believe that GT has some merit scholarships (not sure about OOS). Your son would need to apply by the EA deadline for consideration.
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  • coolguy40coolguy40 2766 replies8 threads Senior Member
    GA Tech is going to be unlikely if he's coming from out of state. It's a reach school. Penn and CMU would be unlikely admits based on the SAT. And if you're contributing 20k a year, they would be unlikely affordable.

    If he's not sure what he wants to study, then UT-Austin would likely not work. If he decided to change his major to something like Business, engineering, computers, etc, it's nearly impossible to get in from the outside without a 4.0 GPA. Most of the students in these schools are chosen as freshmen. Internal transfer acceptance stats for business/computers are proudly posted on their website, and it's not pretty.

    Texas A&M is competitive but more flexible with major changes. That one would be a good fit, and their CS/engineering ranks similar to UT-Austin.

    If he wants to go out of state, there are decent scholarships at University of AZ or ASU.
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6183 replies1 threads Senior Member
    The budget of $20k per year is going to be tough to meet, particularly for out of state schools. Computer Science is tough with regard to admissions at many schools.

    "Top 10%" is not particularly precise. Do you have an unweighted GPA? Just a count of how many As, Bs, and anything lower would help.

    U.Penn, Stanford, and GT are all very high reaches. These are reaches for students with nothing but A's, 1500 SAT, and strong ECs. I would expect UT Austin to be a reach unless he is auto-admit.

    Given the budget, you might want to run the NPC on in-state public universities and see if any of them come down to $20k per year. Also, I think that the first priority is to find match and safety schools, and not to find reaches.
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  • lisadh524lisadh524 5 replies1 threads New Member
    Thank you all for your insight - new issues have been brought to light for me and I will definitely discuss them with my son. For those that asked, he has a 3.9/4.0 and 5.2679/5.0 (this is how it's reported on his transcript). I have yet to understand how it's calculated.
    From the few NPCs I've done, it seems like the EFC is $20k, so I was hopeful we'd manage. We'll re-evaluate target schools and run the numbers again.

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  • chaphillmomchaphillmom 119 replies11 threads Junior Member
    @lisadh524 - you came to the right web site for advice, and there are some very great points made above! The positive here is that you are asking the right questions and discovering options now, and not next November. I can't speak for everyone, but in our case S20s strategy shifted and changed quite a bit over time. It's an expected and pretty typical part of the process. As your son's ideas start to refine, please keep coming back and read/ question/ ask for help.
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  • Mom2aphysicsgeekMom2aphysicsgeek 4675 replies56 threads Senior Member
    lisadh524 wrote: »
    Thank you all for your insight - new issues have been brought to light for me and I will definitely discuss them with my son. For those that asked, he has a 3.9/4.0 and 5.2679/5.0 (this is how it's reported on his transcript). I have yet to understand how it's calculated.
    From the few NPCs I've done, it seems like the EFC is $20k, so I was hopeful we'd manage. We'll re-evaluate target schools and run the numbers again.


    Lisa, how familiar are you with how financial aid works? It can be confusing for people who are not well-versed in how it works. In case you do not understand the ins and outs of the process, what NPCs indicate are only as valid as the inputs they ask for. So for NPCs that ask only a few questions, the number is a very ballpark generalization. For ones that ask for significant input that requires looking at your taxes, investments, retirement accts, home value, etc, those are more accurate.

    Generated numbers are not transferable from one institution to another. Only a handful of schools meet need, so the $20,000 number I am assuming is coming from NPCs at schools like UPenn or Stanford. Publics that don't meed need like GT are not going to produce a number like $20000 since for OOS students only scholarships will get student costs down that low (and yes, they do have scholarships like the Presidential and Stamps, but they are incredibly competitive and would not show up in a NPC's calculations.)

    @ChapelHillMom's post is excellent. Your ds is blessed that you are investigating the process now. Now is the time to self-educate and understand the process. It can be daunting to understand how competitive is defined, how much universities can cost, and what sorts of test scores are considered really good vs excellent but not excellent enough.

    Our 6th child is a sr this yr. Our kids have really tight budgets bc there are so many of them. Yet, we have managed to find schools that match their major interests while still staying under our budget through scholarships. It can be done. It just takes a lot of research and being incredibly realistic about just how likely kids are to be seen as competitive. Some of our kids have been very competitive. Some, well, we are just up front that automatic scholarships are going to be their best fit option. It can save a lot of $$ (applying is not cheap) and time and energy (applying is a HUGE time consumer.) FInding solid match schools is a blessing.
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  • twogirlstwogirls 7597 replies7 threads Senior Member
    edited February 21
    If I understand correctly...you can afford $20,000 a year, and the NPC also shows $20.000 a year?

    Did you go to each school”s individual website (Penn, Stanford etc) and use the NPC specific to that particular school? If the answer is yes, and you have nothing “unusual” such as divorce, owning a business, etc, and if you entered accurate information...then the cost should be in the ballpark of what you are expected to pay.

    Please note that your son’s “dream” schools are highly competitive, even for students with perfect stats and strong ECs. While there is nothing wrong with applying if the cost seems to be affordable, there should also be realistic schools in the mix. Your son seems to be a good student (congrats!) but he is not an academic superstar (for lack of a better description and nothing against your son) and you reported that his ECs are minimal. Schools such as Stanford are really out of reach.

    GT is a reach and will not be affordable even if he is accepted.

    My advice is to develop 3 lists of schools based upon his academic interests (what is Al?). See if he can raise that SAT score.

    1. Your S should have at least 2 instate options that he knows he will get into and that you can pay for. Are your instate schools affordable?

    2. It’s ok to apply to schools that meet full need such as Penn...if the school specific NPC shows an affordable cost. Keep in mind that his chance for acceptance is very low (this is true for “perfect” students as well). If these are the only schools on his list then he will likely find himself with no school to attend.

    3. Apply to schools that will give him huge merit for his stats. Keep in mind that to get down to $20,000 a year....he will need to give up prestige. Room/board, transportation, books etc can cost over $15,000 a year, so he really needs a full tuition scholarship... or close to one.

    Take a look at some of the schools mentioned in post #6.
    edited February 21
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  • ultimomultimom 244 replies3 threads Junior Member
    Texas A&M is a good option to have if he is top 10%.

    U Texas Dallas would be a good safety. With his grades and current score he would get merit. UTD is working hard to attract top students so the acceptance rate does not reflect the level of student.

    Many liberal arts colleges have good CS. You could look at the best of lists (Niche is easy to search) and then go down the lists until your son meets the 50% stats for admission. Then, get the Fiske Guide and have your son read the descriptions of the schools you’ve flagged from the list. As a fellow Texan, I’ve noticed that many people in Texas are not familiar with many very fine colleges elsewhere in the country. Your son knows about the tippy top schools but not those below the top 20 or 30.

    If you have access to Naviance, it can helpful in getting an idea of his chances for admission. If you look at schools like Stanford, you’ll see how many top students from your high school haven’t made the cut. You might also find that your might have a better chance than expected at other schools that are looking for students from other parts of the country.
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  • lisadh524lisadh524 5 replies1 threads New Member
    @ultimom, @twogirls @Mom2aphysicsgeek Thank you! Very sound, specific advice. We'll do those things. My older son goes to Texas A&M, so we're familiar with what a good school it is. My younger would really prefer to go OOS, though. We just need to reassess how we are approaching things. I really appreciate all the advice!! Thank you!
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