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Parent realizing I'm lost

121IllinoisDad121IllinoisDad 30 replies5 threads Junior Member
Just joined this forum a few days ago and as I peel back the onion, I realize this college search is way more intricate than I realized. First, here is an overview of my son:
1) Class of 2020
2) 4.5 GPA in STEM at a well-regarded public HS (top 500 nationally)
3) 34 ACT
4) Varsity soccer athlete
5) 20 hour/week LifeGuard job in summer
6) Camp leader for our church teen retreat
7) Probably a little too fun & outgoing for his own good but if I can keep him on the straight & narrow, he'll grow into a really good young adult. Because of the social aspect, he feels he prefers larger Universities
8) Intends to pursue an engineering degree but as a trojan horse to get into business. So it'll likely be something like IE

I thought I knew how to handle this college search but man, after a couple posts here I realize I know way less than I should. Naively, this was my perspective: My son wants a larger, well-regarded engineering school so we'll look at those. That list includes Illinois (home state), Purdue, Michigan, Georgia Tech, UCLA & Cal Poly. There are others too but those are probably his core top choices.

Started asking questions on this board a few days back and realized I'm pretty naive. So some questions:
1) Honors college in a non-elite State school versus the schools I mention above. I didn't even know about Honors colleges. I went to Northwestern 25 years ago. All I knew coming into this was I went to a good school and it set me up for life so that's what we should do for my son. How do we evaluate whether my son would do better at say an Illinois, Purdue or GT vs say honors at Alabama?
2) Post-college, how do you compare the value of an engineering degree from Illinois (rated #6) versus an honor degree from a lesser ranked college?
3) My son won't qualify for need-based aid so I went into this just kind of expecting to pay the rack rate. But it sounds like that isn't the case, especially if we go the honors college path. Given my son actually prefers a big state school over a small private with cachet, the idea of an honors school where he gets substantial aid might have some appeal.

If an honors college can offer similar career opportunities to my son as a relatively highly ranked school does, it may change the equation. We are fortunate to be very well funded in our 529s but maybe we save that money for grad school by going the honors college path.

Lastly, how do I learn more about Honors Colleges at specific colleges? I've heard Alabama mentioned repeatedly which frankly wasn't on our radar at all.
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Replies to: Parent realizing I'm lost

  • GumbymomGumbymom Forum Champion UC 30732 replies444 threads Forum Champion
    I will only address the California schools regarding affordability. Cal Poly SLO and UCLA will offer little to no financial aid (need based or merit) to an Out of state applicant. UCLA will be around $65K/year and Cal Poly SLO will be around $43K+/year so you are fine with these numbers?

    Honors colleges vary from school to school. Some have some great perks like priority registration, professor mentoring, research opportunities. You would need to go to each schools website and look over what each Honor's college offers. Many times there is an advantage of being a big fish and a small pond and the Honor's college can offer this to many students.
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  • momofsenior1momofsenior1 10457 replies124 threads Senior Member
    There are big variations in what Honors College means, what programs are offered, GPA requirements, benefits, etc... at the various schools. Each university should have a webpage dedicated to their honors college. For example, here's the link to Alabama's: https://honors.ua.edu

    For engineering, I think there are very similar post graduation outcomes for any ABET accredited program. You can take a look at the first destination surveys for each college to see where their graduates end up, % with jobs, average starting salaries, and which companies/location students ended up working for/in.

    IMO, one of the things to also consider is accessibility of internships and co-ops, and the strength of the career service center on campus.

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  • wis75wis75 14400 replies65 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2019
    Not all Honors colleges/programs are created equally. Plus, not all top notch U's will have them in engineering. UW-Madison engineering has stated in the past that all of their students are of high caliber- and the programs rigorous enough- that they don't do separate honors. Letters and Sciences at UW has an excellent Honors Program. Your son will need those sciences and may consider honors versions of them at his school. However, math/calculus may depend on how things are done- at UW honors is very theoretical while the regular version would be more of the problem solving skills he would want.

    Look at the engineering first. Do not be swayed by honors titles. Look at the courses involved for his major. An Honors College may be more immersive for freshmen but its value depends on the courses later on in the major. UW does not restrict its students to specific dorms or have survey courses all in honors must take. Honors students are a diverse lot- arts to STEM..., hence a program instead of restricting students to a particular dorm and required classes. It is the major that decides requirements for honors courses for their major.

    Also consider why some schools are generous with merit aid and others are stingy. Some schools are trying to boost the caliber of their student body while others don't need to. Being in Honors usually has nothing to do with merit aid- do not presume there are any financial advantages, especially at top notch schools.

    Look at ratings with a grain of salt. Do not get hung up on small differences. Look within the top tier versus lower ones. The overall caliber of a school is not as important as that of its engineering. An elite school may not be the best for engineering. I think your son should do an initial look at many more schools. It is easy to do an online search this summer. Make lists of priorities. Consider types of engineering- some are difficult to get into because of space limitations. Your son does have top credentials but so do so many others.

    Look at the overall caliber of students. Your son will thrive with other students of comparable academic abilities. This is where public U's flagships will have two tiers- that comparable to elite privates and the rest of the student body.

    Okay, so your son does his list making and comes up with even a dozen schools. He also needs to consider the nonacademic factors. Regional and college culture do matter. Climate counts. The schools that make the top of his application list need to account for the whole person, not just the engineering. It is nice to have the money for college- a huge limiting factor for most students. One reason Honors is populated by elite students- they couldn't afford to go OOS.
    edited June 2019
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  • 121IllinoisDad121IllinoisDad 30 replies5 threads Junior Member
    @Gumbymom we have pretty good nest egg saved thus far in our 529. Am I ok with $65K/year? Yes. Would I prefer to keep some in the tank for grad school or even to cash out with the withdrawal penalty? Absolutely. I personally think its stupid to spend that much on any degree when our in-state option is very well regarded. Of the schools we are looking at, we will likely discourage UCLA and Michigan unless one or the other is his dream school. UM's OOS tuition is $45K and UCLA is $40K but in the highest cost of living market we're entertaining. Cal Poly, Purdue and Georgia Tech are all a bit more reasonable so if his top choice is not Illinois (#6 in Engineering & in-state) we'll probably entertain those with some conditions.

    That said, really more interested in how we can learn more about Honors colleges. Hopefully there are some guides or forums versus trying to evaluate 300+ public universities individually. I was unaware of the Honors college system so trying to figure out if that is an avenue we should pursue. I just want to figure whether we should stay the course or open up to public Unis with Honors colleges.

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  • homerdoghomerdog 8466 replies119 threads Senior Member
    You can make this as complicated or as easy as you like. Many kids at our Chicago area high school who want big school engineering look at schools on your original list knowing there will be little to no merit at Wisconsin or Michigan or Georgia Tech. They’ve found Purdue surprising on their visits and liked it more than they thought they would. Then, maybe, they look at some other state schools that would offer merit. If they are engineering, though, they don’t worry too much about honors colleges and just look at the engineering departments and how they stack up versus big ten. Honestly, UIUC is a big winner when comparing. Not sure how much lower cost you’re going to get by going to an OOS public for engineering and you’ll most likely be at a lesser program. Don’t freak out. You’re already on the right track. Talk to your son and ask if he’s even interested in going farther away. So many families I know spend crazy amounts of time on this for their engineering student and, in the end, UIUC (or Michigan if the child gets in and parents are willing to pay a premium) is the final winner. I would ask your son’s guidance counselor about OOS public schools that the engineering kids have chosen over Illinois. You’ll probably find not that many.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30506 replies59 threads Senior Member
    You look on the web sites of each school and see what you need to have in order to get into the Honors College at the schools. The standards vary, and they change. Some have auto accept criteria for entry; for some, you have to submit a separate application.

    If you are interested in merit money, you might want to check out the Common Data Sets for the colleges you are researching. There is a section that tells you % of students there getting merit money, and the average award. That % gives you a good idea where you have to be in order to get merit money. Half that % will maybe give about that amount. Very rough gauge, but some indicator. If only 10% get merit money at an average of $20K, you can see that you need to be in the top 5% in stats to get that amount. You are not likely to get merit if you barely make the 25% stats.

    Some schools have some specific merit awards that they advertise like UMD, UDel, Pitt and certainly Alabama. They seem to be open to giving OOSers money which some state schools like the ones in CA are not. Some schools like South Carolina, New Mexico, Alabama, Mich State are offering some nice awards. The fact of the matter is that most all state flagship schools offer excellent departments and opportunities. Those a bit off the beaten path are looking for OOS fresh blood, and are willing to pay for it. Engineering, in particular, at an ABET certified school tends to have consistent standards and reception in the work field.

    Crossing over to business later, it is possible that a name recognition school will give an edge in certain industries. How much within state flagships, I really don't know.

    Advantage of staying instate is that you have a familiarity factor. You are with a lot of classmates and you'll be within a smaller degree of recognition of most of the students there. You lose that at OOS publics and are sort of out when it's a public school with mostly in state kids. There are public schools, however, like UDel , U Mich where more than half or nearly half the kids are from OOS.
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  • TooOld4SchoolTooOld4School 3377 replies12 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2019
    If you son is interested in business, allocate $150K for a top MBA program (in 6-7 years). He will need it eventually. A Ph.D. in engineering or business will be fully funded so no savings needed. Use the rest of the money for his engineering undergrad. You already have a great list ; UIUC, Purdue, and GT are all excellent and affordable. UIUC and Purdue are an easy drive home, Michigan has the train if you live in Chicagoland. Just go visit and pick the one that he likes best from his acceptances.

    My only concern about UIUC is the deteriorating state of Illinois finances. If there is a crash soon, he might be better off at GT or Purdue, whose states are much better managed.
    edited June 2019
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  • homerdoghomerdog 8466 replies119 threads Senior Member
    GT is a hard admit from the Chicago area schools but worth a Hail Mary. I agree about Purdue. Great option if he likes his visit better there than at Illinois.
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  • DadTwoGirlsDadTwoGirls 6671 replies2 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2019
    I agree that the college / university search, selection, and admission process is horribly complicated. However, I think that you might be in one of the rare cases where it really does not need to be.

    "Illinois (home state),"

    This is big because of two factors. One is that your in-state option is so strong. The other is that your son has very strong stats. I am not from Illinois (we live way east of you), and we have not looked that far west. From what I have heard however UIUC is a truly great school that meets your son's preferences really well. Your son's guidance counselor would know better than I whether UIUC could be considered a safety, but it really looks like a great target school in your case. I think that it is possible in a few cases to have a safety which is also a great target and a great match and a great fit for the student.

    I would choose a strong engineering program at a great university (like UIUC) over an honor's program at a comparable university. One daughter was in an honor's program and dropped it because the demands for her major were more important and the two conflicted.

    Michigan is also a great school. So is Wisconsin. There are some others that you might consider. I am not sure that they are better than UIUC in any meaningful way.

    I have a daughter who is on-track to NOT use up her 529 funds. I am fine with leaving a bit left over for graduate school, or even for grandchildren (529 funds can be transferred to other close relatives). You might want to do the same.

    One thing I should add: Weighted GPA is calculated very differently at different high schools. I am assuming that your son's stated GPA of 4.5 must be weighted. We are all probably guessing a bit in terms of what this means regarding what his grades were. Unweighted GPA (A=4, B=3, C=2, ...) is easier to compare between schools and between states.
    edited June 2019
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  • Dudewith2Dudewith2 15 replies2 threads Junior Member
    If you end up going with a university with significant merit (Alabama, for example), realize that you do not have to take a penalty to get your money out of the 529. You can (generally) withdraw without penalty the amount of the cost of tuition and room and board, even if some was covered by scholarship. You will have to pay taxes on the earnings of anything that is withdrawn that was covered by scholarship, the same as if you had invested that amount. Also, depending on if your son is in the running for National Merit Finalist, some of the schools give even better offers/opportunities.
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  • cptofthehousecptofthehouse 30506 replies59 threads Senior Member
    @homerdog , Why is a GT accept hard from Chicagoland area? I know a number of them. Only the females got money, but a lot of the males were accepted too. It's a reach school but nothing like the most selective. I put it right with Michigan in % accepted. I have to check my Naviance info from some Chicago schools but I'm no more hesitant to recommend GT from Illinois than from the East coast. Heck, the geographics might even be favorable.
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  • LMK5LMK5 117 replies11 threads Junior Member
    @121IllinoisDad , judging from my experience this year with 2 highly qualified students entering college in the fall, I can tell you the following: There are schools with honors programs and schools with honors colleges. Schools use both programs use as a tool to attract students who they know will qualify for higher-ranked schools. They'll offer priority registration, priority dorm buildings/floors, graduate library privileges, and other perks. It varies from school to school, even here within our UC system. Honors programs are a track within the general university's system.

    Then there are the physical honors colleges which create a separate environment. The first one that comes to mind is Barrett at ASU. Honors colleges kick it up a notch and try to create a "college within a college." They're essentially trying to give you the smaller private college experience within a large state university, at a far lower cost. Barrett offers separate dorms, special advising services, certain separate courses, and other perks. It's concierge college. However, my understanding is that the degree says Arizona State on it and not Barrett. Also, the majority of the classes you take are with regular ASU students. Both my younger kids were offered places there with very substantial merit aid.

    There are many schools that have honors programs and separate honors colleges. Having completed the admissions process with my 2 youngest recently, it really comes down to what you want to get for your money. Like you, I had largely saved what I needed for in-state tuition, so I wasn't as attracted to the honors option as I would have been if my savings were low. And as hard as my kids worked in HS, I wasn't going to try to force or even entice them to go to a lower tier school because of the savings. However, I can tell you that many wealthy people here in my area did opt for the lower costs and sent their student to schools that gave them the best deal, regardless of ranking. For example, one family is sending their student to Illinois Institute of Technology on a free ride.

    In the end we are sending our 2 students to top tier UC schools, essential splitting the difference between the lower lower ranked schools with merit awards and the full pay elite privates. I'm very comfortable with the value received from this decision. And BTW, very soon you will start receiving brochures from schools that make no bones about the fact that they can offer your son a great education at a great price. This will include the honors colleges and also public universities very eager to attract OOS students who can upgrade the school's academic standing and also bring a measure of geographic diversity to their campus, schools like UK, Univ. South Carolina, Miss. State, and many others.
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  • homerdoghomerdog 8466 replies119 threads Senior Member
    Barrett’s average ACT is a 29 and the college is BIG with 7500 kids. I don’t think that’s the answer for @121IllinoisDad’s son
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  • sushirittosushiritto 5483 replies21 threads Senior Member
    edited June 2019
    There are public schools, however, like UDel , U Mich where more than half or nearly half the kids are from OOS.

    I can speak only to UMich, but OOS enrollment has been declining ever so slighly in the last 3 years, but not due to the lack of OOS applications, which has gone up.

    Class of 2022: 45%
    Class of 2021: 46%
    Class of 2020: 47%

    For the Class of 2022, the UMich OOS acceptance rate was 19%. Class of 2023 stats aren't available yet, but I'd bet the rate will continue to go down based upon info gleened from this site in the last admissions cycle.

    Lastly, UMich uses unweighted GPA, not weighted GPA. @Gumbymom is highly experienced with UC/CSU admissions and academics.

    UC's have their own weighted GPA calculation. To calculate, you can use this website:


    And SLO has a different calculation (MCA points) and there are threads here on CC that can help you determine your student's MCA points.
    edited June 2019
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  • shortnukeshortnuke 517 replies10 threads Member
    @cptofthehouse GT is harder for OOS students in general because GA limits the OOS admissions to 40% of overall admissions. Its a lot better than UNC which only allows 20% of the OOS students to be admitted. D18 applied EA to GT, was deferred, and then was admitted for a Summer 2018 start (4.0 UW GPA with 7 AP classes and a 1410 SAT). She ended up enrolling at Pitt.
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  • 121IllinoisDad121IllinoisDad 30 replies5 threads Junior Member
    @cptofthehouse @homerdog

    To the comment on Illinois applicants to GT, are there games played by admissions when the applicant's in-state option is particularly good or do most larger schools follow a pretty rigid/objective formula for admissions? Is there any chance or likelihood that he might be at a disadvantage applying to GT because they'll suspect he'll wind up at UIUC anyway? Why offer a spot to a kid who they are 99% certain won't attend? Any merit to this conspiracy-esque theory?

    Based on all of these responses, I think we will definitely give UIUC a very close look. It checks all the boxes (other than we would become a divided house in the B1G).
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