Sabrina Manville, a Massachusetts-based high school counselor, describes how she went about helping a student apply to his dream schools despite receiving some initial pushback from a concerned father.

My student had his heart set on attending one of the nearby private colleges. He wanted to stay close to home and thought he’d be most successful academically in an environment with an intimate campus and smaller classes. When he was building his college list, he wasn’t completely committed to a major, but was leaning strongly toward engineering. Living in the Boston area, we’re lucky that we have several small private schools with stellar engineering programs. So, at first, the opportunities for this student seemed vast. 

However, we hit a roadblock with his college list pretty immediately. His father was adamantly opposed to the idea of his son going to a private school, believing it was a waste of money to pay more for a private education than he would for one of the regional public colleges. 

This kind of disagreement within families isn’t uncommon and I quickly formed a game plan. I knew the father wanted what was best for his son and didn’t want to saddle his child with unnecessary debt. So, I had a few meetings with my student and his mother and coached them on how to approach the conversation about private school with the student’s father. His mother was a helpful and valuable ally in this conversation. 

In our meetings, I focused on data. I estimated the price of attending a private school based on information that was publicly available and what the colleges provided. I did the same for the regional public schools. I also factored in my student’s achievements and how those could impact merit aid and the family’s potential for financial aid. 

I presented the student’s family with graduation rates at the colleges we were discussing, as well as the average salaries earned by graduates of those schools.

Then, going beyond the cost of college at public versus private schools, I presented the student’s family with graduation rates at the colleges we were discussing, as well as the average salaries earned by graduates of those schools. For these calculations, I took my student’s potential engineering major into account. 

While I know this kind of evaluation varies widely—depending on which schools and majors are being considered—the data from the set of schools we were reviewing did show that the private colleges had better outcomes in terms of graduation rates and income growth. As a result, I was able to demonstrate that while the private schools would cost more to attend, they offered a better return on the family’s investment.

Once my student and his mother shared the data with his father, he allowed his son to add a number of private schools to his college list. He realized that while a private school may mean paying more initially, that doesn’t mean it is an irresponsible financial decision. We helped him to view it as a worthwhile investment in his child. 

As the family got further into the application process, they discussed their financial aid options in detail with several private colleges to ensure they landed on a decision that made everyone involved happy, both in the long- and short-term. I’m pleased to report that in the end, this student enrolled in a small private school with an excellent engineering program—a dream he didn’t think was possible when we first met.

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