3 Things College Admission Officers Won't Tell You

Last Updated Jun 7, 2010 6:26 PM EDT

When you're shopping for colleges, you might assume that you can get all the answers that you want from a Penn State campusschool's admission officer. You shouldn't, however, count on that.

Here are three things that you probably won't hear from many college admission officers:

Admission officers can be uncomfortable talking about financial aid.

Admission officers love to brag about merit scholarships that their colleges award, but many of them shy away from talking about need-based financial aid that many families require.

This was news to me until recently when I watched a video presentation by a higher-ed enrollment consulting firm entitled Financial Aid for Admission Dummies. The video was intended to help admission officers understand financial-aid terms that I assumed they already knew.

It's obviously important that you obtain as firm an idea as possible about whether your child would qualify for any sort of aid from individual colleges. Don't accept generalities when talking with an admission officer. If you can't get the answers you need from the admission office, introduce yourself to a financial aid officer.

Don't count on graduating in four years.

Fewer than 60% of college students manage to graduate in six years. At state universities, only 28% of students have been graduating in four years.

College graduation rates are all over the board. It's not surprising that Georgetown's four-year graduation rate (90.4%) is higher than Kennesaw State University (7.7%), but what's important is comparing schools in the same peer group. Among highly selective universities, for example, Georgetown's four-year grad rate is clearly superior to George Washington University's four-year grad rate of 72.6%. Both of these schools, by the way, cost more than $50,000 a year.

Don't wait for admission officers to tell you what their college graduation rates are. The best place to find four, five and six-year grad rates is at College Results Online.

You may face more college debt than you planned.

Two out of three college students borrow for college and the typical student graduates with $23,200 in college debt. This widely publicized figure, however, doesn't include parents' college debt.

Parents who take out federal loans to pay for college end up borrowing nearly the same amount $23,200. And that figure doesn't include the college debt that parents face who pay the tab by raiding their retirement accounts and home equity.

When evaluating colleges, head to the College Board website and type the name of a school into the College Search box. Then click on the school's Cost & Financial Aid link to learn what the average indebtedness of its graduates is.

Lynn O'Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and she also writes for TheCollegeSolutionBlog. Follow her on Twitter.
College admission image by Anne.oeldorfhirsch. CC 2.0.