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Return on Investment: Finding the Value Proposition in the College Search

With NY students accruing an average debt of almost $30,000 at public and private 4-year institutions [1] and college admissions becoming increasingly competitive as the pool of applicants expands, it’s important that college-bound students and their families have an honest conversation about college financing. William Cardamone, the director of college counseling at Manlius Pebble Hill School in DeWitt, NY, has been assisting students at MPH in the college search process since 2006. Mr. Cardamone’s chief responsibility as college counselor is to help students in their junior year compile a list of well-matched schools in preparation for the application process.

“At MPH, the college counseling process is ultimately about crafting a balanced list of ‘apply to’ schools, considering not just factors of prestige and selectivity but also scholarship prospects and overall affordability,” said Cardamone, who also mentioned that the general conversation has been shifting from getting into the most elite universities to getting into a college that’s affordable. “At MPH, our college counseling mission is focused on all dimensions of ‘fit’, not just academic, social and campus setting fit, but also ‘Financial Fit’,” remarked Cardamone. While some families at MPH aren’t concerned about the cost of college, the large majority of families are, according to Cardamone.

Boasting a 100% matriculation rate, Manlius Pebble Hill, an independent, college-prep school, develops conscientious, self-motivated scholars, who are well prepared for the college landscape. Due to the excellent, learning-centric education provided to them, MPH students frequently enroll in top universities. Cardamone advises that when drafting a list of potential colleges, it’s critical to keep an open mind, gathering a diverse range of prospects, from “reach schools” that are highly selective to schools that are less selective but still a great match. Cardamone points out that while top-name colleges are often appealing, many in-state schools, including the SUNY system of institutions, provide a high-quality education at a price point that won’t leave students with a crushing amount of debt.

From 2013-2014, 85% of all students received some form of financial aid at 4-year institutions [2]. Extremely selective schools often offer less non-need based merit scholarships than their less selective counterparts, but the overwhelming majority of schools provide generous financial aid packages. When Cardamone sits down with students, he emphasizes the importance of considering colleges that offer financial aid – both need-based aid and merit-based scholarships. “We want MPH graduates to enroll at colleges that not only match their intellectual and extra-curricular passions but also offer a convincing value proposition, so they can confidently engage in their college experience without stressing about college debt,” said Cardamone.