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Recognizing Buyers from Sellers in Your College Search

Posted by Neal Schwartz on March 11, 2021


How to build a balanced college list

When students start thinking about their college lists, a few key questions come to mind: Do I want a big campus or a small campus? Do I want a city or rural location? Do I have the test scores and GPA to get in? However, when it comes to students themselves constructing their lists, the financial factor is often overlooked in the “college fit” equation. This leads to good students getting into top schools because of their academics, but not qualifying for financial aid. With a sole focus on academic, social and geographical factors, students might find themselves stuck when admitted to an elite institution that they can’t afford.


 Jeff Selingo, an author and expert on higher education, recently published a book called Who Gets In & Why: A Year Inside College Admissions, where he offers valuable insights and research on the selection process from diverse admissions offices. While conducting research for the book, Selingo developed a theory of college “buyers” and “sellers,” which will help students create a more balanced college list, allowing college dreams to be financially attainable. Though the research was done prior to the pandemic, the overall premise still holds.

 While the social and academic aspects of a college might be easier to measure, what appears on that college bill can seem less predictable. That’s why Selingo analyzed which colleges are more likely to make both students and parents happy from all perspectives.

Selingo first coins the term “sellers” to define name-brand, popular and elite colleges. These can include big universities such as New York University or Ivy League schools such as Harvard. These schools benefit from having an extraordinarily high application rate, so in turn, they’re not likely to discount their tuition. Why do it when so many students are willing and able to pay the price of an “elite” education?

 “Buyers,” however, are the institutions that are less recognizable and therefore have a heavy focus on recruitment to fill their seats and dorms. Because these schools are less well-known, they are more likely to offer tuition discounts and merit-based scholarships to students that don’t necessarily need it, as an attempt to lure them in.

 A lot of students (and parents) might seem deterred from “buyers” because of their lack of reputation. In a community where brand name and alumni connections have a lot of power, choosing a college that no one’s ever heard of could seem detrimental. However, there is not necessarily a difference in academic education between buyers and sellers; that is the myth that needs to be debunked. In fact, many lesser-known colleges that give out hefty rewards can provide just as rich an education as the brand-name schools.

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Topics: College Costs, college admissions, SAT/ACT, college selection, Financial Aid, college counseling, high school senior, high school junior, Colgate University, RPI, Carnegie Mellon, Emory, Tulane, college search, New York University, Case Western University, Rensselaer, Jeff Selingo

Are public universities the better choice for 2020?

Posted by Neal Schwartz on January 26, 2020

With the increasing cost of private universities are public universities the best choice?

It is so hard to generalize about whether ALL public universities are a better investment than ALL private universities. Making overall claims can be dangerous. Similarly, making a decision on the whole universe based on comparing just a few colleges has its own set of extrapolations that can translate into a poor decision for a student. 

Cost Considerations: Sticker Shock now more than ever

There is a general misconception about the cost of public universities across the board. For many parents that were educated in the 80s and 90s, there was not as much of a difference between an in-state public university and an out-of-state public university. Since the downturn around 2008 and 2009, more students, at least in the Northeast, migrated to public colleges. And along with the pressure on state funding, state colleges began to charge more for out-of-state students to cover their costs.  

Yet something went very wrong. According to an article from the New York Times, with tax revenues plunging, states slashed funding to colleges just as millions were seeking to enroll. Public colleges could not adequately educate the influx of students. As their state subsidies shrank, public colleges either restricted enrollment, spent less on educating each student, or raised tuition. Sometimes, they did all three. 

There are three categories of public and private 4-year colleges: In-State Public, Out-of-State Public and Private. I selected some popular schools in each of these categories and although there are outliers from the ones I selected, it is easy to see the gaps between these three categories.  

In-State Public: $27,000 per year

Out-of-State Public: $51,000 to $56,000 per year 

Private: $69,000 to $75,000 per year

 Data source: College Navigator

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Topics: College Costs, college advice, Financial Aid, University of Michigan, Lehigh University, University of Richmond, Boston University, Binghamton University, Cornell University, University of Delaware, University of Wisconsin - Madison, University of Maryland, College graduation rates

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