I admit it. I’m slightly addicted to House Hunters International.

HHIGive me a good marathon of the show when I have a few hours to watch and I’m set. Mind you, it isn’t that I feel compelled to follow in the footsteps those who are fully prepared to sell their worldly possessions for an adventure-filled life in Europe or Asia or a tropical island in the South Pacific. (I’ve yet to see an episode where the wish list includes space to house two opinionated warmbloods and the buyer doesn’t care what the house/flat/yurt is like as long as said horses are happy.)

But what always entertains me most (in addition to the cultural differences on display) is the way people react when they find a unique/special home that doesn’t match the parameters they initially sought. Some stand firm; they sacrifice amenities to stay on budget or give in to a third floor walk up in return for an easy commute to work. Meanwhile, others who face similar challenges look right into the camera and say, “Psh – I’m only doing this once. Parameters be gone – I’ll take it!”

I meet a lot of families who view the final college decision the same way.

PiggyBank-busted-300x261I want to be clear in saying that it is never wrong to alter one’s parameters as more information and experience accrue over the course of the search. That’s not what I’m talking about. In fact, the whole point of visiting campuses is to help students discover that perhaps their priorities aren’t the same as they were when they started the search.

Problems occur, however, when priorities, parameters, and budget don’t change but a family’s perception of them does – with potentially disastrous results! In these situations, the student has the same interests he or she always had, the family hasn’t seen a sudden windfall, the student’s grades and test scores remain consistent, yet something unexpected happens along the way – a boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend selects a different college, an expensive reach school admits a student, a coach shows new or renewed interest in the student – and all logic and practicality are thrown out the window without second thought.

Let me repeat that: Nothing important or fundamental has changed except the student and family’s perception of it.

What’s the danger inherent in affecting such change?

Let’s break it down by situation:

  • Boyfriend/girlfriend/best friend selects different college from student and student chooses to follow. Everyone – and I mean everyone! – has a unique college search experience. Even two students with similar grades, interests, and goals experience college searches specific to them. Thus, if a student follows a friend to their selected school, he or she is no longer following the path to the right fit college. Instead, every single college-related egg (academics, social life, athletics, location, budget, etc.) has been thrown into a new basket belonging to someone else. What’s more, life is uncertain; friendships end. Boyfriends and girlfriends break up. If a student selects a school based on the decision of someone else and that relationship changes, that student’s entire college experience could experience negative fallout as a result.
  • An expensive reach school unexpectedly admits a student. Sometimes this turns out to be a wonderful thing – the school is a great fit on multiple levels but is highly selective so the student wasn’t assured a place early on. But sometimes the reach school is prestigious with high name recognition and that’s the sole reason the student applied, not because the level of academic rigor was just the ticket for that student’s educational development and the campus culture a great fit socially. So when the acceptance packet arrives, the student automatically casts out the lesser-known yet completely perfect schools already on the list in favor of “Prestigious U.” That sort of decision-making is a recipe for a disastrous freshman year – especially if the expensive school isn’t generous with financial aid and the student will accrue debt to attend. If the other schools are a better fit financially, academically, and socially, is the fancy bumper sticker from “Prestigious U” really worth it? Students may only live once – but student debt lives forever!
  • A coach shows new or renewed interest in a student late in the process. Some sports have strange recruitment timelines that don’t match the admission office, which means some coaches don’t add students to their recruitment lists until acceptance packets are already mailed. Sometimes coaches don’t get to evaluate new prospects until late and that’s likewise no cause for concern. But when a coach who showed interest early but fell off the radar for a bit suddenly returns to make sweeping promises to a recruit or a new coach appears and tries to sway a student from a coach he or she has been in close contact with since the beginning, it should raise questions before excitement; namely, how many recruits said “no” to this coach before he or she got to you? What will your playing chances be with a coach who’s adding you the roster so late in the game – and presumably behind top recruits who committed early? How much of a priority are you really and what kind of scholarship money is still available?

Eleventh hour miracles and last minute deals do happen. That’s not in dispute here. Likewise, just like those moves to Europe we see on House Hunters International, the opportunity for a wonderful college experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But both opportunities come with long-term consequences, and if you enter into them lightly without taking your priorities into account, you could wind up having a difficult first-year experience or face substantial debt down the line. Sure you only live once – but there are steps you can take to make sure it’s a great and stable life too.

(Need help in the search for the right fit college? Want to talk about your favorite episode of House Hunters International? Contact me or pick up a copy of my book to guide your search.)


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