Best towns and cities for students and parents

Best towns and cities for students and parents
Photo by Cameron Parkins cameronparkins,

It’s possible to find a great college for your student, a wonderful place to live and work, and a fine location for your retirement all at the same time. It’s all about finding the best location.

Location, location, location is not just a major factor in buying a home. It should take a top role in picking a college according to the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) 2012-2013 “AIER College Destinations Index” (AIER CDI).

“Why college location is more important than ever” and the best 75 towns and cities:
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5 reasons why your 2nd choice college may be the BEST choice

Cliché: Second to none. 
POCS Reality: After careful consideration, students may find their 2nd or 3rd choice college is really the best fit.

If you didn’t get into your first choice college or you got in but can’t afford to pay the bill, it may be the best thing that could have happened to you. Your 2nd or 3rd choice college may be the right fit after all.

Don’t do this: Students and parents sometimes measure self-worth by college acceptance or rejection. Don’t fall into that trap. Schools seeking diversity cannot accept all qualified applicants from the same school, geographic area or ethnicity. Rejection is not personal.

Or this: Attending a college you can’t afford is a terrible financial start for a new career. It will bring huge debt that can prevent an enjoyable lifestyle.

Do this: Whether you received a college rejection or can’t afford to attend, give yourself a brief period to grieve your disappointment and then stop stressing about what might have been and start smiling about what will be.

And this: Here are 5 reasons why your 2nd or 3rd choice college might be your BEST choice:

  1. Make more informed decisions. Many times 1st college choices are based on emotional responses. Now you can research your other options calmly and rationally, focusing on how they can help you achieve your educational goals. You can concentrate on details like what classes constitute a major, internship possibilities and activity/club popularity while keeping an eye on the big picture via college retention and graduation stats.
  2. Go where you are wanted. It’s always nice to be wanted and that’s what you’ll be when you attend a college that sends you an acceptance letter. In addition, the school may show its appreciation by offering generous financial aid awards like free money institutional grants you do not have to pay back, an honors program with perks like first chance for course registration or another special program that features trips and activities.
  3. Luxury of second thoughts. Between the fall and the spring, many students change their minds about what they want from a college education. After a semester of new high school courses and constant college discussions with parents, teachers and peers, your original college requirements (type, size, location), academic choices (area of study, majors, minors, internships) and cultural opportunities (activities, clubs, events) may no longer be the right fit. Take advantage of the opportunity to re-evaluate what you want and how you will achieve it.
  4. Save money. Attending a 2nd or 3rd choice school that is substantially less costly can save students thousands. Apply your savings to your out-of-school future knowing you don’t have huge loans to pay back. The extra funds can also go towards grad school, a new apartment or help you relocate after job searching.
  5. Get a second chance. Most students fall in love with the school they attend. That could be based on the professors, the students, the programs, the activities or the location. On the off chance things don’t work out despite doing well academically, you can reapply to your 1st choice college, highlighting your new accomplishments. It’s an effective strategy to gain academic strength you originally lacked to bolster your future admission chances to your 1st choice school. Transferring can be your back-up plan.

Visit my colleague Suzanne Shaffer (Parents Countdown to College Coach) for 5 reasons to take another look at your 2nd choice colleges. Suzanne is a college prep expert and online college-bound “coach” helping parents navigate the college maze with the proper tools/resources including a FREE parent tips newsletter.

POCSmom’s College Prep DIY Insight: Blessings in disguise come when you least expect it. The key to success is how you deal with disappointments and handle a challenge. As far as college choice is concerned, there are over 4,000 colleges and more than one can help you achieve your college and beyond dreams. Don’t be surprised if your 2nd choice college turns out to be your BEST choice.

*POCSmom’s DIY Insight: College Admission Directors

Cliché: Seek and ye shall find.    
POCS Reality: Colleges recruit students but students make the final decision of whether or not to attend.   

What are college admission counselors looking for in an applicant? The 2011 Inside Higher Ed Survey of College and University Admissions Directors completed in early September, found that the answer is increasingly- money.

Recruitment strategies included providing financial aid to needy middle and low income students and recruiting more students who could afford to pay the full college bill. The importance of these methods varied according to the college source: public, private, and community colleges: 

                       Rating Importance of Admission Strategies

Admission Strategy


Community Colleges

Public colleges

Private colleges

Providing adequate student aid for low- and middle income students




Recruiting more full-pay students




“The actual survey sample included approximately 1,840 two- and four-year colleges and universities that enroll 5.00 or more students. A total of 462 senior admissions and enrollment management officers completed the survey by September 3, 2011.”

POCSmom’s DIY Insight: This is just another reason for students to carefully craft a college list to include financial safety schools and to select the college to attend after comparing financial aid awards from schools that offered admission.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student


*POCSmom’s Insight: College Tours

Cliché: Go on tour.    
POCS Reality: Colleges want the college-bound to experience the campus and enjoy their visit.     

Want to take a college tour? There’s an app for that.

If you are college-bound and are trying to figure out if a college is a right choice for you, go see for yourself. And don’t be surprised if your tour guide is your own smartphone:

According to the The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Starting in a few weeks, Dartmouth will offer self-guided tours using SCVNGR, a mobile application that allows organizations to design game-based outings across campus. Admissions officials hope that offering tours on visitors’ phones will keep them on campus longer and improve their experience.

Read more: A College Visit Collegecation

POCSmom’s Insight: College visits are all about trying to get the college-bound to fall in love with the college, so they will apply for admission. College brochures, real/virtual tours, and scavenger/geocache games highlight what the college believes are its strengths.

The college-bound can use the college visit opportunity to:

  • Speak with college staff and students to get their insider tips beyond brochure info.
  • Look around for what you want to know, not just what the college is marketing.
  • Take a collegecation (college visit + family vacay) and learn about the college and surrounding area while enjoying free and low cost activities on or near campus.

The goal for the college-bound is to discover how good the fit really is and whether or not it stays on the college list to apply for admission.

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s Insight: A Successful College List-The Strategy (Part 2 of 3)

Cliché: Choose wisely.  
POCS Reality: A successful college list is the foundation of the college process.     

  College Admission Requirements, Student Qualifications, and the Affordability Factor

Is the foundation to your home crumbling? If it is, you better fix it or move on. The same is true for a college list.

A college list is the foundation of the entire college process because the student will likely attend one of the schools on his list. If the schools listed are not the best ones for student success, your college process is on shaky footings, and you’re in danger of academic and financial failure. Here’s how to fix it and move forward on the path to college success.

College List Review

Go over your college list to make sure all schools are your college PALs containing the Programs, Activities, and Location for a best college fit. (See A Successful College List: The Plan (Part 1 of 3): Finding Your College PAL)

College Admission Requirements and Student Qualifications

Then group the schools into categories according to college admission requirements and student qualifications:

  • Safety schools: student qualifications exceed college admission requirements (best chance of admission)
  • Target/Match schools: student qualifications match college admission requirements (student has what college says they want)
  • Reach schools: student qualifications do not quite reach college admission requirements (although not having all required credentials, student really wants to attend)

A successful college list contains 2-3 colleges in each category.

Affordability Factor

Make sure each category has colleges the family can afford either with or without financial aid. Check the school’s record of meeting student financial need. This is not a personal guarantee but it will help you plan. Also check which financial aid forms are required and submit before deadlines. Note which colleges review financial aid forms before awarding merit aid (aid not based on financial need but based on student talent-academic, athletic, artistic, musical, leadership abilities) and which admit without considering financial need.

POCSmom’s Insight:

Decide where to attend after comparing financial aid awards from schools offering admission. Do not plan to borrow to pay for college without first figuring out how much you can afford to finance. Loans have borrowing costs such as origination fees and interest charges. College should help not hinder your financial future.

Stay tuned for A Successful College List Part: The Choice (Part 3 of 3): Choosing Your Right Fit College

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s Insight: 5 Reasons Why College Is Worth It

Cliché: Live and learn.  
POCS Reality: College provides academic, extra-curricular, and career opportunities.    


College is worth it and here are 5 reasons why:

In summary:

  1. $-Certain majors earn more.
  2. $-College degree is an education investment with a high rate of return.
  3. $-College graduates earn more even in jobs that don’t require a degree.
  4. $-College degree gives a competitive edge in the job market.
  5. $-College provides knowledge and can be affordable.

 POCSmom’s Insight: Affordable colleges are worth the money.

  • Fill your college list with schools that have the programs, activities, and location you want.
  • Compare financial aid awards from the colleges that offered admission.
  • Attend the most affordable college that has the programs, activities, and location you want with the best chance for future success.  

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student

*POCSmom’s Insight: 7 College Rankings Lists

Cliché: Rise from the ranks.  
POCS Reality: When reading college ranking lists, consider the source and method used, and separate fact from opinion. Then write your own successful college list.


The lists are coming, the lists are coming! The college ranking lists, that is. So many lists; so many different rankings.

Q: So which is the best college?

A: The affordable one that has the programs, activities, and location that provides the student the best foundation for a successful life and career.

In other words, have fun reading the lists. Consider the source and ranking method used, pull the facts from opinions, and make your own college ranking list. This will form the basis of your final college list of schools that you will apply to for admission.

For 2012, here are 7 college ranking lists. I didn’t rank the rankers so go to these sites in whatever order you choose:

25 Coolest College Labs ( This is a link to the link but the image of an up close and personal study of a Hawaiian volcano makes it worth the stopover (image #21 on the actual list):

And this is the link to the actual list of the 25 Coolest College Labs with more images from spaceships to deep sea exploration, from collecting microbes on cave rocks to running pyrotechnics at rock concerts:

America’s coolest (greenest) schools (Sierra Magazine)

Colleges That Help Grads Get Top Salaries (SmartMoney

Top Party Schools (Playboy)

Best Colleges (U.S. News & World Reports)

The Best 376 Colleges (The Princeton Review

America’s Top Colleges (Forbes)

Here are some things to consider when evaluating the lists:

Critique about rankings (NACAC

Here is a family perspective after doing your research and culling the facts from opinions:

POCSmom’s Insight: YouTube Video POCSmom’s College List and the College Location POCSmom Factor

Do you have a list to add that you found helpful?

*POCS: Parent Of a College Student