College Choices

College decision!!! Almost made.

My son JumpStart Jack is quickly approaching college decision time.  We are very proud of him for going 5 for 5 on college admissions.

Although as a high school teacher, I have witnessed some admissions/denials that baffled my reasoning and intellect.  Students shouldn’t take too much credit or blame for college admission decisions.  Sometimes things just seem random.


In addition to the four schools on the table, JumpStart Jack was accepted to Christopher Newport University, but they deferred their decision on admittance to the Honors/Leadership program.  Considering CNU’s high cost of attendance, and without the scholarship money from the honors program, CNU is out of the running.

Organizing the numbers

This table first appeared in an earlier post here.  The table includes sticker price, money awarded, our parental contribution, and the final bottom line for Jack.  I have opinions, but the college decision is my son’s, and I have attempted to help, by organizing the facts for him.

New column

The chart has a new additional column detailing subsidized loan amount and work study.  The government allows Stafford loans to all students in the amount of $5500 for their freshman year.  The schools are in control of what portion will be unsubsidized and what portion will be subsidized.  Both types of loan are in the student’s name, and payment is differed until after graduation.  Subsidized loans are much more desirable because the interest does not begin accumulating until after graduation.

Work study

Work study allows the student to get a job on campus as part of the aid package.  My understanding is that many on campus jobs are already open to all student applicants anyway, so I do not understand this as being a great addition to their aid package.  The waiter jobs off campus might be much more lucrative as well.

Radford University

Radford is at the top of the table and has the most affordable cost of attendance. It became even better when they awarded Jr. the Red and White scholarship.

James Madison University

JMU is a close second to Radford on cost of attendance, but he will have to pay sticker price.

Va Tech

Va. Tech is the only college that has yet to send a financial aid letter, and Tech has a higher cost of attendance.  Va Tech is the most competitive school from the list, and I will be surprised if there is any kind of merit award from Tech.

Roanoke College

Roanoke College is the only private school on the list.  Despite the name, RC is located one city over in Salem, Va. Roanoke has the smallest enrollment and largest price tag at $56,000.  The actual price changes quickly.  Jack was given $20k for his GPA, $2k for living in Virginia, $1k for living in Roanoke, $1k for visiting campus, etc.  He participated in a scholarship competition at RC that consisted of a writing prompt and interview.  After all was said and done, he was awarded the Dreher scholarship which including everything else, reduced the cost of attendance by a little over $30k.  Even after the excitement of earning scholarships, RC is the most expensive choice with over $25k left out of pocket.

Decision Time

Va Tech and JMU are probably the most popular/obvious choices in Roanoke, and Jack has lots of friends that will attend those 2 schools.  A Facebook announcement of Va Tech acceptance quickly earned over 100 likes and many “Go Hokies” type comments.


As parents analyzing what is best for our son, Roanoke College really impressed us. It actually surprised me how much I liked everything about the small private college, located 15 minutes from our house.  I never even considered it for myself, and I rarely set foot on the campus until this year.  It was really exciting earning scholarship money, but the price just did not come down enough to put it into the running.

There is still the possibility of attending Roanoke College as a commuter student, but getting him cheaper accommodations in Salem.  (RC is actually located in Salem, not Roanoke.)  If RC had awarded about $5k more, it would have been a real contender.  However, Jack was never really sold on attending Roanoke College.


Radford put itself into the running based on price.  They waived the application fee.  It has the cheapest cost of attendance, and then they added the Red and White scholarship of $3k per year making it stand out as most affordable choice.

Radford hosted a reception for accepted students in down town Roanoke a couple weeks ago.  I don’t feel like telling the whole story, but it was just plain strange, and hurt our opinion of the University.

Radford is a short 45 minute drive from Roanoke.  Sometimes I attend state tournament soccer games at Radford, but I had never walked on the campus, until this week.  We decided had to visit Radford, just based on the price.  Jack only has one friend headed there, and I don’t think either of us expected much from our visit.

Jack and I arrived at campus at noon, which was about 2 hours before our scheduled tour, and started walking across campus.  We randomly approached a group of girls and asked for lunch recommendations.  The girls were very nice and sent us to BT’s, which was a short walk and just across the street from campus.

The Tuesday special at BT’s was a BBQ sandwich with fries for $6.  If you know my son, a philly cheese steak is the only option that would have beat out BBQ.  Our BBQ sandwiches were great and BT’s seemed to be more of large college bar, but the food was good.  The bartender was a student, was helpful, and answered a bunch of our questions.

We finished lunch and walked away from campus through a bunch of apartments and houses that were clearly college rentals.  We looped back and walked through “down town” Radford and made our way back onto campus.

The sun had come out and so had the Frisbees and dogs on campus.  We were at Radford because we felt obligated to check out the bargain choice, but we were both getting the sense that Radford was a really nice place.

There was a new, shiny, modern, tall building and we chose to walk inside. It turned out to be the new science building that the students refer to as CHUBS.  Aside from classrooms packed with integrated technology, we found out later that the building housed the the 3rd largest Starbucks on the east coast.

We exited CHUBS and wondered around until we found another interesting building.  It was the brand new rec and wellness center.  Colleges seem to be in a competition to outdo each other on rec centers and cafeterias.  This rec center was not the largest we have toured, but it was without a doubt the most unique.  I wish I could join a gym that looked like this place.

The building is a weird wedge shape, open aired inside, and has an elevated running track.  The upper space is almost all windows, with cardio machines placed everywhere facing outward.

The fun ends.

It was about time for our tour to begin.  We found our way back to the admissions office, and went inside for the tour.  It is amazing how underwhelming recruiting and admissions are at Radford.  They gave my son a pen, but not me.  At Christopher Newport, the admissions office is a grand rotunda building, but at Radford, admissions is in the basement, and we were taken into a room half the size of my bedroom.  We sat with 2 other families in uncomfortable chairs, awkwardly facing inward, instead of toward the front of the room.  An admissions representative narrated a power point that was shown on a 36 inch TV.  She was fine, but nothing like the polished salesman who presented at Roanoke College.


Finally the 20 minute presentation was over, and we were handed off to a tour guide.  Our tour guide Casey wants to be a dentist, and will graduate in May with a Bio degree.  She was smart, visibly nervous talking, and cute. She covered all the required memorized talking points, but was not afraid to go off script and answer questions with her honest opinions.

We had a really good tour guide at JMU, but Casey was truly perfect for us.  Through her memorized statements, walking the campus, and honest answers to our questions we extracted the following tidbits.

  • Between the views across the valley and the mix of new and old buildings, the Radford campus is beautiful.
  • The flex meal option makes withdrawals from an account, and can be used everywhere on campus with a 50% discount, except the cafeteria where it is a 70% discount.
  • The cafeteria is awesome.
  • Radford dorms are larger/nicer than other dorms and have at worst 1 bathroom for 4 residents.
  • The off campus housing is even cheaper, and very close walking distance from campus.
  • The parking permit is only 120$ per year.
  • There is really no need for a car, because the many free red busses will take you to Christiansburg (Target and the mall), Blacksburg (VA Tech), or Roanoke (home).
  • Admission is free for students at all athletic events.
  • It is common for Radford students to go to Va Tech football/basketball games.
  • Some rapper guy I never heard of has a concert in 2 weeks. JumpStart Jr. was excited and impressed.
  • Earning an “A” and a teacher recommendation in a class makes you eligible to get hired by Radford as a tutor. A random girl walking nearby overheard our tour guide, and chimed in that she was making $9.25 an hour tutoring math.
  • Students around campus were generally happy, nice, and friendly.
  • There are new buildings/construction everywhere.
  • There is an international exchange program with tons of options, and Radford tuition covers the cost excluding travel expenses.

In truth, this day trip was scheduled because my morning dentist appointment gave me the day off, and we might as well go check out the budget college option.  I felt JumpStart Jr.’s opinion of Radford quickly evolve, as we walked the campus, talked with students, and finished Casey’s guided walking tour.

Last piece of the puzzle

The Va Tech website states that financial aid packages are coming in March (Today is March 22.).  The Tech financial aid package is the only missing information at this time.  A final decision must happen soon, and Radford University has made a huge last minute surge.

Posted in Paying for college., updates.


  1. I doubt Va Tech will give us much. The competitive state schools are not big on merit aid. Our EFC was 23,000 which doesn’t even suggest that we need aid. (I would disagree, but so does everyone else.) At a school like Radford, Jr has a great GPA and test scores. At Va Tech, he is the typical kid. I can’t remember which choices Tech offers, but regular admission may not have been the best choice. Jr. did complete all the application process himself, with the help of a several great teachers, counselors, and a secretary. I know kids who’s mothers did the whole application thing for them.

  2. I love visiting campuses too. A college professor in a college town could be a pretty cool life. There are always great restaurants, concerts, athletic events etc. around colleges. Too bad I am a few degrees short of qualified to teach college. Maybe after I retire from teaching high school, I could get a job making the pizzas at one of the awesome brick ovens I see in college cafeterias.

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