request info email to friend
Your Role in Your Child's College Choice
Your child has started looking at colleges, and she is excited, overwhelmed and terrified. What can you do to help?
The first step is to remember your role. This, ultimately, is her decision. You already got to choose what you did after high school. Don't deprive her of the opportunity for self-discovery that accompanies the search for the right college.
You can help, though. Your child is likely to seek your advice, which is great, as long as you realize that at some point she is just as likely to reject it. You can be a sounding board, letting her bounce things off you. You can help her organize her thoughts and narrow her search by considering some basic questions:
- Cost. This is one area where you should be clear about your position. Let her know how much you are planning to contribute to the cost of her education. That does not mean she can't consider higher-priced colleges, of course. But she needs to know that you expect her to make up the difference through summer jobs and financial aid.
- Location. Some kids can't wait to get out of town, and others want to come home for dinner every Sunday. If your child wants to head off across the country, try not to take it personally. Instead, applaud her independence and adventurous spirit. But make sure she understands that being far away will mean she won't get home often. Many kids who go to a school that's an airplane trip away end up coming home only between semesters and during the summer. On the other hand, if she wants to stay near home because her boyfriend is there, don't tell her that they probably will break up by Thanksgiving. You might be right, but she won't believe you.
- Academic standards. By the end of junior year, your student has a good idea of her academic standing and of what schools are likely to accept her. State schools often have very clear and predictable standards based on a combination of grade point average, class rank and test scores. Private schools are often more flexible, but there are still basic requirements for admission. Don't let your child get her heart set on Harvard if she is an average student. But encourage her not to set her sights too low. If she chooses a college that does not challenge her academically and intellectually, she is much more likely to feel out of place and frustrated.
- Size. Big school or little? A small school usually offers smaller classes and more contact between students and professors. Soon you know just about everyone on campus -- which can be both good and bad. A larger school usually offers greater selection in classes and majors, and the opportunity to meet many more people -- which can be overwhelming or a perfect fit.
- Future plans. What does your child want to study? If she has a pretty good idea, she can concentrate on schools that are strong in her area. Even if she is like most kids and doesn't know what she wants to major in, she probably has a general idea of her likes and dislikes. Is she a science and math type or a liberal arts type? Remind her, though, that her interests could change, so she should choose a school that allows her to go in another direction if she wants to.
- Special interests. Does your child play a sport or an instrument? Is she active in the newspaper or school politics? Does she want to continue her religious traditions? Her extracurricular activities and interests can be very valuable in narrowing her search.
Once your child has defined some basic parameters, the work begins in earnest. There are many tools and aids available, so use any and all that you need. Most students start with their guidance counselor or college resource center, which probably has software that can help narrow the search. There are lots of books about choosing a college in general and listing specifics about colleges. And the Web sites of individual colleges often are enlightening.
Once your student comes up with a short list of favorites, you should make some college visits. You probably will be called upon to provide transportation, and you also probably will want to take a look yourself. But remember to let your child take the lead. Many colleges offer separate tours or discussions for prospective students, so the kids can talk about the social scene and how hard the classes are, while you can ask about financial aid and campus security.
Throughout the process, be sure to remind your child that you love her and that you support her and are proud of her. Let her know that you will miss her but that you are excited to see her embrace this new opportunity. Tell her that the overwhelming likelihood is that she will make a choice that is great for her, and that she will love college. But be sure she knows that if she really feels she made a mistake, she can always come home -- and start the process all over again.