Deciding where to go to college is definitely WAY more complicated for today’s teens. As their parents, we can feel a little lost in terms of how to best help them decide what college will be the best fit. With hundreds of different options and thousands of different colleges and universities to pick from, there is no shortage of options for choosing a college. However, there are many factors to consider that will help narrow down the choices.
Your teen might have a dream university in mind or they may not have a clue where they want to go, either way it’s important to explore all of your options to find the college that is the best fit for your teen.
Here are five secrets to finding the college that is the best fit for you.
Start Researching Colleges Early
When your teen first starts high school, where they are going to college may be the last thing on your mind or theirs. Often high school students feel like college is a million years away, and as a parent, knowing that your child’s departure from the nest is imminent, it can be tempting to bury your head in the sand for a year or two as well. But honestly, this process has become so complex and with so many things to consider, it is better to break it down into bite-size pieces across the four years.
Also, it can be really stressful to suddenly start trying to cram in visiting a bunch of colleges the summer and fall of their senior year. It can really take some of the fun out of what should be an exciting time in their lives and can leave them feeling rushed and overwhelmed to make a decision.
That is why it’s great to start researching early and creating at least a rough draft list of some of the schools that might possibly be contenders as early as freshman year. That way, your high school student can do some online tours and familiarize themselves with what programs are available at different schools and the requirements for admission. If they get their heart set on a really competitive school, that could impact what classes they take as early as their freshman year as well as help them really commit to their academics.
Also, once you’ve got at least a few schools in mind you can plan some long weekends to go check out campuses near you during the school year to see if they really are a fit or not. If out-of-state schools are in the running, maybe plan a spring break trip that includes a campus visit or a summer trip.
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Learn About The College Community
Getting an education is the main goal of attending college, but many other life lessons come with the experience. For many people, this is where they develop friendships and memories that will last a lifetime. It is also where they start building a foundation for networking that will be invaluable as careers progress and change.
This is why it’s really important for high school students to think about the kind of community they want in a college. Does diversity and inclusiveness matter to them? Do they want a college that is filled with clubs and extracurriculars? Are an abundance of active sororities and fraternities a draw or a drawback? What about a college that has a lot of sporting events and a good sports team? Can they handle a high-pressure environment, or do they need a campus that is more laid back?
These are questions your teen needs to be asking and looking into when choosing a college. Rankings alone should not be the only thing you take into consideration when choosing a college; finding the best fit is about so much more than that, and using that as your only data point for where to go might leave a student feeling unhappy and out of place.
Think About Location
While you spend much time on campus taking classes or staying in the dorms, college is about so much more than your time on campus. You may go off campus for parties, to eat at local restaurants, and explore the city. It’s worth looking into what’s nearby and the type of area you’ll be staying in.
Students need to think about what kind of surrounding area will best suit them. Many colleges are located in cities with a more urban feel, while others are in more suburban or rural areas. In some cases, university campuses are almost in what feels like the middle of nowhere, little islands onto themselves.
Also, if you’re going out of state, the proximity of an airport or the drive time back home should at least be part of the equation. As much as your teen may think they’re going to leave and never look back, there are many holidays/reasons for returning home during the school year.
Match Colleges To Your Interests
Not all colleges are created equal, which is especially true for choosing a major. Granted, many students have NO idea what they want to major in when they get to college and that is totally fine. Also, many students go in with their mind set on one area of study and end up switching to something totally different. That is okay too.
But, while you might change your major down the road, if you have a pretty good idea what you want to study than you should choose a college that offers a program you’re interested in and qualify for. This will save you the trouble of having to transfer later and narrow down your choices based on what is offered.
Most students are familiar with the overall college rankings, but they shake out a little (and sometimes a lot) differently based on certain majors. You can find those rankings with a simple google search and use them when creating your college list.
The cost of college varies dramatically not only from out of state to in-state, which is what most people traditionally think of, but also even within states depending on the reputation of the school as well as whether it is private or public. Additionally, some states offer state-sponsored programs that provide scholarships based on academic performance as a way to keep their strongest students going to state universities. Be sure to ask your school’s college counselor about such opportunities. Also, check a college guide to determine what financial aid and admission options are available before your teen gets their heart set on a school that isn’t affordable.
Parents and teens should start having conversations about paying for college at the beginning of high school, if not sooner. Everyone needs to be on the same page in terms of understanding the costs of college and what their family can afford. Many families make assumptions about their teen’s ability to get financial aid or scholarships, but neither of these are as plentiful as many people think. If you want to at least get an idea of what your family might qualify for in terms of financial aid, try this FAFSA (free application for student aid) estimator. High schooler’s should have a solid understanding about what if any contributions parents will be providing for college and then what they will expected to cover either with financial aid, scholarships or debt.
It’s not unusual for most students to take on a little bit of debt while enrolled in college. However, there comes a point at which borrowing money isn’t going to be worth the cost of attending certain colleges. Having a large amount of student loan debt can negatively impact your teen’s financial future. So, it’s important to think about things like field of study, post graduate earnings potential and even if post graduate education is going to be necessary, which will add additional costs.
Plan Campus Visits
No matter how great a college may look on paper or on their website, it is hard for students to really get a feel for a school without a campus visit. While current circumstances may make it difficult to make an official visit, it is still possible to do self guided tours of many colleges. At the very least high school students can still tour a college virtually. As stated earlier, it isn’t a bad idea to start touring some campuses in-person or virtually as early as freshman year.
Campus tours give high schoolers a chance to meet current students and get their honest opinions about what they like most and least. They can check out classrooms and dorms and get a feel for the whole campus vibe. And yes, each and every university has its own vibe and some students know the minute they set foot on a campus that it is where they are meant to be or it is definitely not for them.
Helping your teen pick the best college for them is no easy task. That is why it is so important to start early and to really consider all the different factors that play into the decision. There are some pieces of the process that actually are heavily impacted with choices that start as early as freshman year like classes, extra-curriculars, grades and even service hours. Being proactive and really putting thought into this decisions matters, and it will help make the experience more exciting and less stressful.
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