Getting into college is more competitive and more complex than it was 20 years ago. Limited funds and set caps on attendance make the college search process more important than ever. can help students make educated, informed decisions. Below are five tips to help any family enjoy the college selection process.
Limit college visits
Before making any visits, research colleges online at www.collegeboard.org. The college board website includes basic information and statistics about colleges across the country. Families can compare GPA, SAT/ACT scores, demographics (instate/out-of-state students, rural/suburban/urban setting, school size, class size, activities, etc). College website links are included here as well for more exploration.
- Consider distance from home. Some students are ready to move away, while others would benefit from the sense of security and familiarity offered closer to home
- Consider finances. Look at the scholarship and aid packages schools offer. Help the student understand how much aid the family can realistically provide and talk with school guidance counselors to help determine expected aid from student loans and federal grants. Why look at a school that costs $50,000 per year if there is little likelihood that funds will support this decision? Though if the “dream school” seems out of reach, it might not hurt to apply and keep that option open, as long as other, more realistic options, are included.
- Consider location. Will the school setting fit the student’s personality. A homebody might be comfortable at a small, rural school. The action loving student might need a larger school or a location in a city that offers things to do.
Make personal visits rather than attend college for a weekend programs
While college for a weekend programs are convenient, they are marketing tools. These programs share basic information in a controlled environment geared toward fun and entertainment. Obviously, every day at college isn’t a party, so this isn’t a true picture of the school. It’s an advertisement, though the financial aid and admissions information might be helpful. To get the most out of the time invested:
- Try to link a personal visit with a college for a weekend visit. Go a couple days early and visit academic programs of interest. Colleges will arrange a class visit, overnight dorm stay, and meetings with faculty. This is the information that most helps a student know if the school is a good fit.
- Explore the area during the visit. As a parent, are you comfortable with the location of the school? Does this area offer enough activities to do during downtime?
- Schedule visits when classes are in session. After all, no matter how “pretty” a campus is, it’s what happens inside the classroom that matters most… and with whom? Will your child “fit” the personality of students on campus? Will your child be comfortable among these kids? These factors are hard to weigh during college spring, summer and winter breaks.
Realize this is the student’s college experience, not mom and dad’s
Parents should not force their alma mater or college experience on their children! College and kids are different than they used to be. Let students discover what’s best for them. Some helpful tips:
- When meeting with faculty, hold your tongue! The student will have a relationship with the professors, so let that start now.
- With that said, it’s a great idea to help students prepare before the visit. Help them figure out what they want to know and how to talk with professors. (search “questions to ask at college interviews” for lots of great lists). Once on campus, let your student take the lead.
Be a safe, encouraging sounding board
High school students know that the college choice is an adult decision. Probably, the stress of choosing the right school is more burdensome than parents realize. As they work through the process, be available to listen. Give advice only when specifically asked for it. As they decide ask questions that help them focus, such as “What do you think about that?” “How do you feel about…” As older friends make college choices, ask your student his or her thoughts about the choice. Whether they realize it or not, they weigh their friends’ choices against their own standards. Evaluating what an older student has done helps sudents better evaluate the choices he or she must make.
Throw out the junk!
Beginning sophomore year, students get college information in the mail. Evaluate early. The mailings will keep coming, even from these schools. To determine if that mail is worth keeping:
- Ask if the school is of any interest. When the student answers, “Maybe,” ask why.
- Check the school at collegeboard.com (see #1 above). Do student grades, cost to attend, distance from home and location seem like a possible fit? If so, keep the information. If not, throw it away.
- Rank schools by preference. Choose the four or five schools that best match student desires and start the visit planning listed above. Only if all those schools don’t fit, look at the next tier of schools.
Time and resources are limited. Planning wisely maximizes the information obtained with the least amount of time, money and stress expended. Be realistic about resources and scholarship expectations to help students go into the college search with eyes wide open. Don’t discourage dreams, provide a framework on which they can be dreamt!
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