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How to Help Your Child Choose a College

For most kids, choosing a college is an overwhelming endeavor. The choice of which college to attend is the first big life decision most kids will make, and they feel a lot of pressure to get it right. Kids are all too aware that going off to college means transitioning into adulthood and independence, and parents often find themselves at a loss to help their kids navigate this decision and make a smooth transition.

So, what can parents do to help kids choose the right college? If you have a child looking at colleges, be ready to guide his or her decision with questions about what they’re looking for in a school. Be available as a sounding board, but be sparing with your advice; your child will let you know when they’re ready to hear your opinion. Finances should be an important part of the discussion early on – let your kids know what you can afford, and encourage them to find other funding sources if they want to attend a college that’s out of your price range.

Ask the Right Questions

choosing a college

You can help your child to think constructively about the college search, and which schools or programs might be best for them, by asking the right questions, such as:

  • What are you looking for in a school? Small schools have tight-knit student bodies in which students often form close relationships with professors; large schools challenge students to work independently.
  • What do you want from the college community? Would your student prefer the nightlife and culture of a large city, or the coziness of a small town?
  • What extracurricular activities would you like to participate in? Will your student be able to pursue his or her passions? Does he or she want the opportunity to try new hobbies?
  • Will you be able to maintain a good work/life balance? While college is a lot of work, many students lose sight of the fact that they need to have passions, hobbies, friends, and a life outside of classes. Encourage your student to think about how he or she can continue to pursue non-academic passions while in school, and what activities, such as a clubs or sports teams, he or she can participate in to make friends and unwind.
  • What major are you interested in, and what schools have good programs in that field? If your student is interested in a specific career, he or she needs to look for schools with strong programs in that field. A top-tier or Ivy League school may not necessarily have a strong nursing, engineering, or fine arts program. The quality of a specific program and the reputation of that department are often worth more than the reputation of the school itself, and can go a long way towards impressing employers or helping your student get into a good grad school, whether he or she eventually wants an MSN, an MFA, or a no GMAT MBA.
  • Will you feel comfortable as a member of the student body? Is it important your student that his or her school value diversity? Is religious life important to him or her? Encourage your student to consider whether he or she will feel accepted at the school.

By asking questions such as these, you can help your student make sensible priorities as he or she chooses a college.

Be a Sounding Board

How to choose a college

As you may have noticed, teenagers don’t much appreciate parental advice, because they already know everything. That’s why you can be of more help to your student by listening to his or her concerns and taking it easy on the advice. When your student talks to you about their college choices, chances are they’re just thinking out loud, toying with ideas as they attempt to work through the decision. Trying to impose your will on your student could backfire and push him or her away. Besides, he or she will soon be out in the world, making decisions on his or her own. Wait for your child to ask for your advice, or at least wait until you’re sure they’ve voiced all of their own ideas.

Talk About Finances Early

Your child may be expecting you to pay for some or all of his or her college tuition, so it’s a good idea to discuss what you can and can’t afford early on. Let your child know exactly what price range you can afford in terms of tuition. To avoid making it seem like you’re limiting your child for financial reasons, encourage him or her to find funding from other sources if he or she wants to attend a school that’s out of your price range. Your student may qualify for scholarships or grants; he or she could also take out loans, seek funding from another relative, work a part-time job, or all three.

Choosing a college is the first big, adult decision many of us make. As a parent, helping your child make this decision can be frustrating and confusing, even if it’s a decision you once made yourself. But even though you can’t make this decision for your child, try not to worry – he or she has your good sense, after all.

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