Helping Your Teen Approach the College Search Process

By Dr Raymond Huntington

College planning is a highly involved process. If you and your teen are feeling overwhelmed by the many aspects of this important decision, it’s best to take a deep breath and remember: one step at a time. Here are a few tips on how to choose a college and find great fit.

Make a list of programs of interest. Teens should look for colleges that offer academic programs of study that match their goals and interests. It’s fine to still be undecided about a major, but it’s still a good idea for teens to start brainstorming. That way, they will focus on colleges that offer them plenty of options. A student who is interested in some sort of business path, for example, would be wise to make sure any colleges on his or her list offer a variety of business majors.

Consider academic goals. Maybe a student wants to apply to medical schools in a few years. It’s critical that he or she lays the groundwork now by choosing a reputable college for the bachelor’s degree. Other students might have dreams of prestigious careers in highly selective fields, which might make their college choice all the more important. Parents should talk with their teens about their career goals to ensure they find the right college to match their desires and aptitude.

Assess the value/price. For every family, cost is a major factor when it comes to evaluating colleges. Teens and parents should start researching federal financial aid ( is a good place to start) and each college’s financial aid processes and options. It’s also essential to have a conversation about budgeting and how much of their education costs teens will be expected to cover.

Think about location. Some students are eager for a big change and might love the idea of an out-of-state college, if the cost is feasible. Others might prefer staying closer to home and their family support system. Parents and teens should discuss all issues related to a college’s location, including the climate, whether or not they will get a car, and how often their teens will be able to visit home.

Research campus life. There’s much more to college than academics. Teens should make a list of things they’re looking to get out of college life and make sure the colleges they’re evaluating offer plenty of ways to enrich their college experience. For some teens, clubs and activities might appeal. For others, it could be social events and campus happenings that bring students together. Bottom line, a rich campus life can help make a college feel more like home.  

Ask around. An outside perspective can be very helpful during the college search. Teens should visit their guidance counselors, who might be able to connect them with high school alumni attending their colleges of interest. The colleges themselves might be able to put teens in touch with current students who can answer questions and give some insight into what life is really like at that college.

Every parent wants their teen to find the right college and be happy and successful there. Parents can help their teens’ dreams become a reality by encouraging them to approach the college search and application process diligently and methodically. For the last half of high school, college planning should be their job. Teens who embrace that conscientious attitude will make a good college decision.