How to Help Your Teen Determine College Compatibility

By Huntington Learning Center

Choosing a college is a big decision that often brings both excitement and anxiety. With so many options available, your teen might easily become overwhelmed and hasty in picking. Compatibility is essential for your teen’s success and overall happiness in college. How can you help your teen find the best fit? Here are a few tips as they navigate the process:

  • Make a list of high priorities. Have your teen make a list of things that are important to them off the top of the head. It’s okay to think of the fun aspects of college as well as the academic factors. But don’t choose for your teen. Let them jot down what comes to mind as significant.
  • Think about the setting and location. Too often, students ignore some of the geographic factors that make a place comfortable and happy for them. Tell your teen to write down the type of college settings and surroundings that are appealing, acceptable, and unacceptable. Here are a few starting points if your teen gets stuck:
    • Weather – Year-round sun, humidity, four seasons, moderate climate, cold winters
    • Place – Large city/in the city, medium town, small town, rural setting, outskirts of a larger city
    • School campus – Spread out, small/cozy
    • Nearby activities – Mountains, beach or lake, downtown/city center
    • Distance from home – Drivable, a plane ride away
  • Consider the type of institution. Your teen should keep in mind that there are lots of different kinds of institutions: private, public, large, small, liberal arts, etc. Some specialize in a particular field of study (e.g. engineering or music). Some are single-sex (e.g. an all-women’s college) or have a historic student focus (e.g. Black or Hispanic) or religious focus (e.g. Catholic or Mormon). Make sure your teen thinks about whether these types of characteristics would enhance their college experience.
  • Explore college majors. Many students head to college without a major in mind. This is fine, but it’s important to start giving it some thought during the application process. Even if undecided, your teen can narrow down the kinds of things they are interested in—science or working with animals, for example—and look at schools that have a variety of undergraduate majors. Or, maybe your teen has a career path in mind already. That’s great, but make sure your teen has a backup plan in mind and that the schools on the list would accommodate a switch.
  • Strike colleges that don’t fit. After putting in all this effort to evaluate the many aspects of college, your teen must be smart about the next step: cutting colleges that don’t align with their needs and goals. Teens with seasonal depression might be wise to avoid schools in places with long, cold winters, just as those who are undecided on majors should make sure their top prospects have plenty of majors available. Encourage your teen to think through the things that matter and eliminate choices that don’t fit.
  • Get a feel for the campus vibe. Sometimes, a place just feels right. If possible, make sure your teen visits the colleges on their list to get a sense of the college culture, the other students, and the activity and energy of the campus. Sitting in on a class is a great idea if feasible, as is taking a guided tour led by a current student (so your teen can ask questions).

Your teen is going to college to prepare for a career path, so academics are a vital part of the decision. However, there are many other elements to consider regarding college compatibility. Have your teen think through priorities and goals, both academic and personal. That type of thoughtful approach will increase the chances that your teen makes a good choice.