Choosing a college is one of the most important decisions of your teen’s life. While exciting, the process of identifying schools and narrowing the list can be overwhelming for many students. The best way for parents to help is by reminding their teens that there are several essential components to evaluating colleges. Too often, teens get their hearts set on one or two things and ignore everything else. It’s important to focus on what matters most and not overlook the factors that really make the college experience.
Use this list of key considerations and keep it on hand when embarking on the college search:
- Fields of study - Whether teens are certain about a college major or still deciding, it’s a good idea to ensure any college on their short list has a range of enticing options. Keep in mind that changing majors early in college is common, so parents should caution their teens from painting themselves into a corner. An engineering college is a great option if there’s no chance your teen will end up deciding to switch gears to his or her backup plan, pre-medicine.
- Size - Many teens know right away what they’re looking for as far as student population, but if your teen isn’t sure yet, talk about it. Larger universities offer more academic options and the chance to engage in opportunities like undergraduate research. Many also have graduate programs too, if your teen is thinking about taking that path. Smaller schools will have a lower faculty-student ratio and a more intimate classroom and campus feel. There are advantages and disadvantages to both, and it’s important that teens think this through.
- Proximity to home - Teens who have their hearts set on moving far away for college need to understand the logistics involved in doing so. Parents and teens should discuss things like how often their teens will be able to visit home (because of costs and time involved) and the value that their teens place on having a support system in their new area.
- Cost and financial aid - This is an important consideration, but it’s hard to make an informed decision by looking at a college’s tuition schedule on their website. A true college price tag will take financial aid assistance and scholarships into account, so while it might be tempting to rule out colleges that have a “sticker price” that is out of reach, you and your teen should do a little digging. Talk with each college’s financial aid office to learn more about typical financial aid packages, the best approach to applying for scholarships, and more.
- Campus life – Most students go to college to grow both academically and personally, and campus life plays a big part in that transformation. Teens should get a feel for what life is like at a college, either by visiting in person or by talking with current and former students and scouring the colleges’ websites. Does the college offer the kinds of social and student life opportunities they are seeking? Is there a lot going on outside of the classroom (e.g. athletic events and other fun activities)? What is dorm life like, and how many students live on campus as freshmen?
Without a doubt, choosing a college is a major decision, but the process can be made simpler when teens take a systematic approach to comparing and contrasting different schools. Let your son or daughter take the reins on this process, as he or she is the one who must feel confident in the decision. Offer them a framework for assessing each college, encourage them to take advantage of the knowledge and expertise of their high school guidance counselor, and weigh in when you need to. With this approach, students are sure to make a smart decision that they will be happy with in the long run.
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Date: Wednesday, August 8