Choosing A College

It's a red letter day ...Your son or daughter advises that "Yes!" they want to go to college. Choosing a college is a big decision. There are so many things that if addressed early on that will help make the college selection process so much easier and so much less stressful. I have learned after 4 kids, that we need to tred carefully so that we don't overtake this college selection process. Like David Letterman with his "Top 10" lists, I have created my own "Top 7" pieces of advice to help your child choose a college!

1. Figure out your personal finances. Before you talk with your child, talk with your spouse/partner about the financial implications of this decision. Look at your finances and evaluate what financial contribution you can make towards their college expenses. Keep in mind your current financial situation but also look down the road. Do you have other children that may want to go to college. We had them lined up like planes on a runway, so we knew that whatever decisions we made for the oldest would have to be applied equally to the others. This is critical. Also be realistic, don't assume that there will be people knocking at your door with offers of scholarships and/or grant monies. Come up with a number that you are comfortable with and make a pact that you won't get pressured into straying from your budget.

2. Talk with your child early on. Start the dialog on college choices the summer before their junior year. Dinner out was a great way to get their undivided attention and start a productive conversation. Get their ideas as to what kind of school they would like to attend, big or small, public or private, how far from home would they want to go, ideas on a major that they may be considering and their plans for the college entrance exams. Take in the conversation without throwing out objections or encouragements. Your goal here is to listen and offer any objective advice as needed.

3. Come up with a list of potential schools. Make plans to visit them. If they have no ideas, this is the time to review the conversations you had earlier about size, location and course of study. Then encourage them to go on line or talk to their guidance counselor or their friends to help them to put a short list together. Once done, you and your partner need to review the list. Go online and look at tuition and housing expenses. Also look at distance from home as travel costs have to be factored into the total cost of the college. See if these schools are affordable. If so, great. If not, NOW is the time to have a mature conversation with your child about what you can afford. This does not mean you shouldn't look at the school, it just means that your child is aware this choice would mean investigating a greater amount of financial aid, scholarships and personal loans. Finalize the list and have THEM contact the admissions offices to set up a visit. This is important because upon receipt of their email, letter or call, schools usually set up a file on the student that will follow them through the admission process.

4. Investigate community colleges and local schools. If your child wants to go to college, but is vascilating through the process, has no idea of a major and seems to be wanting you to take the lead, stop and re-evaluate the situation. There is a great deal of peer pressure in some schools with all the kids automatically assumed to be college bound. The conversations between the kids and the parents is an endless banter of where are you looking. Choosing a college discussions dominate the day! In reality, it may make more sense to go to a community school for two years and get all their basic requirements done there. This gives the student a chance to explore areas of study and then transfer to a four year school that has their major. Community colleges are a great option when choosing a college.

5. Go and visit! It will amaze you how quickly they can rule out or really like a campus from those tours. Yes, they can be long winded and boring but at the same time, they will get a feel for the campus. Encourage them to bring a friend, that will help put them at ease throughout the tour. It also gives them another perspective and a sounding board. On the way home, you may not have to ask too many questions, you can just join in on their conversation! If they liked the school and know older students there, encourage them to do an on campus overnight in their senior year.

6. Evaluate the schools after each visit. Make a brief "choosing a college" checklist with the following information. Did they like the campus? Did they like the students they met? Academically, is this school a good fit? Did they offer any majors that would be of interest? Would it be financially feasible? Were there scholarship opportunities? Would I want to apply via the "early admission" channel. There are more extensive checklists available all over the internet. A final review of these lists by fall of their senior year will give them a menu of colleges and they can start the application process. If there are schools that were too far away to visit, they can research them online, contact the admissions office to receive information, apply and then visit if accepted!

7. Be supportive and be encouraging. Help them in choosing a college, but do not hover, do not ask fifty million questions about where all their friends are applying, do not open their mail from colleges and do not take over. It works for the best for all, if you let your child take the lead and you encourage them to be proactive throughout the process.

Our mantra with each of our own 4 was "You'll end up where you were meant to be" and you know what?? They did!

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