As you and your son or daughter start the college planning process, you might find the search a bit overwhelming. After your student’s first PSAT, ACT, or SAT exam, brochures start jamming your mailbox and suddenly finding the right school seems a lot more confusing than it needs to be.
As a parent, you may be tempted to drive the college search process. It seems harmless enough at first – starting out by doing a little research on a few schools or maybe even setting up appointments to visit different colleges. But heed my warning: This is a slippery slope. Before you know it, you will be helping with application forms, “editing” essays, and even writing letters to the admission committee pleading for your child’s acceptance. This may sound extreme, but I have seen it happen.
As the father of a daughter who has been through this process, I understand your feelings. But remember, it is important you let your student take the lead. Selecting a college or university is a major step and important preparation for learning how to be an adult who lives on one’s own, makes decisions, and is ultimately responsible for one’s own choices.
In my opinion, as a college admissions director, there’s no such thing as the “perfect college.” An education is what you make of it – what you put in is what you’ll get out. So, remind your son or daughter that the goal isn’t to find the right college but, instead, to find the college that’s the right fit. Students need to find a place where they can grow socially and intellectually, thrive in the classroom, and learn about things that will interest and inspire them.
Picking a college should be a family decision, but your son or daughter is the one who ultimately needs to be happy. One way to help make things less stressful is to start the search process early. Sit down as a family and outline some college characteristics that are important to your student. Some things to discuss are:
Once students know what they are looking for in a college, it’s time to do some comparison shopping. Encourage them to look at each school’s admission profile to evaluate how competitive they are. Remind them to be realistic about highly selective schools or ones outside of your family’s price range. Some good ways for a high school student to gather information:
When the top schools are narrowed down, it is time to visit campus to try things on for size. Most schools offer campus visitation days and admissions tours. If a school has an overnight program for high school students, take advantage of it. Some colleges will even let prospective students sit in on a class. Some things a student can do to prepare for a visit:
The final step is for your son or daughter to apply to the schools you together identified as good fits. Admission requirements vary, so it is advisable to apply to more than one college. However, if careful research has been done, it should not be necessary for your student to submit more than three to five applications. Most schools prefer for students to submit applications early in their senior year, so start the college search early.
There is the chance your student will not be admitted to some schools. Unfortunately, denials happen, and your role as a parent is to help your student understand and grow from the experience. It’s a challenging, but important, life lesson that one is not always in control of outcomes but can rally from disappointment.
Good luck to you and your family as you go through the college search process. It can be a wonderful experience for everyone – especially if your student takes the lead.
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