Helping Kids Select a College that Works for Them
Yesterday I sat among other parents, most of us wondering how the time moved by so quickly, listening to advice from a Dean of Admissions at a local private college. We’ve all known this time was coming for our children, when they would spread their still damp educational wings and hit the runway on the next portion of their lives – college. And the advice we heard was poignant and timely – college it about finding the fit. As parents, our challenge is letting that fit be what works best for our children, and not for our own personal hopes and dreams.
Determining the College Fit for Your Kids
Repeatedly I heard yesterday about fit – that college is so much more than academics. The Dean who spoke to our group of apprehensive and eager parents highlighted some of the important pieces that make up the fit for college-bound kids. All of those pieces will combine together to equal the sum total of what your child wants to do for 24 hours each day.
When determining the pieces, ask your kids these questions:
- Do you want to play a sport, either on the college team or an intramural team?
- Do you want to play an instrument in a college band or orchestra?
- Do you hope to join a speech or debate team?
- Do you want to participate in on campus journalism?
- Are there special types of leagues or clubs in which you want to participate? (robotics, theatre, environmental, political, etc.)
- Do you plan to work while attending college – either on or off campus?
- Do you prefer a college with religious teachings, chapel services, etc.?
- What is the campus security system like?
- What type of climate do you want to be in for college?
- Do you plan to have a vehicle on campus? (not all campuses allow this, especially for freshmen)
- Do you want to live on campus, commute from home (given that is OK with Mom and Dad), or live off campus?
- Is there a particular area of study in which you are interested? If yes, how modern are the equipment supplies and resources (i.e. – you want to study broadcasting and the campus does or does not have its own green screen)?
When you and your child have thought about these kinds of issues, the answers will help you narrow down your searches for colleges. Yesterday at the meeting I heard the statistic that only 16% of students travel out of state to attend college, so chances are you will be looking locally, for both cost and comfort reasons. The advice we received yesterday encouraged kids and parents to have a goal of developing a list of about 3-5 colleges that match the criteria your child needs, and be wary of wait-lists (which this Dean said is a waste of our time and money as parents helping our kids find colleges that fit).
The application process can be quite long in many situations, so don’t let your child wait until mid-year of his senior year of high school to start applying. Many colleges have fall application due dates. When you add a college to your list of contenders, make sure you take note of details regarding the application deadline.
What About Paying for College?
Obviously the school choice will be impacted by financial considerations, but there are few things to remember when determining if you and your child can afford a particular school.
- Private colleges often have a larger price-tag on the cover, but offer more free financial aid than public universities. In our region, the private school has a tuition rate that is 3xs at high as the local public university, but the loan debt is lower for the private school students because of more available aid from private sources.
- Ask each college directly about “in-house” scholarships and awards that might not be initially visible in the possible financial aid package. Some schools, like the one I visited yesterday, offer complete and partial scholarships based on an interview and application process that occurs on campus.
- Take advantage of PSEO (post-secondary enrollment options) opportunities if they are offered in your area. In our state children can attend college classes for dual credit at no cost to families. My daughter will be graduating from high school and completing her sophomore year of college at the same time – a time and money saver.
Talk with your kids openly about expectations and plans for the future. Even though it can be surreal to find yourself already at the point of raising high school students who are looking forward to college and careers, planning ahead and helping children find the right fit for them is a step in the right direction.