Determining the Right College for Your Teen
With so many colleges and universities around the United States, how is a perspective student to narrow down their education choices? Let's eavesdrop on a few conversations to see what the thought process is for many juniors and seniors – and their parents:
Father: "My son has decided to apply only to schools with a good Ultimate Frisbee team..."
Girl to her friend: "I want to attend a small college that is located in a suburb of a larger city, so I have easy access to the airport to get home."
Parents: "Our daughter wants to be as far away from home as possible, so that means either East Coast or West Coast."
Mother: "My daughter is being recruited by five Division I schools in diving. The University of Wisconsin seems to be her first choice at this point because she really likes the coach and the team."
Father: "My daughter has no idea what she wants to do or what she wants to study, so I'm encouraging her to attend the local community college to get her basics out of the way until she can decide on a course of study. Financially that seems to be a smarter move."
Mother: "Nicole wants a school with a good dance line, and the University of Minnesota has a great reciprocity agreement with Wisconsin, so it looks like that should be her first choice."
Mother: "I want my son to live at home during school to save money."
Father: "I'd really like my daughter to attend the university, because my wife's job allows her a discount in tuition."
Sean to friends:"I'm not interested in * college because it's too expensive."
Mother of Sean to friends: "Sean is doing a college visit of * college. I know he said it was too expensive, but that was yesterday. Today is a different day."
Beau: "I want a school with a great music department, but I'm not really interested in just a music school – I like science and math, too."
Girl:"I'll take the school that gives me the best financial package."
Girl: "It just feels right here. I fell in love with the whole campus on my visit."
Boy: "I'll go wherever my friends decide to go."
Friend: "I'll go wherever my friends don't go – I don't want my experience to be an extension of high school."
Boy: "I want some place warm. No more snow."
Boy's friend: "I want some place close to the snow, so I can spend lots of time skiing."
Mother: "Peter has his heart set on a school in Canada. I don't know why, but that is his dream."
Brother: "I don't care where my brother goes as long as I get his room when he leaves."
These are all responses to the question of what determines a good choice. Some are concerned with expense, location, distance from home, size of the school, major studies, extracurricular activities, sports, scholarships, friends and just the whole feel of the campus. Everyone has different criterion – a different list of expectations. Take a look at your teen's list and determine what the top factors for consideration seem to be. What best fits your teen's need? Make a list of these factors and plug them in online: "Schools in California" or "Best Schools in Theater." Take that list and narrow it down by the second and third determining factors.
Online applications and the Common Application form make applying less time consuming, as well as more financially feasible for multiple choices. You will find that many colleges and universities now waive the application fee if the application is submitted online. It saves everyone to do it this way. It also means with more choices and more applications in, the college visit and final decision can be made later. Instead of traveling extensively before applying, your teen may receive acceptances and then do the travel.
Take a second look after your teen receives a "yes." Some colleges even offer weekends for groups of perspective students with free travel and food. Your child is assigned a stay with an actual student to get a feel for the campus life and determine if this is what was expected from the school. When asked by the college counselor what the determining factor was in making a final decision, one perspective student answered, "The food."
Boy: "Yeah, I was accepted to eight colleges, but I don't really have to make up my mind just yet. I can look at a couple of them over spring break and decide after that."
Girl: "I thought I had my mind made up as to what my criterion would be, but when it really got down to the final choice, I wasn't as excited as I thought I would be to travel so far away from home, so I am opting to stay just a little closer than I originally thought."
Things change. Her boyfriend in September may no longer be her boyfriend in June. The philosophy class he thought he'd love, he actually hates. That scholarship you were sure she would get went to her best friend instead. The ideal summer job fell through, and your teen had to take a part-time position at a fast food place, so he made less than you expected. Recognize that your teen's choices may change, and that may be OK. It may even be better. Do a lot of listening and talking to others to find out what they think – that means parents talking to children and children talking to parents and friends. Have conversations.