Since your child’s first day of school, you’ve known this day might arrive. They’re finally a senior in high school, and college is right around the corner. In a few short months, you could be sending your teen off to live and study on their own. It’s a major change, but it’s also exciting!
Although your daily parenting responsibilities are winding down, you still have some guidance to offer. Making decisions about college can feel overwhelming. From finances to location to academics, there’s a lot to consider. Before you get stressed, take a deep breath. Keep reading for some valuable insights you can pass on to your soon-to-be graduate.
1. Take a College Tour
Nationwide, there are more than 4,000 colleges and universities. How is your teen supposed to choose one? The best thing you can do is encourage your kid to research as many schools as possible. Look at small and large schools. Explore public and private options. That way, they’ll figure out what type of school is most attractive.
That’s only step one in the process, though. If possible, take college tours for as many schools as you can. Reach out to the admissions office and schedule a walking tour of the campus. Encourage your teen to talk to students and professors to get a feel for what the student experience is like.
Traveling to multiple colleges can get expensive, however. If you’re on a budget, don’t worry. Thanks for the pandemic, most colleges now offer virtual tour options. They’re a great way to get a good feel for the campus from the comfort of home.
2. Support College Resume Building
Every college receives thousands of applications each year. With so much competition, how can your child stand out to snag an acceptance letter? It’s all about their application — and building it starts before their senior year. Have they earned good grades? Are they participating in extracurricular activities or community service?
It may already be your habit to check behind your kid periodically to ensure they’re completing their work. It’s also a good idea to guide your child so they choose the right classes. Keep a record of all your child’s activities — sports, volunteer work, after school jobs — and put it on their resume. If the college they’re applying to doesn’t require a resume, encourage them to note these activities elsewhere in their application. Highlighting it all demonstrates your child is a well-rounded applicant.
3. Talk About Money
If you’ve sent your child to a public high school, college is going to present some sticker shock. Unless your child gets significant scholarships, sending them to school can cost you some serious cash. Although it may feel awkward, talk to your child about how you plan to finance their schooling. If they’re mature enough to be out on their own, they can handle this conversation.
When you’re comparing schools, create a spreadsheet, so it’s easier to see the monetary differences. Include details about the amount of debt you would take on with each college. Now is also a great time to discuss student debt. Explain what it is and how it can affect their future financial stability.
4. Give FAFSA a Dry Run
Fortunately, scholarships and paying out-of-pocket aren’t your only options to fund your child’s education. Thousands of families apply for student loans every year. Most take advantage of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out the forms correctly can be a challenge, though. That can be stressful when you’re trying to maximize the assistance you receive.
Before you stress out, take a deep breath and relax. You can take FAFSA out for a spin before you actually submit it. Use the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) Calculator. It helps you figure out how much federal financial aid you can anticipate. Once you know that amount, you can help guide your child to affordable school options.
5. Examine Academics
Socializing is a big part of the college experience. However, academics should be the primary reason why your child chooses higher education. Encourage your child to dig deep into what type of coursework each potential college choice offers. For example, if your child wants to be a research scientist, search for schools with strong biology and chemistry programs.
There’s a lot to consider about a school’s academics. What majors and minors do they offer? What is their faculty-to-student ratio? Look into what research opportunities and study abroad opportunities they have. It all factors into the quality of education your child will receive.
6. Discuss Location
For most kids, college is the first time they’ll live on their own. Since that’s the case, they need to be somewhere they like. Most kids focus on how close they want to be to home. Do they want to be able to come home easily? Or would they prefer to branch out and spend more time away?
It’s also important to talk with your child about the kind of city they might enjoy. Some kids thrive in larger metropolitan areas. Others prefer a more small-town feel. There are plenty of college options in both types of locations. Walk your teen through what it’s like to live in large and small places. That could help them make their ultimate decision.
7. Step Back from the Final Choice
As a parent, you probably feel that no one knows your child better than you — including your child themselves. While that may be the case, resist the temptation to make their college selection for them. You likely had the opportunity to choose your college or university. Now, it’s their turn.
College is a demanding time in a young person’s life. Your teen is more likely to heavily invest their energy if they’re at an institution they chose. Plus, there’s always the chance they may not like the school after the first year. Letting them choose their own college means you won’t get blamed for a bad experience.
Helping your teen plan for college is an exciting time for both you and your child. Keep these tips in mind, and they’ll be ready to take on the challenge.