By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator
When does the search for the “right” college begin? Is it in the eleventh and twelfth grades when it seems like college is the only topic being talked about at school and around the family dinner table? Is it when students are flocking to SAT preparation classes and planning college visits and when extra-curricular activities become a must? For some, the answer would be yes, but for many others, the competition to get into the “right” college begins much earlier. Lots of parents of very young children are zealously devoting serious time and energy to make sure their child attends the “right” preschool .
Whenever the quest for the “right” college begins, many parents go for prestigious schools such as the Ivy League universities, or the schools that their family members have traditionally attended. The “right” college may be one that requires high SAT scores or Advanced Placement classes. Some schools may appear “glamorous” and have a mystique about them, perhaps because of their location or reputation, while others are simply the schools everyone seems to be talking about.
Here are some points to think about that can help you and your teen narrow the choices of what college might be a good fit:
- Strengths and weaknesses: Does your child have good study skills? You don’t want your child to struggle so hard academically that he/she can’t take advantage of college life beyond academics. Is your child ready to handle independent living and decision making?
- Size, population, location: Is the additional travel expense prohibitive? Will a rural setting offer a slower pace than an urban or suburban setting? Would a local two year community college be a better option as a transition from high school to a four year college?
- Programs offered: Since few students enter college knowing exactly what their major will be, does a college offer a substantial number of choices?
- Tuition cost and scholarships available: Is the college state supported? Heavily endowed? Are there work options?
Given that parents need to be involved in the choice of colleges, how do you start the conversation? First, by listening. Find out what your child’s needs and expectations are. What are the boundaries from their reach choice to their safe choice? After hearing what your child has to say, be willing to make changes in your own expectations, if needed. Encourage your child to set goals, but also to be realistic. Help your child acknowledge the limitations he/she faces as a result of personal and family circumstances.
Do research together so you can each bring a perspective to the information you find. Make a list of questions you both would like answered. Jean Ginsberg, guidance counselor at the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School, says that the parents’ role in college choices is “far more about asking questions than providing answers.” Plan visits to colleges your child is considering. Seeing a school in person may give you a clearer picture of whether or not this school might be a good choice. Let your child form his own impression even though it may be on the tip of your tongue to compare what college was like when you were a freshman. Make time to visit the town or city around the college, as well, to make this an experience you will both remember.
Try to downplay the stress that may be involved in the process of choosing colleges. Keep the perspective that this is a wonderful choice to be making. As the list narrows, you want your child to be excited, enthusiastic, and confident that he/she will be successful. Whether it’s a two year community college or a four year school in another state, you and your child will have made the choice with open minds.
Ms. Ginsberg encourages students and their parents to recognize that their choice of a college is just the beginning of the journey into adulthood, not the be all or end all of what will ensure growth and success. Keep in mind that there is never only one “right” college for a student. Children should not feel that they have failed if they don’t get into the college they (or you) wanted. Even their earlier experiences with rejection can teach them valuable life lessons and equip them with healthy ways of coping that will help during the college search.
Parents—remember to have fun during the college choice process. This can be a wonderful opportunity for you and your child to get to know each other better and to realize how helpful it is to make decisions together.
By Susan Kurlander, Health Educator, JCS Prevention Education
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“Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That will Change the Way You Think About College,” by Loren Pope
www.YouVisit.com offers virtual tours of 400 college and universities, for those who are unable to visit campuses in which they are interested.