Choosing the right college is an exciting time for young people and their families. Some teens may start dreaming about higher education while they’re still freshmen. Others may not consider the decision until their senior year. But whatever time is right to start the higher education discussion, it’s important to weave in a lot of variables. There’s cost, location and field of study. But it’s also important to talk about the day-to-day life of students at different types of higher education institutions as well as post-graduation plans. As you and your teen start the discussion, use these steps to help your future scholar thoughtfully and thoroughly wade through the choices.
According to BestColleges, if they had to do it over again, nearly 60% of college grads say they would change their major. At an average yearly cost of nearly $36,000 for tuition, room and board at a four-year, private institution, that’s an expensive decision that needs to be carefully considered.
Ask a lot of questions
Any search should begin by gathering information from schools and other sources and include an in-depth review of the type of person your teenager is. Your child should honestly assess his or her interests, then begin with a short list of institutions that matches their goals and offers a related field of study. At this point, don’t eliminate programs. Cast a wide net that includes two- and four-year colleges and both public and private universities. If possible, identify current students in those fields as well as practicing professionals so that you can help your teen query them about what majors and related jobs look like. Your teen may also have preferences at this point in the search, such as a desire for a big school versus a small one. Ask them why they came to those conclusions and what the appeal is in one choice versus another.
Discuss the cost of college
There are a lot of cost considerations to discuss in addition to tuition, room and board; it’s helpful to discuss as many as you can. One idea: Start a spreadsheet and include the tuition, room, board and extras such as travel to and from school, for example. Then layer in resources you currently have saved, potential grants and scholarships and what you might contribute when your student is enrolled. This college savings calculator may also help in determining potential costs. It is also a good idea to discuss the cost of several planned courses of study against the potential income/job outlook after graduation. Finally, break down any loans and assess what they mean not just in today’s dollars, but in future obligations. Going through that exercise may help both students and parents envision the constraints that any future loan obligations may entail.
Explore a variety of universities and campuses
It’s one thing for a kid to say, “I want to go to a small school.” It’s another thing to actually visit institutions with different enrollment sizes and compare the experiences, such as classroom sizes and housing. A school with a strong commuter culture may feel much smaller than one where nearly everyone lives on or near campus. If there are two- and four-year institutions close by, visit them if only to get a feel for what campus life and facilities might be like. Once your teen determines what size school best suits them, they can start to narrow down the list of school options and be on their way to picking the right college.
Let’s face it: Your student may have a viewpoint that contrasts with your own experiences and ideas. Bridging the gap can be easier with the input of experts, such as guidance counselors and professional academic advisors, who can offer impartial guidance on how to choose the right college. For example, is your child really ready for the leap to a four-year institution — or would they benefit from a two-year school first? Widen your group of advisors to include students and their parents who have been successful, and those who may have stumbled before finding a good fit.