A Parent's Guide to Helping Your Child Choose a College

Parents can play a vital role when it comes to the all-important decisions about college.

As a parent you want your child to choose a college that will lead to a fruitful and exciting career. But how do you help with this decision without taking control?

If you’re a parent of a high school junior or senior, you’ve probably become just as engrossed in the college search process as your child. Learn how you can help your child choose the college that is best for his or her needs.

Have a conversation with your student and talk about your expectations and limitations for the college process.

Parents and College

Take a step back and realize this is your child’s decision first and foremost. Pretty soon she is going to be independent and won’t have you around to help her. You should be there to help her along the way, but let this be the time to start letting her make her own choices.

However, there are over 9,000 postsecondary institutions in the United States and sifting through the options can become overwhelming. While your child may say she wants to complete the search independently, she is probably in need of some parental guidance in making her college decision.

The college admissions process has changed since you were applying to college, so it’s important that you start reading up on what is expected of your high school student as early on as possible. While you can’t complete the application for her, you can certainly be there to answer any questions she might have during the process.

Meeting with your child’s school counselor is always a good idea, as the counselor should be well-informed on what will be required for admissions and can answer your questions.

SAT Prep

If your child’s school does not offer SAT prep courses, it is wise to enroll her in an SAT prep course, or buy him an SAT prep book. Find a practice test and set aside some time each month to quiz him.

SAT and ACT scores are not the only factor in college admissions decisions, but they do play an important role, especially at selective colleges like Ivy League schools like Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College; selective smaller colleges such as Williams College or Amherst College; and prestigious state universities such as UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Test day is a stress-inducing time in a high school student’s life and having a parent there for support, even if it’s just providing him with a healthy breakfast, can make all the difference in the world.

Today, attitudes toward standardized test are evolving. Not all schools require that students submit test scores, for example Hampshire College. Often, at least some similar criteria are required. For example, New York University requires that individual SAT subject tests or AP test scores be submitted, if standard SAT scores are not.

In general, help your child prepare for and succeed on standardized test is a skill that will her well.

College Visits

High school parents must understand the value of a college visit. It’s not necessary to go trekking all over the country, but once your student has narrowed their choices down to a few select colleges, it’s time for them to see it first-hand. If you can, turn the college visits into a vacation and do a little sightseeing while you are at it. This will help take the pressure off your child.

Colleges and Finances

Before your child even begins the application process, you should sit her down and have a chat about the reality of your family’s financial situation. Make sure she understands what you are able to contribute toward tuition, fees and other college-related costs.

This is not to say that your financial situation should bar her from applying to a school that is beyond the financial reach of your family. But if she does choose to do so, encourage her to apply for scholarships and grants, which do not need to be repaid. Help her with the financial aid process, as there is probably enough stress on her plate right now with finishing school and writing applications.

A Parent's Guide to Helping Your Child Choose a College: Tips and Tactics

  • Be honest. Have a conversation with your student and talk about your expectations and limitations for the college process. Explain why these expectations and limitations exist and how you can both work with them.
  • Connect with your child. College choice can be a bonding experience. As you go on visits and look at colleges, talk about your experiences with college choice when you were growing up. Or if you didn't go to college, explain why.
  • Stay informed. Both you and your child want to make sure she enrolls in a college that is personally and academically fulfilling. Keep up to date and guide your student as she makes this difficult decision.

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