How to Help Your Child Choose a College that is Right in Almost Every Way

Conventional wisdom suggests that it is up to your teen to choose a college. Then again, if you are going to be on the hook financially for some — or all — of the tuition and living expenses, it is only fair to have some input in the choice. Granted, you do not want to smother junior; at the same time, remember that he is still pretty green behind the ears when it comes to making good business decisions. The trick here is to act as a consultant and have your son see reason — but believe that the final choice is ultimately his idea. Of course, it is entirely possible that you learn something in the process, which might prove after all that your grown child has some pretty good ideas of his own. So how do you choose the right college program for your teen?

Why choose college in the first place?

You know that you always wanted your son to attend college, but why? More importantly, now that he is ready to apply or respond to an acceptance letter, does he know why he wants to go to college? Talk openly and honestly about the teen’s talents, career ambitions, hopes and dreams for the future, and also about the economic climate. It is great for a classically leaning teen to want to study Latin, but how will a degree in this language pay for a mortgage, support a family and put food in the fridge?

Near or far? Big or small? Expensive or exorbitant?

The right college to choose may be right around the corner or clear across the country. Does your son want to move away from home? Choose a college also with the size of the campus in mind. If your son has special needs, a smaller campus with a smaller student to instructor ratio may be a better choice than a large campus where he might easily get lost in the shuffle. College is expensive no matter where your son decides to get his degree; honestly discuss the finances of the family to find out if a stint in junior college with a subsequent transfer to a four-year school is in order. Remember: student loans turn into boat anchors around the necks of new graduates; avoid them whenever possible.

Make a college acceptance checklist

When the teen sent out the applications, he probably figured that the more paper he sent out, the better his chances were to at least get a couple of favorable replies. Now he is pleasantly surprised to have gotten so many acceptance letters. On the downside, he must now choose a college to actually attend. A college acceptance checklist makes it possible to compare apples to apples and focus on those features that are important to you and to your son. Examples include:

Campus culture. If your son is a conservative person with a strong faith, he may feel out of place at some of the bigger liberal arts colleges. Graduation rates. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems shows that some states have a lower than average graduation rate, whereas other states rank extremely high. Massachusetts is a state with extremely high degree completion rates, whereas Alaska and Nevada rank at the bottom of the list. Ask the admissions representative about the number of students who finish their degrees — on time. Niche focus. One college may be big on sports, while another invests heavily in science. One school opts for a social environment, while another institution of higher learning is much more concerned about spurring on the students to study. Where does your son fit in?

You are probably starting to feel like Goldilocks right about now. Which college is just right? Accept that the right college to choose may only become apparent after picking the wrong one first. As long as you and your son are open to this learning experience, the youngster will do just fine.


National Center for Higher Education Management Systems; “Graduation Rates”

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