The college selection process marks the transformation of dependent teenagers into independent young adults. This is their opportunity to stretch their wings, to make their own choices, and to begin accepting responsibility for their own lives. This will not be an easy time for you. You only want what is best for your child and who knows better than you what is best for them? You have always made the tough calls and you feel compelled to keep making them. How else can you guarantee your child a successful future? Your active oversight is what makes you a good parent. However, it is very important to hold your parenting instincts at bay and to let your child take ownership of the college selection process, from beginning to end. This does not mean that you become a disinterested bystander...far from it. You are your child's support system — their composed, confident sounding board and irreplaceable source of encouragement and advice. So, step back, take a deep breath, and watch your child grow. Trust your child and trust yourself. You have prepared your child well for this very important decision. Hopefully a few hints from us will make letting go a little easier.
Do you know what your child wants out of his or her college experience? It probably won't surprise you to learn that parents and children are often not on the same college selection page but, if you are lucky, you will be in the same book! (Granted, the book may be bigger for some than others!) If you have not already done so, you need to find the time to ask your child what he or she wants out of a college experience. During this discussion, you can share your wants as well. Just remember, your wants are not the most important. If the college decision is all about your wants and not your child's, you are creating a potentially catastrophic college experience. An unhappy child does not perform well in the classroom. Making the right college choice includes many factors, some of which are subjective. Almost by definition, you will not always agree with your child's subjective perceptions. The trick is to not dismiss or disparage your child's perceptions while expressing your own. An open discussion about both of your wants will go a long way towards ensuring a good college selection outcome.
While your child should be the driving force in this process, you still need to be involved. Try not to take over, but don't hesitate to question and remind or, more bluntly, nag! You should try to learn as much as you can about all the schools in which your child is interested. Create a calendar with your child and organize it with tasks, complete with deadlines, for important actions, like applying for admission, financial aid, or scholarships. Take advantage of opportunities to learn about colleges on their websites, at college fairs, or from visiting admission representatives who may be in your area. Don't overlook your child's high school guidance counselor as a valuable resource; yet understand that in many schools, college counseling is not the counselor's only, or primary, role. Plan trips to all the schools to which your child plans to apply. We would never recommend enrolling at a school you have only visited on the web. While visiting, don't be in a hurry. Take the time to get to know the campus — have lunch, hang out at the student union, talk to students who are currently enrolled, read the school newspaper, and get a general feel for the campus (preferably while classes are in session). You will need to keep good notes if you visit multiple schools on one trip. You would be surprised how often all the campuses blend together over time. Help your child recap his or her impressions of each visit before you move on to another school. After all the visits are complete, help assess the positives and negatives of each school. Remember, it's not about your impressions, but your child's.
If you have financial restrictions which could limit your child's choices, discuss these limitations early in the process. Nothing is potentially more disappointing than finding out at the end of the process that a first choice is not possible because of a restriction that was known from the beginning and not mentioned. With that said, it would be a mistake to limit your search based solely on cost. All colleges utilize federal, state, and institutional aid to create financial aid packages to help you with expenses. However, very few families, if any, receive packages that match their expectations or desires. Be sure to compare the bottom line of all your offers and not the total amount of aid being extended. A financial aid package with a heavy emphasis on loans that have to be paid back may not be your best choice. As you know, the burden of loan debt can be overwhelming, particularly for new graduates beginning their careers.
As the selection process progresses to the decision stage, avoid the trap of thinking that only one college will be the key to your child's future success. There are no guarantees in the pursuit of highly sought and coveted admission offers, regardless of how wonderful and deserving you think your child is. The best approach is to visualize and verbalize how happy you will be to have your child enroll at any of the schools to which he or she applies. If not all of the schools extend offers of admission, celebrate the offers received rather than focus on the ones that weren't. Your child will be successful wherever he or she enrolls as long as you continue to be an active and encouraging presence in his or her life.
When comparing the costs of different schools, make sure you know what is included in the cost estimate that you are given. Different schools include different costs in their estimates. It is always a good idea to get the actual breakdown of all costs whenever possible.
The basic components of a college-cost estimate are: tuition and fees, room and board, and books. College-cost estimates differ tremendously, as there are almost an unlimited number of variations on these basic components. An example is tuition and fees. Some schools charge a flat rate. You pay the same amount regardless of the credit hours attempted. For flat-rate schools you normally have an upper limit of 18 credit hours and some lower limit, at which point you pay by the hour. So if your child attempts 18 hours, the tuition will be the same as someone who may only take 15 or 12. Obviously, the best economic deal is to take the maximum number of hours allowed, although this may not be a good idea for some students. Other schools charge only for the credit hours attempted. So if your child registers for 18 hours, the overall cost will be more than for someone who only takes 15 hours. Both of these tuition models have their proponents and opponents. Neither is right nor wrong, although comparing the actual costs of one type versus the other can be difficult. For example, do you assume that your child will take the maximum number of credit hours per term allowed at a flat-rate school, and compare that with the cost of 18 credit hours per term at the per credit hour school? Or do you assume your child will take an average full-time load of 15 credit hours per term at the flat-rate school, and compare that cost with 15 credit hours per term at the per credit hour school?
Room and board is yet another example. At one school your child may be required to live on campus and participate in the meal plan. Another school may say where students live and what they eat is their choice. Even when the decision is made to live on campus, the costs can vary widely depending upon the type of residence hall and meal plan selected. Comparisons really get complicated if you consider off-campus venues and preparing your own meals. Eating macaroni, peanut butter, and Ramen noodles can be very inexpensive although I doubt you want your child on such a stark subsistence!
The estimate for the cost of books might vary somewhat from school to school but, quite honestly, the cost of books should be practically the same wherever your child enrolls. It is not unusual for students to purchase textbooks online from national distributors which charge the same rate regardless of the college attended. About the biggest variable for books is whether new or used books are purchased. As you might imagine, new books can be very expensive, and used books are only inexpensive when compared to the cost of new books. If this is your first child to go to college, the cost of books will surprise you.
In addition to the basic components of college-cost estimates, you may also wish to consider additional costs in your comparison that may or may not be included in the estimate that colleges provide you. These additional costs can vary a great deal based upon distance and personal preference. Possible additional expenses consist of transportation, health insurance, computer, and lifestyle costs. Transportation costs include getting to and from your child's chosen school, and how many times your child will come home during the year. Some schools require health insurance if the student is not already covered, and some HMO's require additional fees to treat students outside of their normal service area. Some schools require a computer; others may only recommend one. Lifestyle costs refer to the luxuries that can add up quickly: eating out with friends (even when on a meal plan), gas, new clothes, music downloads, movies, cell phones, etc.
We have tried to identify many of the common components of college costs, but the cost with absolutely the biggest economic impact on you is hidden and controlled entirely by your child. How long will it take your child to graduate? Too often, students take more than four years to graduate even when their programs are designed to be completed in four years. To compare four-year graduation rates and many other interesting statistics, you may wish to visit the College Portrait of Undergraduate Education website, created by The Voluntary System of Accountability (VSA) initiative of public 4-year universities to supply basic, comparable information on the undergraduate student experience.
All schools will provide financial assistance to students in need. Need is determined in a number of different ways, but the most common is with the federal government's need analysis form, known as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid or FAFSA. All colleges require the FAFSA, and a few may require additional forms as well. The FAFSA analysis determines how much money you are expected to contribute to your child's education. This amount is known as the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Your child's financial need is determined by subtracting the EFC from the cost of the college. For example, if your EFC is $2,000 and your child chooses a school with costs of $20,000, he or she will have $18,000 of financial need.
The amount of financial need is what is used by the college to create a financial aid package to enable your son or daughter to enroll at the institution. In theory, the amount of money you spend out of pocket on college (the EFC) will be the same, regardless of the cost of the college your child attends. In reality, financial aid packages vary tremendously, and many include loans that must be repaid at a later date, meaning your ultimate out-of-pocket costs may be higher at one school than another.
Much like our discussion of basic costs, it is important to compare financial aid packages very carefully. Don't be fooled by the package offering the most overall dollars. Instead, figure out your total out-of-pocket cost, including future loan repayments.
Different schools will have different policies when it comes to paying college costs. Some schools will give you the opportunity to begin paying for expenses immediately upon your child's acceptance. Others will wait until after the first or second week of classes before requiring payment. Most schools offer payment plans, and most will accept credit cards. Generally speaking, you can think of your child's financial aid package as being placed into an account to be used to pay expenses. Your child will be expected to pay whatever balance remains after his or her financial aid package has been applied.
Our goal is to graduate your child in four years (or less!), and you can help us by making sure that your child stays on track. This can be complicated since student records are confidential and we have to receive permission from your son or daughter before we can discuss his or her academic record with you. So once your child has been accepted, have him or her visit our Delegated Access site on the myFSU Portal to grant you access to his or her academic record. With this access, you can monitor your child's class schedule and, perhaps most importantly, his or her grades. You would be surprised by how many parents don't know their child's official college GPA. All they know is the GPA their child has self reported and, sadly, these do not always match.
Studies have found that most college students will change their majors at least once before they graduate. What can you do to help your child identify the major and career path that is right for him or her? We encourage you and your son or daughter to read, share, and discuss "Choosing a Major at Florida State University" in advance of beginning college. It's filled with helpful websites, exercises, and activities designed to help students identify a major that will meet their career goals.
Most of our baccalaureate degree programs require 120 semester hours of specific earned credit to graduate. While there are many ways to accumulate 120 hours, the original concept was for students to earn 15 semester hours per term, for two terms each year, for a total of four years. In practice, students can earn 120 hours in many different ways as long as it only takes four years to graduate!
It is highly likely that your child will earn college credit prior to enrolling at Florida State. We recognize many different types of accelerated mechanisms that allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. A student can earn college credit by taking dual enrollment classes or by passing AP, IB, AICE, or CLEP exams. We also award a limited amount of credit in English and Mathematics based upon ACT or SAT results.
If your child earns 15 or more credits while in high school, he or she might: 1. Graduate early - three and one-half years would be easy, and it could even be less if enrolling in the summer. 2. Double major - since most credit earned before college is in general liberal studies areas, your child could stay the whole four years and satisfy requirements for two majors. 3. Study abroad - even students without accelerated credit can study abroad, but when they already have college credit, it is easier to work it into their four-year plan. 4. Earn graduate credit while still an undergraduate - quite a few of our undergraduate programs allow students to take graduate courses while in the final stages of completing the undergraduate degree.
Beginning with a required meeting with your child's assigned academic adviser during Orientation, your son or daughter will always have someone to turn to for academic advice. We take advising seriously and assign students their advisers based upon their choice of major. If the major changes, so does the adviser. For all of our majors, we provide an academic map that outlines a four year, term-by-term guide to graduation.
Make sure your child continues meeting with his or her assigned adviser. After Orientation, meetings with advisers are voluntary, so a few reminders from you, particularly prior to registration for future terms, would never be a bad idea.
Encourage your child to become involved in his or her major. All of our programs provide opportunities for individualized experiences and research. If students love their majors, chances are there is a professor who would love to help them excel by setting them up to work in their lab, or by assisting them with a research project of special interest. To make it easier to get connected, we have the Center for Undergraduate Research and Academic Engagement, dedicated to helping undergraduate students become involved in research. Once connected, we have the Office of National Fellowships which helps them prepare for national fellowship/scholarship competitions like the Rhodes, Goldwater, and Fulbright.
After admission, it is important to apply for on-campus housing as soon as possible. Historically, we have not had room to house all of our freshmen on campus, so the earlier your child applies, the greater the odds of being able to live on campus in the residence hall of choice. Do not delay submitting the housing contract, even if you are not certain Florida State will be the final choice. If your son or daughter decides not to enroll, all but $50 of the $225 pre-payment is refundable if admission is declined by May 1.
After your child applies for housing, your next time-sensitive decision involves paying the enrollment deposit. Florida State, as well as most selective schools, requires an enrollment deposit to be paid to the University by May 1 to reserve your child's place in our freshman class. It can be paid at any time prior to May 1, but please keep in mind it is non-refundable! If your child is considering other schools, you can wait until May 1 to pay the deposit, but no later. If you do not pay the enrollment deposit by May 1, your child's admission offer will be withdrawn. Your child can pay the admission deposit by accessing the online status feature of his or her application.
After the deposit has been paid, your child must sign up for Orientation by May 1. Orientation is a mandatory program for new students designed to familiarize them with our University and our many activities and programs. During Orientation, your child will meet with an academic adviser and register for classes. You will be invited to participate in a family program which runs concurrently with, but separate from, your child's orientation.
As the parent of a newly admitted Florida State student, you have the opportunity to become a member of Family Connection. Family Connection is a group formed by parents and other family members of current Florida State University students, along with University staff, to promote family involvement in their child's University experience. It's a great way to stay active and involved in your child's education.
On behalf of our faculty, staff, and students, we are pleased to invite you and your family to "preview" Florida State University. Preview is a series of special visitation days for students who have been admitted to the University. Visit the preview website for more information.