The Parent's Role in the College Selection Process
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.
Remember Who is Going to College
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.
Limitations and Opportunities
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.
Consider the Cost
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.
It's All Good
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.