You as a parent know your student's strengths and weaknesses and can uniquely guide them accordingly, assisting them in their college decision process. Certainly, a parent should use wisdom and balance in this, as it could be easy for the student to feel that the decision is being made for them. At the same time, they will need your help and support. As is true in many other areas of parenting, the trick is to maintain a good balance between the extremes. Here are a few tips to assist in this process for you and your student:
Which Colleges Should They Apply To?
We always recommend students apply to a range of schools - at one end a "reach" school that would be challenging to get in to, and at the other, a school whose acceptance criteria match the student's academic record. As you discuss the options, you have a perfect opportunity, not only to encourage your student forward, championing them to aim high in their goals, but also to encourage and reassure them that their college choice is not directly correlated to their success, worth, or value. Just because someone starts with two years at a Community College, does not mean they are less valuable or accomplished as someone going to Harvard. You can help them think through this and remind them that the college they attend doesn't define who they are. The question to try and answer is which colleges would fit them best?
Taking Responsibility and Initiative in the Application Process
This transition is certainly tricky and can be difficult to navigate as a parent. Encourage your student to take initiative in the process. Let them be the ones to contact colleges and advisers, giving them the real world experience needed to become more familiar and comfortable with those types of interactions. Certainly, you as the parent can be available to assist and provide guidance, direction, and encouragement. But, it would be strongly advised against to babysit your student and do everything for them. After all, the colleges are interested in the student, and not the parents, right?
Maintain Perspective and a Sense of Humor
Make the process as light and fun as possible for your student. Yes, it is true the decision of where to attend college is daunting and carries much weight, but it is not the end of the world. Try not to place unnecessary pressure on your student's shoulders, causing them to feel that one wrong decision will ruin their life. This can cause unneeded stress on them, and prevent them from making an unbiased, clear decision. There's enough stress in their lives and they don't need the added pressure of worrying that this decision will make or break their future. Remind them that the majority of adults are not working in the field of their college degree.
Work with Your Child on a Game Plan to Pay for College
For most every family, the cost of college is a significant part of the decision. The complications of paying college tuition probably isn't an area your child is ready to dive into alone. Initiate open discussions with them about your intentions and ability to pay toward the college bills. You want to make sure they have an accurate expectation of what you will, or won't be able to contribute. Talk over with them the different sources of financing the tuition, and work with them to create a game plan - what can you contribute, what are reasonable expectations about scholarships or grants, and what the tuition costs are at various colleges. Have a specific conversation about loans - how much debt they should accumulate and what that would translate to in monthly payments (and for how long) after they graduate.
Working through this decision with your child can be a great transition point for you, too. Your relationship with them will take on a very different form as they become independent adults and this process can provide opportunities for some great adult-to-adult discussions!