Parenting Tips: How To Help Your Child Choose A College

choosing a college

As your child approaches the end of her high school years, searching for the right college to prepare her for a career takes center stage. While she may appear to be delighted at the prospect of moving out and living her life on her own, it’s not time for you to hang up the apron and stop parenting yet. Helping her through the process of choosing the right college will make the transition to your new roles easier on both of you.

The Basics – Uncovering Wants and Needs

  • Before your child embarks on a quest to find the right college for her, she needs to determine her general area of study and what features of a college are important. Talk with her about her expectations to help her get a good grasp of what to look for. Although it’s tempting to browse catalogs or University websites and make decisions based on what you see, it is easy to be swayed by images of happy students lounging by the pool and forget about other more important issues. 

  • While choosing a college that can provide a solid academic background in her desired field is vital, other aspects are important too. If your child is career minded, a good business program may be important, whether it fits with her major or not.

  • Don’t forget to discuss size and location of the campus. While some students thrive on large campuses, some prefer the personal feel of a small campus. Don’t overlook this, as it may mean the difference between thriving and simply surviving. 

  • This is the time to talk about financial plans. Let your child know exactly how much you can afford to contribute to her education. If she will need to work while attending school, she needs to know in advance.

The Search Begins

Once you and your child have identified what he really wants in a college, it’s time to get on to the important task of finding one that meets his needs. The school guidance counselor can point the way to options that meet his needs, but don’t overlook the power of the Internet to locate colleges that may be perfect for your child. College-Scholarships.com provides links to colleges by state, as well as a host of links and information to make your child’s college search easier.

Brochures, Websites and More

Browsing brochures and websites together can be a lot of fun and may prompt discussions about her wants and needs that haven’t come up before. Listen carefully and ease her concerns when you can, but be honest, too.  If you suspect the site is overly promotional, suggest doing more research on its background.

Narrowing Down Options

Help your child narrow his choice down to three or four choices. This should include at least one college that your child can get into easily. This backup college should be one that meets his basic needs and he feels comfortable with. This alleviates the stress and worry of not being accepted to his top choices and provides something to fall back on if other options fall through.

College Visits

Visit the campus of your child’s top three or four choices with her and offer your support and feedback to help her make a well-thought-out decision. Keep in mind that you are not the one who will be living there and focus on her needs and desires. While it’s okay to point out safety or academic concerns, whether you like the looks of the campus really doesn’t matter.

FAFSA and Scholarships

  • Apply for financial aid, even if you think your child does not qualify. Many colleges use the information provided on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) when determining private scholarships and grants. While the FASFA’s deadline may be May, many schools have earlier financial aid deadlines. Always check the deadlines of the schools your child is interested in. Missing a deadline may mean the difference between attending the school or missing out on the opportunity. 

  • Encourage your child to sign up for a scholarship service, such as Scholarship.com or Fast Web to find scholarships for attending school. These services provide free access to thousands of scholarships and allow your child to search based on interests, experience and other qualifying criteria.


Nannette Richford is a writer from rural Maine where she lives with her family. Connect with Nannette on Google+ and Twitter.

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