Choosing a college is one of the most daunting decisions young adults face. That’s why it’s important for parents to offer advice and guidance. It’s also important for families to seek advice from high school guidance offices and family friends. After all, there is tremendous value in both your own experiences and the experiences of trusted sources. When guiding your child through the process of how to pick a college, these are among the most important considerations:
Distance from home. For many students, going away to college is the first time they will live on their own. And while some people are independent and self-sufficient by nature, others may want to transition to college life gradually. Does your son or daughter prefer to stay close to their family? If so, then it only makes sense to research schools within a reasonable driving distance from home.
Public vs. private. When choosing a college, the decision go public or private may not be determined solely by tuition costs. While public colleges are almost always more affordable, many private institutions have highly competitive and nationally renowned academic programs. Does your child have a specific career path in mind? If so, consider a private college with a reputation for excellent career preparation and a high job placement rate.
Campus life and experience. Attending school in the heart of the city is very different than attending classes at a suburban or rural location. Likewise, class size, available activities, and the demographics of the student body will also be important. If you’re looking for an all-girls school, one that aligns to your religious beliefs, is located in a city or strongly represents your culture, your initial options might be very different than a student who is looking for a co-ed school, or one with a rural campus, diverse student body or unaffiliated status. Visit the campus in person is always better than a virtual tour. It also helps to talk to students and read social media posts about campus life.
Rankings. College rankings depend on a variety of attributes, from sports programs to graduation rates. When choosing a college, compare relevant rankings. Especially those that compare your child’s potential area of study with other prospective colleges. For example, is your son or daughter is interested in architecture? If so, look for schools that are known for excellent architecture programs and high job placement rates. Sites like Forbes.com and USNews.com create various college ranking lists regularly so you can easily find top colleges in any given category.
Available concentrations. While most universities offer a wide variety of programs, you may struggle finding certain concentrations within a program. For example, if your child wishes to earn a Master of Science degree, they will have plenty of options. However, a Master of Science in Health Administration with a specialization in health care ethics limits options. In situations where your child is interested in a career-focused specialization, limit your search to schools that offer the exact specialization that your son or daughter wants.
Tuition cost and financial aid. While a variety of student loans, scholarships and grants may be available to your child, the cost of tuition should still be an important factor in your decision. Financial aid and loans can often make college affordable, but you won’t know what’s officially available to you until you apply. Before your son or daughter chooses a college, decide whether you’ll be applying for Parent PLUS loans or able to co-sign for a private student loan if your college savings account and free financial aid do not cover the cost of tuition and other college expenses. Your son or daughter should also consider the total debt they will leave college with and what would be most manageable. Examining student loan financing and co-signing options ahead of time will make you more prepared to help your child attend the college of their choice.
Choosing a college is a big decision, perhaps the most important one your child has ever made. Your support throughout the process and insight into the long-term impact of the school or program your child chooses, including job placement, student loan debt, salary and career advancement is particularly beneficial. Drawing on your own experiences choosing a college and the suggestions listed here, you can help your child make the best choice for his or her education and future.
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