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, and for families to seek advice from trusted sources, such as high school guidance offices, college admissions offices, family friends and the plethora of online sources available today. If your son or daughter is currently in the process of deciding which school to attend, they can find tremendous value in your own experiences and the experiences of trusted sources. Share your perspective and consider the topics listed below when guiding your child through the process of how to pick a college.
Distance from home. For many students, going away to college is the first time they will move out of the house and live on their own. And while some people are independent and self-sufficient by nature, others may want to transition to college life gradually. If your son or daughter prefers to stay close to the support system they’re familiar with, you can help by researching schools that are within a reasonable driving distance from home.
Public vs. private. The decision to send your child to a public or private college may not be determined solely by tuition costs. While public colleges are almost always more affordable, especially if your son or daughter qualifies for in-state tuition, many private institutions have highly competitive and nationally renowned academic programs. If your son or daughter has a specific career path in mind, a private college degree program that has a reputation for excellent career preparation and a high job placement rate in that field could be the right decision. And while many public liberal arts colleges and universities do have highly respected degree programs, they can also be a good place for students who are unsure about what to major in. Sampling a few courses from the broad range of options offered at many public schools can help students discover what they’re passionate about. When determining whether to attend a public or private college, the type of programs offered at the school and your child’s career goals should be just as important as tuition costs.
Campus life and experience. Going to school in the heart of the city will be very different than attending classes at a school in a suburban or rural setting. Likewise, class size, available activities, and the demographics of the student body will also be important to your son or daughter. If you are 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. Take a virtual tour, visit the campus in person, talk to students and read social media posts about campus life to learn more.
Rankings. Colleges are ranked on a variety of attributes, from sports programs to graduation rates. Compare relevant rankings, especially those that compare your child’s potential area of study with other prospective colleges. For example, if your son or daughter is interested in architecture, look for schools that are known for excellent architecture programs and high job placement rates after graduation. 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, if they want a Master of Science in Health Administration with a specialization in health care ethics, however, the options will be severely limited. 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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