How to Be Happy About Your Teen’s College Choices

How to Be Happy About Your Teen’s College Choices

The last time I went to the dentist, my dentist told me all about how the college search was going with her senior. (Naturally, I wanted to ask her a billion questions as her dental instruments clinked against my teeth.)

Anyway, she told me that her senior, Will, was happily considering a local liberal arts college and a state school an hour down the road. She said to him, “Do you have a reach school? Somewhere you really, really want to go? Far away?”

He thought for a second. “Nah,” he replied. He went back to playing his video game. 

She was kind of disappointed. Later, she asked him why he didn’t want to “see what else is out there.” Will told her he thought it might be weird to do something other than what everyone else seemed to be doing.

Another mom I know has a student who’s completely focused on saving money, not taking out any loans and making it easy on his parents. He’s looking at state schools and private colleges to humor his parents, but his mom said, “He’s seriously looking at community colleges and I’m actually disappointed. Imagine that! Disappointed that he wants to go to college and save us money. But… I just don’t think community college is the best fit for him.”

You want your kids to make their own college decisions, yet you want college to be the right choice the first time around. So what do you do when you feel slightly disappointed (or a lot disappointed) by your student’s shortlist? 

Never fear — here are some helpful pointers!

Not thrilled about your child's college decisions so far? Unhappy with college choice options on the shortlist? Here's what to know.

1. Know that it’s Okay to Feel This Way

When you‘re unhappy with college choice or your child’s college search isn’t going the way you envisioned, you might feel sad, confused, guilty and also harbor a range of other emotions. First of all, know that your feelings are normal. 

It might bring up reminders of other times in your life you were slightly disappointed. Remember when your daughter decided to give up piano lessons? Or your son decided to choose soccer over baseball?  

It’s natural — you’ve invested some major time and energy (and money!) into piano lessons or soccer. Let’s take piano lessons, for example. You invested your time by hovering over your daughter as she practiced and drove her to piano lessons every Thursday. You invested your assumptions (“Wow, she played that song really well!”), hopes and dreams (“Maybe she’ll get into Juilliard someday!”). 

The more invested you feel, the more you expect an incredible outcome. Same with college. You feel mounting expectations for your child with every A+ math test and every note from an English teacher that says, “You’re a Shakespeare whiz!” 

But here’s an interesting question: Is your child supposed to fit your expectations or are your expectations supposed to fit your child? You don’t want to drive a wedge between the two of you.

2. Make Sure Your Student is Ready for the Next Step

E. St. John said, “There is, perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut-wrenching and rest-of-your-life oriented — or disoriented — than the choice of a major.”

I’d like to add “choice of college” to that list, too. This is particularly true because you might have to ask yourself if what your child’s ready for. Some kids have a lot of growing up to do before they choose a college. 

I recruited Jesse, a bright (really bright!) student. He had the worst time getting through his first year of college because, suddenly, there was this gigantic responsibility on his shoulders — how well he did in school depended completely on him. He faced enormous distractions because his friends (seriously) never went to sleep — they just hung out all the time. To make matters worse, he’d let his grades slip during his senior year in high school so he could have fun with his high school friends. In one fell swoop, he weakened his study habits before he’d even gotten to college.

The increased degree of freedom and independence was too much for him. His relationship with his parents suffered and so did his grades. 

How well do you think your child will do in college? Is your child a major procrastinator? Is she smart but easily overwhelmed by what’s set in front of her? Know your child’s capabilities and think carefully about whether he or she can handle the type of college you’ve always dreamed of. 

By the way, Jesse’s story ended well! He did graduate and is now a teacher in California. 

3. Ask Yourself Whether Your Dreams Are Overshadowing Your Child’s

This is definitely a family decision, particularly if you’re paying for college. But ultimately, it’s hopefully your child’s decision. You know your student will be successful if he knows he’s blazing his own trail. 

My former boss’ son went to a state university despite the fact that she really wanted him to go to a private liberal arts college. She’s the proud alumna of a liberal arts college herself and works at a liberal arts college and knows the benefits. He had nothing to do with any of it and shipped himself off to a state university. Of course, she’s happy he chose a great state university but had to give up on her long-standing dream of him attending her alma mater. (She’d always pictured his flaming red hair bobbing up and down her alma mater’s soccer field.) It was a little bit of a letdown to know that he’d never play soccer there like she had. 

Nobody warns you that you might have to mourn this a little bit. There’s research out there that says most moms have a bout of real grief after they drop off their kids at college. (Note: There’s good news. Nine out of 10 moved on from this feeling within a month or two, and some do sooner.)

But nobody tells you that you might be deeply disappointed for a while about The College Choice that Never Materialized. Lots of kids refuse to go to their parents’ alma maters or where their parents really want them to go. (I’ve seen it happen firsthand after so much effort to attract these kids.) 

4. Consider the Big Picture

The goal is college. The goal is to get into college — and make it, and graduate and get a job. (And be happy.) If your child feels he must do X, then X and X to get there (whatever those Xs are) then it’s important to remember one thing: Your child’s still going to college. If you have to tell yourself that a million times, do it. But keep the big picture in mind. Your goal was to save for college — and your child is going.

Now, it’s still important to make him aware of certain oppositions you have. Maybe the school he’s going to isn’t accredited or is in a known gang neighborhood — or whatever. Obviously, if he will endanger himself or his future, it’s not a good idea and you must have that important discussion. 

5. Talk to Your Teen

Yeah! Have you had the deep-down, heart-to-heart discussions with your child about college that last late into the night? (This is what I’m picturing in 10 years when my oldest starts her journey. Please tell me this will happen!) Obviously, how much you talk about college depends a lot on both of your personalities and how open your child is to talking about the college search.

Evaluate the Academic Fit Together

The academic fit is obviously one of the most important parts of the college experience. Ask your teen what he’d like to get out of the academic experience and what his priorities are. 

Talk about the academic differences between a community college, a state university and a liberal arts college. Talk about academic rigor between like institutions. A small rural college might pack an academic punch but an Ivy League institution is obviously going to kick it up a notch. 

It might be interesting to hear about his biases and perceptions. Make sure your teen is getting his information from a reputable source. His well-intentioned assistant baseball coach might not be as reliable a source as a college professor, admission counselor or financial aid representative.

There’s no shame if both of you aren’t sure what the exact facts are. That’s what the college search is all about — it’s a fact-finding mission. Do whatever you can to be sure you’re getting the right facts about academics. 

Also, remember that a lot of colleges pay to be on the “Best of” lists. Use your best judgment when you’re Googling yet another “Best Small Liberal Arts Colleges in the Northwest” list. Your best bet is to visit each college, ask lots of questions, sit in on classes and make those determinations for yourself.

Talk About the Importance of Social Growth

I’m going to flat-out say it: There’s a big difference between a commuter college versus a residential campus. If your child’s a social butterfly, she may already be thinking she wants to live in a sorority or on a residential campus. She may naturally gravitate that direction. 

A more introverted student may want to go the community college route because he’s hoping to live at home and keep life how he knows it.

But what’s best for both of these types of students in terms of social growth? An introverted student might thrive at a university, a bubbling social butterfly might be able to focus better in a smaller environment. 

Have a Discussion About Retention

Retention rate is certainly something that doesn’t come to mind immediately during the college search. I believe it deserves careful investigation. 

What is retention, anyway? A college or university’s retention rate is measured by its percentage of first-time, first-year undergraduate students who continue at that school the next year. Let’s use my recruit, Jesse, as an example. He studied full-time in the fall semester of 2016 and kept studying at the college during the next fall semester. He was included in that cohort of students who retained during their first year.

Here’s an easy way to learn about a school’s retention rate. Check out College Navigator from the National Center for Education Statistics. I really love that tool! Just type in the name of the school, find it in the drop-down, then click on “retention.” You’ll be able to see first-year retention and overall graduation rates and a lot of other great information.

You want this retention rate to be as high as possible. Steer clear of a college if its retention rate is really low — like in the 30th percentile. This means a large number of students transfer out after freshman year. If your student is really excited about a college with a low retention rate, you’d better quiz the admission counselors at that school about why its retention rate is so low.

Talk About How a Visit is Really Important

Has your teen already decided where he’s going to go without checking it out? 

Just because your child’s got his mind made up, try to strike a deal. Teach your child how to schedule a college visit at one large, one medium and one small school to give him an array of options. 

Talk About Money

Is your fear about money manifesting itself in disappointment? In other words, are you disappointed because your child has chosen a really expensive school and you’re not sure you can make it happen?

Conversely, have you set aside a pile of money and your child isn’t going to use it? Maybe he’s opted for a community college but you planned for an Ivy League. Is the amount you’ve invested equally proportionate to your giant expectations? 

The money part of college can bring out all sorts of emotions and fear is a big one. Just make sure your child understands that your disappointment is placed on money — not his or her decision to go to college.

6. Know that Your Child Can Go into Any Industry with a Degree from Any College

This is huge. In fact, there’s some major evidence that pinpoints exactly what matters most in lifetime success. Want to know the secret? 

It’s grit. Grit is the passion and perseverance to achieve long-term goals. It’s a stick-to-itiveness that simply having a degree won’t magically do to instigate success. Psychologist Angela Duckworth has said, “Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. Grit is living life as a marathon, not a sprint.”

If your child decides that College X (which you’re not a big fan of) is the best place for him, rest easy if you’ve noticed your child’s excellent work ethic. Your kiddo will be just fine.

Disappointment Happens — But Keep Your Eyes on the Prize

Again, you know the prize is that calligraphy-clad diploma at the end of the road. Your child’s going to get there. Often, good decision making for success in college includes making excellent decisions about college from the get-go. 

Make sure you tell your child you’re proud of so many things, including his choice to go to college (even if you’re not excited about the path he’s taking to get there).

Socrates said, “Know thyself,” and in this case, “Know thy child” is so applicable.

The Best Ways to Reach Out to Colleges with Your Student

The Best Ways to Reach Out to Colleges with Your Student

My husband likes to get up every Saturday morning and watch fishing shows. He’s not even really an avid fisherman; he simply enjoys watching professional fishermen reel in giant, slimy fish. My kids like it, too. They all group around the television and “Ooh” and “Ahh” every time some guy catches a largemouth bass.

Why am I telling you this? Because you may feel like finding the right college is kind of like finding the biggest bass in Lake Okeechobee. Right?

Building relationships with people at colleges can make the “fishing” process seem a little less daunting. It brings more clarity to the college search and helps your child hone in on those “Aha” moments. 

Anna Dealy, associate director of advancement communication at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, used to work in enrollment at a private liberal arts college. She says her favorite part of working in admission is building friendships with students and families. 

Dealy says it’s important for parents to help students understand that colleges want to get to know you, then help guide the relationship-building process. 

“It helps for students to know that those of us working in enrollment aren’t scary,” says Dealy. “We want to meet students and want them to succeed. Maybe if they know that from the beginning, they might not think building relationships with admission offices is so foreign and unknown.”

The thing is, you and your high schooler have to work toward building relationships. Plus, your student has to be willing to get on board. (That may feel like reeling in a shark!)

As with most things, it’s better to do it together.

If you're ready to build up those college contacts and develop  relationships during the college search, good for you! Here's how!

Add College Contacts with Your Student

Make sure you reach out to people during the college search together. It’s really intimidating for your child to have to do it alone, particularly when your high schooler may not be great at getting to know new people. That said, anytime you need to talk with a financial aid officer, set up a college visit, talk scholarships with an admission counselor — whatever it is — put your child on speaker and encourage him or her to make the first move. It’s time to start learning how to interact with anyone now — it’s good life skills training.

Encourage Your Student to Attend High School College Rep Visits

Encourage your kiddo to attend college rep visits at his or her high school. Colleges usually make the rounds at high schools in fall and spring and intermittently during the winter. 

It’s a great idea to get to know admission counselors through those visits. Your child’s school counselor or college and career counselor will have a list of dates when colleges will visit. 

You may hear that high school teachers prefer that your child stays in class, but this is a great relationship-building opportunity, particularly if your child’s classmates all stay in class! That way, your child will get lots of one-on-one attention, particularly if your student has an eye on a smaller school.

How can you do this together? You might want to request some private time with the admission counselor and your child if you have specific questions. Call the high school and find out whether the college rep can spare some extra time. Or go directly to the source and contact the college rep.

Get to Know Alumni

Even if alumni graduated 20 years ago, they’re still great people to build relationships with because they’re the ultimate cheerleaders. They can be great at explaining the heart and soul of an institution — that usually doesn’t change! (You’ll still hear current students talk about some of the same things that older alumni describe.) 

Alumni may also do interviews with your student as a required or optional part of a school’s admission process. In that case, you can help your child set up the interview, but it’s best if you stay home. You can help your child dress for success, practice interview tips and make sure your child follows up after the meeting. This is just one area where you’ll have to sit on the sidelines!

Go to College Fairs with Your Child

College fairs are a great way to learn more about what colleges offer. Go to a college fair with your child so he or she doesn’t have to go it alone. The school counselor at your child’s high school should have a list of local and regional college fairs you can attend. National college fairs can also offer a great opportunity for you and your son or daughter to communicate with a college representative together — these fairs are usually packed. 

Come with a list of specific questions about campus culture but leave the questions about class size at home. You can find that online. 

Oh, and make sure your child asks the first few questions!

Give Your Child Opportunities to Get to Know Students

Obviously, the students are the life and soul of a college or university. The best place to get to know them is during college visits on campus. Encourage your child to talk to the students during these visits. This can be such a challenging thing for a high schooler! They might feel like they’re kindergarteners all over again.

Prep your student ahead of time for what to expect. There’s nothing worse for a college student tour guide than trying to give a tour to a family who’s too timid to ask questions or make conversation. It’s also tough on the tour guide when parents dominate the conversation — FYI! 

Beyond the college visit, are there students around your community who attend the colleges your child is interested in? They can clue them in on a lot — campus culture, tips for navigating the first year, the best residence halls, where to go for resources, programs, etc. It’s fun for your student to hear all this from a student perspective and it’s instructive because you also get away from all the college marketing hoopla. College students can be completely real and help your child get the scoop on it all.

Meet with Faculty and Staff

Meeting with faculty and staff is one of those things that can make a kid die a thousand deaths, as you probably already know. Talking to a financial aid guru, faculty member or other staff member can be terrifying for a 17-year-old high school student. This is one of those times when your child may never say, “Mom, I need you,” but he does! 

“Faculty members can really give students that level of comfort that someone in enrollment might not know about the details in the area of study and success stories. Faculty are huge resources of finding the right fit. That’s what it’s all about for students — finding the right fit,” Dealy says.


Getting to know faculty and staff may even help college professionals “look out” for you during the college search. Here’s an example. When I worked in the admission office, a professor decided to collect money from other faculty and staff to offer up scholarships for deserving students. He amassed an impressive amount — enough to offer students an extra $1,000 to their aid awards. 

He asked admission counselors for the names of who they thought deserved the scholarships the most. I very vividly remember him asking me about the students in my territory.

Naturally, the students who knew our admission counselors best received the scholarships because they’d gone through the trouble of building relationships with them. Obviously, this is a super-specific example and doesn’t happen at every college, but do you see how there could be far-reaching benefits for students and families?

Know Your Student’s Admission Counselor

Getting to know admission and financial aid is a good place to start, says Dealy.

“Based on the people I’ve met in the enrollment industry, we want to be resources and advocates, help students thrive, help them find the right fit and go out in the world and be successful. We believe that all students can do that and we want to help them along on their journeys,” Dealy says.


Get in Touch for All the Right Reasons

So here’s the other thing. When you’re “fishing,” you want to be sure you’re fostering genuine relationships with college contacts. This isn’t a good approach: “Let’s make friends with key people at colleges just so they go above and beyond to help us.” 

It’s got to be genuine and sincere, because, if anything, you’re teaching your child how to be a really nice person. The best relationships are reciprocal friendships — each party gets something out of it. Yes, college representatives are “hitting goals” by getting your child to attend their colleges. But most really, really want to recruit graduates — students who will enroll, love the experience and graduate to be proud alumni.

One Promising Way to Make the College Search Exceptional

Here it is, the secret to creating a rich experience: Build relationships during the college search. 

Building relationships will transform you and your child’s college search experience.

Some days, you may think your high school student flat-out has no desire to build relationships with anyone. You may even go as far as to feel sorry for anyone at a college who’s trying to recruit your kid. After all, when’s the last time you’ve seen your kiddo actually take a phone call

Your high schooler grew up with a smartphone at his or her fingertips, had Snapchat before he or she started high school and doesn’t remember the absence of the internet. Everyone knows the paralyzing effect smartphones can have on kids’ ability to communicate and build relationships. (But that’s another topic for another day.)

I remember when admission counselors called my house during high school — they actually called our landline. My parents or brother and sister would yell for me, I’d answer the phone and talk to the admission counselor on the other end of the phone. Crazy, huh?

Nowadays, this happens a lot: Admission counselors who call and text high school students get radio silence in return. Email — might as well forget about it.

But making friends during the college search can have lasting benefits and I’m going to challenge you to help your child do that. Can you and your teen build relationships with as many people as possible during the college search?

It’s so worth it, I promise.

Building Relationships is Key

Okay, so all of this begs the question: Why is it so important to know people, what with so many online research options at your child’s fingertips? 

I’d like to point out one simple thing: Your child is going to have to interact with people during college. The beautiful buildings and nice residence halls don’t really care whether your child likes his professors or whether his work-study supervisor is a kind person. The people make a college experience extraordinary, not the six rock-climbing walls or chocolate pie in the cafeteria.

Meeting people, building relationships and fostering those friendships even after the college search can be transformational. Here are some examples of powerful connections I witnessed at the college where I worked: 

  • Our vice president for enrollment management hosted Thanksgiving at her home several years in a row and invited students she connected with during their college search. (Their hometowns were too far away for them to travel home for a long weekend.)
  • Admission counselors arranged to have dinner with families of students they recruited whenever they were recruiting in the area.
  • The assistant director of financial aid connected with students during the first week of classes to make sure they were thriving. She always encouraged the students to see her whenever they needed something, whether they needed school supplies or even a home-cooked meal.

I talked with the fantastic Anna Dealy, associate director of advancement communication at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts. She used to work in enrollment at a private liberal arts college. “I had a territory that was a little further away. I met this student and she was a rockstar throughout the admission process and I got to know her and her family. On move-in day, I made it a point to meet with her on campus and welcome her to our community. There’s so much value in making sure people who come from further away have someone they can reach out to,” Dealy says. 

She made it a point to keep up with the student throughout her four years at the college, too. Dealy says it was great to keep up with her life at the college, her studies and hear about her extracurricular activities. 

“A few years later, I went out to visit her high school and it was great to talk to her guidance counselor and tell her about the things that the student was doing on campus. The mom even met me at the school to bring me Chick-fil-A. It was so nice to meet her mom!” Dealy added.

This is exactly what I mean.

Ways Relationships Can Sustain Kids During the College Search and Beyond

Whether your student’s a sophomore or junior in high school, it’s never too early to start building those friendships for later. Here’s how these connections can bloom.

They Can Guide You and Your Child During the College Search Process 

When you trust someone from the college you’re looking into, it can really help solidify a decision. For example, let’s say you meet your daughter’s admission counselor, Jessi, who is absolutely awesome. You have an easy camaraderie, and every time your daughter needs something, you say, “Email Jessi! She’ll know the answer.” 

Employees (Should!) Embody the Mission of the College or University

The employees you meet are representative of everything the college stands for. Colleges and universities rely on their mission, values and branding guidelines to carry on through their employees. Most employees uphold these standards. Since you can’t meet every single person on a campus during the college search, you can reasonably assume that most of the college embodies these characteristics.

When Push Comes to Shove, You Might Need Some Help with the Decision 

Building relationships with people everywhere means your son or daughter will have trusted individuals at each college on his or her shortlist, which will help when it’s time to make a decision. 

What do you do when your son says, “I’m not sure I want to go 1,000 miles away from home!”  

What’s your first thought? Yep: “Let’s pick up the phone. Jessi can help.” 

You’ll Know Your Child is in Trusted Hands

It’s scary and emotional to drop your 18-year-old off at a college on move-in day. (I know, understatement of the year.) But if there’s one small spark of comfort, it’s knowing that your child is going to a really good place.

You can feel good about sending your high schooler off to the right college because of the genuine relationships you’ve built. 

Your Child Can Go to that Person for Anything Throughout College — and Beyond

Dealy added a personal touch to admission counseling. “It was so important to me to meet with students who came from further away to have a resource on campus. They were all given my cellphone number and knew they could reach out to me if they had questions,” she said. 

Here’s another scenario: Let’s say you and your child meet a coach during the college visit and you know intuitively that that person will be instrumental in your student-athlete’s life. The wrestling coach at my college was like that. Student-athletes adored him and he continues to remain a powerful figure in their lives for years after college.

Dealy says it’s great for networking, too. “You never know who you could be connected to or be in touch with, whether it’s someone at the institution or an alumnus or a friend in the same field. I think networking is really important. The other thing is just to have a resource. Someone who you know you can ask anything of,” says Dealy.

Build Friendships Throughout the College Process

Do you think you can build communication and trust between parents, students and college employees? Can you and your child talk to every single person you meet during a college visit? Why not try?

Build relationships during the college search for lasting benefits — but you and your child must both reciprocate. Reach out. Email. Call. Make those connections! 

As a parent, you’ll be glad you built those friendships during the college search, Dealy says.

“I think it gives parents a sense of comfort when they’re sending their students off to college. You’re trusting that institution and the people you’ve met. It can help them feel confident sending your student to a brand-new place on his or her own and find an environment that’s right for their student,” says Dealy.

Well said.

Why Building Relationships Must (MUST!) Happen During the College Search

When I was an admission counselor, one of the most challenging parts of my job was building relationships with high schoolers.

I remember contacting a particular student for months. I’d talked to his parents a handful of times and they said he was really interested in the college I worked for — he’d applied and everything. I texted, emailed and social media-ed. In a last-ditch attempt, I even called his cell. (What teenager answers his phone?) 

I never heard from him. In fact, he remained elusive to everyone at the college. Finally, he visited in March, barely talked throughout our meeting but ended up enrolling.

It’s so important for kids to develop relationships during the college search process — and it’s a good idea for parents to do the same! It can work wonders for their college search and help your child hone in on the right college match. 

Why? Building relationships allows you to get an idea of the character of the people at that school — and that’s just one reason why building relationships is a must-do. 

Why it’s Important to Build Relationships During the College Search 

Jessica Quintana Hess, director of admissions at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, says, “Families sometimes think, ‘We have all the information we need on the internet. Why do we have to talk to anyone?'”

She says there’s real value in building relationships with the admission staff, financial aid office, coaches and more. She says that, unfortunately, students often don’t take advantage of that or think that the colleges should only exist to serve them. Think of it this way, though. How can an admission counselor help you if he or she doesn’t know what you need?

“Relationship building can help you in the admission process, but if you’re not giving me anything, I can’t advocate for you,” she says.

Building relationships can:

  • Help those at colleges do active work on your child’s behalf. So, what I mean by this is that people at the college can advocate for your child, go the extra step and help your kiddo with whatever he needs. Quintana Hess shared this story with me:

    She says a young man enrolled at another college (not Lycoming) and got into a bit of trouble during his pre-orientation sessions. He could have stayed at the college but didn’t feel comfortable there anymore. He reached out to Quintana Hess because he had applied to Lycoming. She says he ended up enrolling because she was willing to give him a chance.

    “If we hadn’t built a relationship when he was an applicant, he wouldn’t have felt comfortable coming to me,” she says. “I get Christmas cards from his family every year,” she adds.
  • Cement relationships for down the road. This process is all about finding the match, right? You want to find the right place for your child — and that means interacting with the actual people at the college. Not the buildings online or the list of classes. The college experience is about the people.  
  • Help your child learn about opportunities. You hear about the heart and soul of an institution from the people who work there. You’ll find out how the robotics instructor hosts dinner at his own home or how the journalism professor stays up till all hours of the night to help students put the finishing touches on a fantastic article.

How to Start Building Relationships with Colleges

There are so many people you could start building relationships with — even before your student arrives on campus. There are three key individuals you’ll want to build a relationship with, plus, one more.

Admission Counselor 

The admission counselor’s job is to build relationships with you, particularly if you’re looking at a small private liberal arts college. Even if your son or daughter is looking at a state school, it’s still a great idea to build that relationship. 

How do you know who your admission counselor is at each school your child is interested in? Great question. 

All it takes is a little poking around on the internet. The country is typically divided up into a giant jigsaw puzzle. Just click on your area and you’ll find your admission counselor.

Coaches (Including Assistant Coaches)

Coaches want to get to know your child, obviously. Your child definitely wants to get to know coaches, too. Just don’t overlook getting to know assistant coaches. They’ll be able to answer a lot of questions that the head coach might not know, including about different aspects of team dynamics.

Definitely build a relationship with players every time you and your child is on campus. Have lunch with team members. Have your child do an overnighter. Make sure your student feels 100 percent comfortable with the team.

Financial Aid Professionals

Financial aid professionals are VIPs. Who else holds the key to knowing everything about institutional scholarships, the FAFSA, grants, work-study, loans and more?

Always make an appointment with the financial aid office when you visit any school. It may not even be an offered option online, so call and ask for an appointment.

School College Counselor

Right, school counselors aren’t at colleges. However, this is a great person for you and your child to get to know at her high school. School counselors can clue your child in on scholarships, connect her with must-know people in the community (scholarship opportunities!) and help navigate the college search.

They wield tremendous power. A dozen cookies and weekly drop-ins from your student will go a long way.

How to Build Relationships

You may know exactly how to build relationships, but your kiddo might not have any idea. Kids spend hours each day engaging with ideas and one another through screens, but do they have good practice honing their interpersonal communication skills?

I noticed this when I greeted hundreds of high school kids over the years — they just don’t know how to talk to adults.

Some parents are whizzes at teaching their kids to interact with adults. I’m always impressed when I say “Hi” to kids and they look me right in the eye, shake my hand and engage in simple small talk. 

Teaching kids how to do this gives them a lifelong advantage — I repeat — a lifelong advantage! They’ll be able to ask questions in college, do better in college, and succeed in college! They can sell themselves in job interviews after college (see the theme here?)

Now’s as good a time as any to encourage your child to start learning how to do this, especially if you know it’s kind of difficult for him. 

Fortunately, you can start small. Building relationships with colleges happens in more ways than one. You can:  

  • Email
  • Call
  • Text
  • Communicate via social media
  • Conference calls 
  • One-on-one meetings

And more! (I think the COVID-19 crisis will give admission offices even more ideas about how to communicate with students throughout the year.)

So, knowing there are lots of ways to communicate with colleges, I think it’s worth mentioning what your son or daughter can practice.

You want firm handshakes, eye contact and more when he or she interacts with adults — yes, even if your child is naturally shy. Here are some things you can work on.

Initiate Contact

Teach your high schooler that it’s a great idea to initiate contact with an admission counselor. Trust me, guys, I was an admission counselor for years and admission counselors are hungry to hear from your child. It’s the best day ever to open up an email from an interested student or get a text that says, “Hey! I’m interested in your college. Can you tell me more?”  

Trust me, most admission counselors will fall all over themselves to answer your child’s email or text.

Respond to Questions

The only way to get better talking freely with adults is to practice. Even among peers, is your child uncomfortable responding to questions or never pipes up in a group setting? It’s okay to be shy, but encourage your child to contribute if he or she is burning to say something. It’s a great idea to practice doing this among friend groups first, then translate it to adults. 

On the other hand, your kiddo may find it super easy to interact with peers, but not with adults at all. Encourage your child to practice. Say “Hi” to people at church, have her call up for pizza delivery. Ask your daughter to make her own appointment to get her hair cut — over the phone, not online.

Then work up to calling someone in the admission office to get information. Even better, have her set up a college visit. That’ll require a dexterous blend of having to schedule, coordinate and make decisions. Great practice! 

Sustain Conversations

Teach your child how to keep a conversation going and more importantly, be sincere in the questions he’s asking.

Gah, it can be such a thing to teach a high schooler how to have a conversation that’s not one-sided. Kids are so used to adults talking and asking the questions — do kids ever practice asking the questions? No. Teach him the art of the open-ended question.

A good suggestion is to talk about the things your child is passionate about — sports, hobbies, goals, dreams. A college professional always wants to hear about a kid’s goals and dreams. It’s what they live for!

I remember a 30-year-old nontraditional student I talked to in the admission office who had a dream to still go to medical school. At 30! I was entranced by his story — I could have listened to it all day.

Admission professionals lap that stuff up. Make sure your child knows how to talk about his goals.

Practice it Yourself

You may cringe if you notice that your child doesn’t interact well with adults.

But what are your own habits? Do you go out of your way to make small talk with strangers at the grocery store or waiters at a restaurant, or do you just exchange acceptable pleasantries and nothing more?

Your child picks up social cues from you. Remember that.

Continued Communication

When people like you, they want to continue chatting with you! The best thing you can do is have your child continue to stay in contact with prospective schools for an entire year. (Yes! A whole year!)

If your child’s no longer interested in a particular school, it’s important that he tells them. Reach out to admission counselors to let them know they no longer need to recruit your child.

(It can be frustrating for admission staff to have to keep reaching out blindly because they have no idea your child’s no longer interested.) 

Have your child send an email or text to the admission counselor to let them know they’ve chosen a different college.

Start Building Relationships Now

Don’t waste any time! Start building relationships with everyone you can at all colleges, whether your child is a sophomore or senior. Make sure your student does, too. It’ll serve your child well later.

7 Top Ways to Support Your High School Senior or Junior During COVID-19

Your high school senior, junior or sophomore may not be thrilled about his or her new circumstances. “What do you mean, nobody knows when coronavirus will end?” 

Sound familiar?

I talked with a colleague last week whose son, a junior in high school, was signed up for the April ACT. He had a lengthy meeting planned with his guidance counselor about his senior year schedule. Plus, he had two college visits scheduled for March and one in April. 

Another friend’s daughter was set to make her college decision by May 1. She was looking forward to spending time with her friends during these last weeks and going to her best friends’ graduation parties.

As a parent, you may feel grief — the loss of things that will never be. No high school for the rest of the year, no springtime college visits, no graduation ceremony. 

Your son or daughter may feel it, too. Now’s a good time to check in on everyone’s mental health. Here’s how to make sure your high schooler handles all of it well, follows the rules and manages to learn on top of everything else.

1. Make sure social distancing happens. 

Yep, first things first. Teenagers may have a hard time wrapping their heads around COVID, never mind social distancing. High schoolers may developmentally have a difficult time “seeing” the temporary aspects of COVID-19 and envisioning a better future.

Again, social distancing. How many times have you had to explain to your child he can’t hang out in the basement with his usual group of friends?

It’s important not to minimize kids’ frustrations about not seeing friends. Jen DiSessa, parent of T.J., a sophomore, and Will, a freshman, says it’s also important to recognize that all kids are wired to have interactions in the real world, not just in technical spaces. “My boys are pretty anti-social,” she says. “That being said, my oldest told me the other day he needed to see someone he wasn’t related to in person, not on a screen. I think we forget that no matter how anti-social some can be.”

2. Support remote learning efforts if your child’s high school requires them.

It’s easy to back off trying to help with U.S. history after the first snarky, “I can do it myself!” (How do homeschool parents do it?) 

Helping with online and virtual learning may never have been in your playbook, but it’s not in your child’s, either. Your child’s probably not super comfortable with a complete switch to remote learning after more than 10 years in a classroom. 

Continue to offer your support, even if you think it isn’t appreciated.

“As much as our kids don’t ask for in-person communication, they certainly do need it,” says DiSessa. “They want others to experience these things with them!”

3. Continue extracurricular activities — if it’s feasible.

It may be heartbreaking to realize that the state track meet isn’t going to happen this year. Or that a soccer season is over before it even began. (Especially if you expected college coaches to witness the end of your child’s lofty high school athletic career.) 

Is it possible to continue certain extracurricular activities? For example, maybe your daughter’s a thriving musician and she can continue her saxophone lessons on Zoom with her private tutor.

“Our daughter plays both tennis, softball and is also a musician. We have kept her active by continuing her private lessons in tennis and softball, and online piano lessons will begin this week,” says Lisa Knipe, mom to Molly, a freshman in high school. “It’s important to keep life moving in a forward motion so that when students are allowed to return to school and sports, they are prepared,” she adds.

Do what you can to keep things going. Help your child make conditioning, rehearsing and more happen while social distancing. (Hopefully, that doesn’t mean converting the basement to a full-blown workout facility!)

4. Encourage being flexible and adaptable.

Your child’s used to being in a regular classroom every day. He loves kidding around with other students, challenging his teachers and stuffing his face with six PB&Js at lunch.

Now, he’s been locked out of his teachers’ Google Drive documents eight times and has to learn how to use Zoom. To add insult to injury, he must be a teensy bit more motivated to complete some assignments without teacher lecture. 

Now’s a great time for a big life lesson: Change happens. has a great line for your kiddo if he’s willing to hear your advice: Open yourself up to learn different ways of doing things and learning. The more you gain confidence in uncertainty, the more adaptable you will be.

Believe it or not, lessons learned during COVID-19 can help during college and in the workplace. (How’s that for a silver lining?)

5. Help your junior (or sophomore) plan.

The only thing that sophomores and juniors need to hear right now is that it’s okay that the college search has ground to a halt. It’s a good idea to talk through a few things you know for sure. Juniors and sophomores will experience:

  • Delayed standardized test-taking. (ACT switched its April 4 test date to June 13 and the May 2 SAT is canceled.) 
  • A drastic change in college visit timing.
  • Curriculum and extracurricular activities will get stuffed into the next academic year.
  • Possible changes in early decision and early action deadlines for colleges. (This only applies to your rising high school senior.) Not sure what these mean? Here it is, quick:
    • Early decision is a binding agreement. This means your son or daughter must attend his or her top-choice college particular. Your high school senior would traditionally apply to that school around November — but that could change with COVID-19.
    • Early action plans are not binding. Your son or daughter would traditionally get an early response to his or her application around January or February but traditionally would not have to commit to a college until the following May 1.

Let’s shift to the positives. 

  • It’s a great time to start making a plan. Ask your child what he or she wants in a college. Which colleges and needs are on your child’s wishlist?
  • Your son or daughter can start applying for scholarships. The College Board offers a scholarship search tool you can look at together.
  • Check out virtual visits. So many sites have them right now! Keep mind that these images are the best a college has to offer. They’ll only show you their most beautiful buildings. You should always visit in person later.

What other foreseeable changes can you pinpoint for your child? Discuss these changes together and how you’ll approach them later on.

6. Help your high school senior navigate. There’s no rulebook here!

If you’re the parent of a high school senior, you might think you have a bit of a mess on your hands. Your child should have been finalizing a college decision by May 1. Patience is a good approach right now.

Carnegie Dartlet’s survey of 4,848 high school students showed that admission offices haven’t all extended the traditional May 1 deposit deadline. However, 67% of students surveyed say they want an extension, at least until June 1.

Most colleges should be in direct communication with you with decisions that impact the fall semester. If you haven’t heard anything from a particular school, reach out to your child’s admission counselor at that school to learn more. Here is a short list of things that you and your senior may want to talk about:

  • Do you both still feel comfortable with your child’s No. 1 choice or do you need to wait?
  • Summer orientation plans: What’s the college’s stance?
  • What’s happening with your college savings (or sudden lack thereof)?

7. Talk about the financial implications.

The media’s done nothing but talk about how the stock market has plunged. You don’t have to look far to see it in your 401(k) and your kiddo’s 529 plan. Your child may not understand that this means COVID-19 could affect your ability to pay for college. Talk about this together.

Thomas Hayes, chairman of Great Hill Capital in New York, says there’s a bright spot on the horizon. “Balanced portfolios may take a hit in the short term, but if you look out 12-24 months, we are looking for a strong recovery,” says Hayes. “The government learned from the last financial crisis and rather than waiting for things to break before stepping in, they have already provided up to $7 trillion of aid and liquidity to fill what is projected to be a $1 to $2 trillion contraction in growth.  This too shall pass and we may wind up better than expected on the other side.”

Even so, all colleges have heaps of families all in the same boat. How will colleges be able to meet families’ ever-pressing needs?

Colleges are still trying to iron out their responses.

Ask the financial aid office or admission counselor at your child’s top choice whether the college will revisit your financial aid award to meet increased levels of need. After all, a job loss or drastic income shift isn’t reflected in your current FAFSA information.

Offer Support and Love

This time is stressful for you. Whether you realize it or not, it may be even more stressful for your high schooler. Make sure you’re checking in with each other. Everyone’s in this together — you, your child, the high school and the college he or she will (soon!) attend.

How to Write a Scholarship Thank You Letter Step-by-Step

Good for you for wanting to write a scholarship letter — or, if you’re a parent who wants your kiddo to write a letter — good job on asking him or her to write a scholarship thank you. 

Scholarships can be a saving grace — in some cases, college, trade school grad school — might be impossible without one (or two or three).

Here’s how to pen the perfect message.

Why write a scholarship thank you letter?

Lots of companies, organizations and other entities give scholarships — and individuals do, too. You might not think that a faceless corporation would get a kick out of receiving a scholarship letter, but that’s just not true.

Let’s say you write to the board of directors and profusely thank them for your generosity, and you just might earn yourself more scholarships in the future. Maybe you find that a particular scholarship is renewable.

But it’s more than that. It’s more than just about what’s in it for you — it’s about building relationships with people and making a real human connection with someone or a group of people who has (excitedly!) proven their generosity.

When to write a scholarship thank you letter

You might think you only need to write a scholarship letter once you receive a scholarship. However, it’s a good idea to write a scholarship letter during any part of the scholarship process:

  • Immediately after you interview for a scholarship
  • After you do alumni interviews for admission to a particular college
  • Once you audition for a scholarship (music, theatre, etc.)
  • Once you’re evaluated in any way for a scholarship

In other words, anytime you actively do something to try to nab a scholarship, you need to thank someone for it. 

Here’s a quick scenario. You interview for a business scholarship at a college with a professor that you know you’ll have in class someday. You send a thank you note and the professor sends an email back. The professor remembers you from the interview and gives you the scholarship because of your stellar interview — and who knows? Maybe because of your thank you note, too.

Furthermore, let’s say a college gives you a giant merit-based scholarship. Sure, it might seem like they give those to lots of students (liberal arts colleges often give out large merit-based scholarships to bring down their tuition costs) but consider this. Maybe you send a hand-written note to the admission counselor and lo and behold, another scholarship is available later — and since you’re such a kind, caring student, they recommend you for the scholarship first.

How should my scholarship letter sound?

Your letter should take on a formal tone. The type of letter you send will convey how formal it is — a typed letter is way more formal than a hand-written card or email. It’s a good idea to err on the side of formal when you’re writing a scholarship thank you letter.

You may want to consider a formal letter once you’ve interviewed for a scholarship or when you’ve received a scholarship. On the other hand, you might want to pen a handwritten thank you note to an admission counselor for your visit to campus (this is another great thank you opportunity!).

Steps you can take to write a formal scholarship thank you letter

Let’s walk through the steps so you’ll know exactly what you’ll need to do — but don’t copy the one we include below word-for-word. Add your own touch — and maybe even a little pizzazz.

Step 1: Check the name of the recipients, write the salutation and first paragraph.

Here’s what you’ll need to collect before you get started: 

  • The first and last name of the donor or organization that’s giving you a scholarship. Double-check — no, triple-check! — the spelling of any names. Quadruple check!
  • The name of the scholarship. Again, make sure you’re spelling it right.
  • The address, city, state and zip code of the scholarship donors.

Your salutation should start with “Dear” — no ifs, ands or buts. If you feel at all the desire to write “Hey” or “Whazzup” at the beginning of a scholarship letter, squish it immediately. You’re writing a formal thank you. 

Your intro doesn’t have to be boring, though most letters you’ll see start with, “I’m writing to thank you for your generous scholarship.” Bland, huh? You can get a bit more creative than that, but remember — always start with the purpose of your letter.

Step 2: Write the second paragraph.

Get a little friendly here — if you didn’t in the first paragraph. First, talk about yourself a little more. Maybe you’re into martial arts or dance. Maybe you play the bari sax in your school band — scholarship donors are real people who want to know who you are. Explain why the donor’s investment means so much to you.

Can you think of other things to add? Of course you can. Make it memorable. If you did an interview with that person, add a personal touch, such as “I really enjoyed hearing you talk about your love of Shakespeare in my interview. We recently performed Hamlet at the community little theatre and I played Ophelia.”

Step 3: Write the conclusion.

Finally, you’ll want to end with a robust thank you and a promise to honor the donor’s or donors’ investments. This is the time to make your donor feel good and laud them with phrases like, “I wouldn’t be able to continue my education without you.” 

Step 4: Add the closing and sign your name.

You’ll also need a complimentary close to sign off your letter. Use “Sincerely,” “Best wishes” or “All the best” for the closing. “Thanks a bunch,” probably doesn’t strike quite the right vibe.

Next, actually sign your letter — don’t just type your name. You’ll type your name under your signature.

Put it all together

Now that you’ve digested all of that, let’s put all the parts together. 

[Date] — be sure to write this out like this: October 25, 2019
[Mr. or Mrs. First and Last Name of Donor or Name of Organization ] 
[Name of Scholarship] 
[City, State, Zip]

Dear [Donor Name or Organization Name],

First paragraph: Explain why you’re writing your letter.

Thanks so much for choosing me to be your [Name of scholarship] scholarship recipient. I was so excited when I got your letter in the mail!

Second paragraph: Talk a little bit about yourself and explain why the letter means so much to you.

I’m a ballet dancer and a travel enthusiast (my grandparents have taken me to 26 countries around the world). My love of travel has spurred me to learn two other languages — French and Spanish. 

I’m planning to major in English and get either a business management or a communication studies minor. I really want to be a journalist someday — and my major goal is to write for The New York Times. I plan to write for my college newspaper, but I’m not quite sure which school I’m attending yet. I’ll be sure to make a decision soon, after I wrap up a couple more college visits. 

Third paragraph:  Wrap it up and thank the person or organization again and explain that you’re going to “take good care of” the donor’s investment.

This scholarship helps me achieve my dreams of becoming a journalist and I’m so thankful to you to help make that happen. I hope one day I’ll be able to pay it forward and help another student in need.


[Sign your name here]
[Your name] 
[City, State, Zip]

Wait — What about the envelope?

Put your letter in a #10 business envelope with a Z-fold (YouTube it if you’re not sure what that means — it means that you’ll fold your letter once and then back again). 

Write your address in the upper left-hand corner. You might be wondering if it’s okay to handwrite this part. It sure is. 

Put your recipient’s name, the name of the organization and address in the center of the envelope. Finally, put a stamp in the upper right-hand corner. Your letter shouldn’t be overly thick because it’ll just have one sheet of paper in it — so you should only need one Forever stamp.

Write the best possible scholarship letter

One question you might be wondering: How long does this thing have to be? Luckily, not long. A scholarship letter can be just three short paragraphs like the one above — but make an effort to be sincerely thankful and try your hardest to make a connection, just like you would if you were sharing a handshake and thanking the donor in person. 

You might not know your donor’s name right off the bat if the scholarship is coming from an organization. However, do your best to find the name of the person in charge, such as the CEO of the organization that’s giving you the scholarship. It’s much better to put a person’s name on the letter rather than sending it to a large corporation — you wouldn’t want your efforts to be wasted.

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