How to choose a college may be the only thing on your kiddo’s mind! As a parent, you might be exhausted by the college search. The ACT or SAT prep, the dozens of college visits, the comparing and contrasting financial aid awards — you may be ready for your kiddo to make a decision, already. But he or she just might not know.
You’ve probably been a part of conversations with other parents at soccer games, after school, at barbecues: “So-and-so’s going to College XYZ.”
You know the implied question: “Where’s your kid going?” or, “Why hasn’t he decided?”
Here’s a quick guide to March, April and May and some tips to help your child figure out how to choose a college.
March feels like the start of the end of high school, doesn’t it? Spring athletic practices have started, high schools are gearing up for the last curriculum burst — plus, you can see graduation looming on your calendar. (Cue the waterworks — it’ll be over before you know it!)
Here’s what you can be doing in March if your child still hasn’t decided what college he’d like to attend.
- Make sure you have all your financial aid awards. Count ’em up! Are you missing a key award from a particular school? Call the financial aid office at that college and find out when you should be getting it. Maybe there’s been an oversight. You could have forgotten to submit the FAFSA code for that particular school or the college may still need some information from you. Note: Financial aid awards can be sent any time of the year, particularly now that FAFSAs can be filed in October. Don’t misplace the financial aid award from a liberal arts college sent to your kiddo way back in November! And remember, colleges may send the financial aid award letter via email, mail or both.
- Pore over those aid awards. It goes without saying, but the next thing you’ll need to do is compare and contrast each financial aid award in detail. Remember — there’s more to the college decision than simply choosing the cheapest option. Weigh all the factors — yes, even factors like which college has the best fishing club. Where will your child thrive? (Sometimes you know it before he or she does.)
- Discuss waitlisting. Let’s say your child’s waitlisted at College ABC. Would he or she be just as happy attending College XYZ instead? Find out when the final decision will be released — but in the meantime, review all options.
- Selected for verification? Don’t sweat it. This is a federal process, kind of like an IRS audit. It means you’re asked to submit additional documentation to prove the validity of your FAFSA. Respond quickly so you get your final financial aid award.
- Don’t stop looking for scholarships. Okay, this really doesn’t have much to do with making a final decision, but it’s a valid spring tip. Scholarships abound! Look online, have your child check with his or her guidance counselor, ask around. Do what you can to apply for scholarships — everywhere.
It’s April. You may get a teensy bit more nervous because your kiddo hasn’t decided. In fact, maybe he’s not having any fun talking about his college search at the dinner table anymore. “I’ll decide when I’m ready!” he snaps. What now? Ease up — you may just have to backtrack a bit.
- Have a conversation when your child is open to it. Review your pros and cons list from each school. There’s a reason he liked College ABC during the college search — remind him of that professor with
the quirkypersonality. Remind him that the Division III coach from College ABC calls him every few days to check in.
- Visit again! Yes, why not make the trek to several schools all over again? Your kiddo’s hit with so much information (some of it’s not accurate), friend influences (definitely not always accurate!) and more. He or she may be trying to wade through a sea of confusion. Call the admission office and set up another tour, talk with an admission counselor, financial aid officer, professor, coach and more.
- Take it one step further. Set up an overnight visit. This could be the clincher for your student. If you need to set up a couple of overnight visits, go for it. The overnighter gives your student a sense of what the people are like — and ultimately, clues your child into whether he or she can “see” him or herself living, taking classes and eating in the cafeteria at a particular school.
- Acknowledge that this is a tough decision. In fact, it might be the most difficult decision your child has ever had to make! Sympathize, and if you can, get him or her to talk about his fears, frustrations and why he or she is excited. You may be able to share a few of your feelings about the
college search, too.
May is Decision Month! And for some, it’s graduation month! Whether you’re still in the “How did that happen?” stage or you’re in more of a “Let’s do this!” mindset, here’s what you can do in May if your child still struggles to make a decision.
- Tell your child that May 1 is the National Candidate Reply Date. Most schools adhere to the National Candidate Reply Date of May 1, unless your student is admitted under a binding early decision program. This means that a college cannot pressure you to decide on a college prior to May 1 unless you’ve committed to a college early decision. It’s outlined under the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practices. This doesn’t mean your child must decide at the stroke of midnight on May 1. But it’s a good idea to encourage this date as the final deadline.
- Do the heart/gut test. Now that it’s time to make a final decision, sit your student down and find out his instinctual response to a few schools. What’s in his heart? Sometimes it can’t be explained — one school just feels right. Your child may be feeling conflicted because he knows that College ABC has a better biology program — that is, it’s produced a larger number of podiatrists (or whatever!) — but he feels more at home at College XYZ. You may have had no idea he felt that way — but cheer anyway! — because you’re finally getting somewhere.
- Have your son or daughter connect with an influencer. You know those influencers — the ones who make you go “Wow!” when you meet with them on campus. Maybe it’s the college chaplain, the art history professor or an admission counselor. Set up a phone call or one-on-one meeting with that person. Be heartfelt and honest — explain that your child is having trouble making his decision and he needs one more person in his corner. A successful meeting will most likely make a difference! This journey is about building relationships! The minute your child feels wanted at one school over another, it’ll make a world of difference.
How to Choose a College in the Spring
The best thing you can do as a parent? Remind yourself:
- If your child is meant to go to college, he’ll eventually decide! He will — even if he changes his mind 100 times in the process.
- Acknowledge that it’s a tough decision. Your child may need a dose of patience and understanding. Try to caution others to give him or her space, too. He may not appreciate his best friend’s dad hounding him every other day about the college search.
- It’s all about relationships. All of it. It’s not about the college with the sparkliest building, the internship success percentages, the number of students who get into medical school. It’s about where your child will be encouraged, challenged (in a good way!) and ultimately, succeed and be happy.
- Try not to compare your child’s journey with anyone else’s. We all make decisions on our own terms. Try to remember a time when you took forever to make a decision — like which house to buy, which car to purchase, which city to land in. Grown-up decisions are hard. Be proud that your child is thinking things through.
Reflect on the past few months! Whether it’s been an amazing college search process or stressful, haven’t you learned a lot?