4 Tips to Navigate the College Selection Process with Your Child

It's never too early to start the conversation about college with your child. What are some things that you as a parent can do with your child without completely taking over the college admissions and selection process? Here are some tips on how parents can support their child as he or she makes this significant decision about his or her academic future.

1. Work together on setting a timetable.

As your child considers applying to different colleges, it's best to set up a timeline to keep track of important dates. Some important dates include scheduling ACT or SAT tests, college application deadlines, and financial aid deadlines. It's helpful for your child to create "internal" deadlines for himself or herself, such as deadlines to finish a first draft of a personal statement or deadlines to reach out to personal references. Often, this process may feel overwhelming, so being a calm and supportive voice can really help your child navigate these important dates. Here are some words of warning: don't be a nag, and don't get frustrated at your child. As you help your child apply to college, you're also helping your child achieve independence, which will serve him or her later as he or she moves off to college.

2. Help your child figure out what he or she would like (i.e., visit colleges).

Your child may not yet have a firm idea yet of what kinds of colleges he or she would like to go to, so it's best to expand his or her horizons by visiting a few college campuses together. Ideally, you can schedule a trip during your family vacation, like during a holiday or break. While there, schedule a tour with the campus staff, and also spend some time exploring the campus on your own. Take the time to talk to current students, visit the dining halls and local eateries, audit a lecture together, and just get an overall feel for the campus environment. As you and your family explore the campus, your child may begin to get a firmer grasp of what he or she likes and doesn’t like in an ideal campus. Let your child direct this time, and don't take charge. Allow him or her to take the initiative. This kind of hands-on experience will be helpful as your child plans out what kinds of colleges he or she would like to apply to.

3. Talk finances. Don't wait until your child receives acceptance letters to talk about finances with him or her.

Giving your child a realistic view of your family's finances and what you are able to contribute to is necessary for your child to make a wise decision about his or her future. Do you have a college savings plan, or will your child need to take out loans? Does your child know about work-study options? Knowing your family's financial situation can influence where your child will apply. It would also be helpful for your child to be aware of finances so that he or she can begin looking into scholarships and grants earlier, rather than later, in his or her academic career.

4. Listen and provide guidance, but don't take charge.

One thing that you can help do as a parent is to review your child's applications before they are submitted. Your child may need some help in determining what essay topic to write about or what kinds of things to highlight in the application. Sometimes, all your child needs is that outside perspective to help identify those strengths, so be his or her sounding board and hear out his or her thoughts. However, do not write essays for your child or majorly edit down his or her essays. Your child’s voice needs to be conveyed in the application, not your voice, so be sure to take a step back.

Navigating college applications can feel overwhelming and exciting at the same time. Overall, enjoy spending the time with your child as you figure out his or her future together, especially before her or she finally moves out! Need more resources on the college planning process? Check out our other blog posts on related topics: Tips on Saving for College for Parents, College Application Tips for High School Students Taking Virtual Classes, and 10 Fast Facts to Help Parents Fill Out the FAFSA!