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So your rising senior is getting ready to make a life changing college decision?
Let me start by saying, congratulations. And if yours isn’t going the college route, that’s perfectly acceptable. It’s not for everyone. For this article, I’ll be walking through what I believe is a useful strategy one of the most important steps in making the decision of what college to attend after high school graduation. Like all other aspects of life, even this process has changed from the days when many of us too our first tours, mostly thanks to Covid.
Do your research on colleges and your rising senior
First, there are a ton of options to consider when researching the perfect school. First, there are a few items that you will need to start with:
- Is there a specific major your child wants to pursue? Not all colleges will offer a sweeping array of majors and minors. This is likely the first you’ll want to consider. If your dream school doesn’t offer what you want, then it’s a good idea to move on.
- Location – this is important for obvious reasons. Can your child cope with being 10, 20, or 30 hours away from home, or do they want to come home every weekend? The cost of tuition is a consideration but travel should be as well. Think about move-in day and how you plan to get all of your child’s “stuff” to their dorm. And yes, as a freshman, you will likely be in a dorm. This is standard practice.
- Admission standards – Everyone thinks their child is #1. Many schools have standards by which they will accept students. Minimum GPA, ACT/SAT scores, community service hours, etc. There are likely other factors that aren’t overtly spelled out on their websites but we’ll stick to the big ones.
- Cost of Tuition – Obviously this is a huge consideration. This may be the #1 topic on everyone’s mind. However, if you can’t get past the first 3 of these, then don’t ask if you can afford them. And if you make it here, think about HOW you can afford it. If you’re reading this article in May or June before your child’s high school senior year, you’re not too late to start researching and applying for scholarships and grants. There is an endless amount of money out there to help pay for your child’s education. Start finding them now!
All of these may be no-brainers. However, this article is geared toward everyone, including parents who may not have attended college themselves. This was my particular case when I was personally searching.
Understand the motivation for your child. Are they go-getters, or less confident. These are answers you’ll need to determine on your own. But, the visits are certainly a great way to gauge their interest.
Next, after understanding your child’s goals and personality, create a list of potential colleges that they may have an interest in. Then, consider the four points above to help narrow this list down to a manageable number of potential colleges.
Schedule your college tour visits
After you’ve narrowed down your list to a manageable number of schools to look at (is 5 or 6 enough for you? It is for me), you will want to start reaching out to them to schedule your visits. These visits are critical to learning firsthand about the actual culture, amenities, climate, and size of the college. First-hand experience is worth the time. You will need to do this a month or more in advance to make sure you can get on the list.
To do this, you will need to visit the school’s website and contact the admissions office for these. Your tour will likely include groups of many other families going through the same thing. Talk to them. Make friends. You can learn a lot and share your experiences.
Example of first-hand experience; We visited Miami University and Penn State in June. Miami is roughly a third to a quarter of the size of Penn State. I was pretty surprised by this. It was also nearly twice the temperature. Can you take the heat? We live in Florida already so, for sure. If you visit a school as large as Penn State, wear comfy shoes. It’s a BIG campus and a long walk. Both have their unique amenities which we’ll cover later.
Things to watch for during your college tour
Now you’ve done your research, made your appointments, and the big day is here. The night before, make sure you have any paperwork the school requires. Also, look at the map and understand where to park. Campuses are all different. Some make you pay, some don’t. I recommend making a dry run the night before so you know exactly where you’re going. Oh, and dress for the weather…..
You’ve arrived. Everyone is nervous and you’re there early because you’re responsible and respectful. First, follow the instructions they have sent you. You’ll likely check-in and wait for all the other families to arrive. Next, it’s time for the information session…. Then the tour.
A few items to make sure you and your senior should pick up on
- Can your senior have their car on campus. How do they get around? Skateboard, bike, shoe leather highway, tram?
- How is residence life handled? How do the meal plans work?
- Is laundry free?
- You may be shown a couple of staged dorm rooms. Can you live like this and how is security managed?
- For health emergencies, is there are campus hospital?
- What are the amenities available for your child and what are the costs? Is there a local ski resort, beaches, art districts, cultural events, etc…
- Do you have to pay for atheltic events? (PSU, YES as long as tickets are available) (Miami, NOPE students get free tickets plus a guest pass)
- How are the study centers managed? Libraries and quiet areas away from your living areas.
- Accessibility to clubs and other services.
- It may be early to consider job placement, but remember, that’s only 2-4 years away. This is critical and the end game for college anyway. Keep your eye on the prize. Every decision you make is leading to that goal.
- Class sizes. Can you handle a class with 300 other kids? Or do you need a smaller feel?
- Clarify the application deadlines. Be clear on the definitions between “Early Action” and “Early Decision”.
Post College Tour Review
After your visit, you’ll have a ton of thoughts running through your head. It’s a lot to remember. Here is some advice to think about:
- Consider sleeping on it before you say “Well, what do you think?”
- Don’t always compare schools directly against each other. They are all different in their unique ways.
- You can list the pro’s and con’s of each. Make sure you list what you liked the most and didn’t like the most.
- Make sure you understand the application deadlines. Early Action and Early Decision may mean different things at different schools. Many of these are required for certain scholarship or housing considerations as early as November 1 of your senior year of high school. You don’t want to miss these dates.
College Tuition Research
I wanted to provide a separate section on this alone. as this will be the #1 concern for the majority of parents. While doing your research, you will come across tuition rates and likely extreme sticker shock in some cases. Don’t initially let these scare you off. Regardless, you will be required to fill out the FAFSA form. After this, you need to start doing your research into scholarships.
As I mentioned before, there is an endless amount of money out there available to you if you spend the time finding it at you meet the requirements. Colleges understand that this is a massive financial commitment. Many also provide paths to internal funding through their own scholarship programs. The University of Alabama is one that has many of these internal programs to help students of all financial backgrounds. The financial aid departments at each school will be able to provide you with this type of information.
Student Admission Standards
Admission standards vary by each college. Some may require a specific GPA and SAT/ACT score in combination with community service hours or something of that nature. Many colleges now are “test-optional”. This means they do not require SAT or ACT scores. PSU and Miami are both test-optional schools currently. You’re welcome to include your scores if you like. But, you don’t have to. However, this doesn’t mean you’re a shoo-in.
You will have to develop an essay to be submitted with your application. This is HUGE!!!!! Understand the requirements of the essay so you tailor it to the specific requirements of the college. Some may ask, why do you feel you’re a good fit or, what does the mascot mean to you… This is not a book report for AP English. This is the first essay of your life that means more than a letter grade. Take it seriously. There are many resources out there to help with all of these needs.
Back to SAT/ACT scores, these are not to be ignored. Many scholarships require these. Such as Florida’s Bright Futures scholarships (click the name for the link to the handbook). These could be big money! These scores, coupled with community service hours, and your weighted GPA could provide you with ALL of your financial needs for ANY college in Florida. Your state may have a similar program. Again, it’s all about the research.
Finally, I’ll leave you with this. All of the information above is just to help prepare for what’s coming. The #1 thing you can do is start early and do a lot of research and sweat equity. Then, you need to play it out. We all understand that it’s your parental duty to guide your child. However, this is ultimately a decision they have to own the majority of. At this stage, they aren’t toddlers anymore. And they are more capable than you may think.
Are you ready for this transition? Leave a comment below.
Dads, I’m sure you’ve heard your student talking about the latest mobile apps. Visit my article about mobile apps Dads must have this year. You can save yourself some time and potentially some money with a few of these. https://djduckett.com/top-7-reliable-mobile-apps-dads-must-have-in-2022/
If you have any questions, you’re welcome to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.