Over the years, you’ve tried to strike a balance between guiding your child down the right path and allowing them to make their own choices. Now it’s time to select a college. What should your role in this process look like? Surprisingly, it’s not much different than what you’ve been doing all along. Here are six ways you can help your child make a college decision that’s well-informed, yet free from parental pressure.
6. Crunch the Numbers
Like it or not, cost should be top of mind when selecting a college. Many students take out enormous loans to attend a “dream school,” only to spend the next 30 years paying them off. In fact, a full 81 percent of adults with student loans say they’ve had to delay key life milestones like buying a house, getting married, having a baby, or hitting other financial goals.
Sit down with your child to explore the cost of each college and help them find the right financial fit. Some things to consider:
- Tuition costs: Focus on the net price (tuition and fees minus grants, scholarships, and education tax benefits) of each school to determine exactly what you’ll pay.
- Financial aid: Compare the financial aid packages awarded by each college. The biggest aid package isn’t always the best, particularly if it’s composed mostly of student loans.
- Scholarships received: Find out if they are available for all four years or just the first year. Many colleges will “frontload” awards to make their offers look more attractive.
- Less obvious expenses: Factor in additional costs for travel, rent, groceries, and entertainment, if a college is far from home or located in an expensive area.
- Intended major: Students who pursue high-paying fields like engineering or business might be able to handle more debt than students pursuing lower-paid fields like teaching or social work.
- Your family’s contribution: How much can you comfortably afford to provide in support, and how much will your child be responsible for?
5. Evaluate Academic Opportunities
Before applying to each college, your child likely researched the majors available and other academic programs. Now that it’s time to make a final selection, help your child explore the full breadth and depth of each college’s offerings:
- Are there robust study abroad programs that can expand students’ worldviews and help them experience another culture or language?
- Are there accelerated programs that can help students graduate early or combine a bachelor’s and master’s degree?
- Are there programs for high-ability students (such as an honors college) that can help students take a deeper dive into their chosen fields?
- Are there plentiful co-op, internship and volunteer opportunities available in the area that can help students try on a career or get experience in the field?
- Are there research opportunities that can help students enhance problem-solving skills and increase the likelihood of getting into graduate school or landing a job?
4. Explore Student Life and Resources
Because college will be a home away from home, encourage your child to examine each institution’s physical environment and student life in detail. After all, most of their time will be spent outside the classroom! An on-campus tour is an ideal time to glean some of the following information:
- Campus vibe: Is the college a hive of activity or on the quiet side? Is the student body diverse or a bit more homogenous?
- Athletics and recreation: What kind of spectator sports are available? Are there intramural/club sports, recreation centers, fitness classes, or other activities available?
- Clubs and events: What types of student-run activities are available – academic, Greek, religious, service, special interest, recreation, and multicultural? Are there special events, such as movie nights, celebrity guest lectures, concerts, comedy shows, etc.?
- Residence halls: What types of halls are available – singles, doubles, suite-style, apartment style? Are there communities for like-minded students (same major, special interests, etc.)?
- Dining halls and restaurants: What kind of meal plans and dining halls are available? Do they accommodate special diets, such as vegan or gluten-free?
- On-site services: Does the college offer an on-campus medical clinic, pharmacy, counseling center, bank, grocery store, or other important services?
3. Consider Location
This old real estate mantra holds true even when selecting a college. Where would your child be happiest? Encourage them to consider important location details of the colleges on their list.
- What’s the climate like – warm and sunny or cold and snowy?
- Is it in an urban, suburban, or rural area?
- Is it near family or a bit further away?
- How close is transportation to get home (airports, train stations, etc.)?
- Are there things to do off-campus?
2. Visit (or Revisit) Colleges in Contention
You’ve already been to all the colleges on your child’s list, so there’s no need to do it again, right? Not exactly.
Your first trip to campus likely provided a broad overview of the college and programs offered, a generic tour, tips on applying, financial aid info, and perhaps a Q&A with students. A second trip to campus allows students to explore each institution in depth:
- Sit in on a class.
- Talk to professors.
- Visit the financial aid office.
- Eat in the cafeteria.
- Tour a residence hall.
- Ask tough questions about freshman retention, graduation, and post-graduate employment rates.
- Find out who teaches the majority of classes – professors or graduate students?
Most colleges host an Admitted Students Day, which is an ideal time for you and your child to plan a second campus visit. Many of these activities will be included as part of the day, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to ask the questions that are important to you.
1. Be Honest Without Applying Pressure
It’s OK to be honest with your child about your preferences, including your hope that they select your alma mater or a college that’s within driving distance. It’s also OK to express your concerns, including the cost of a particular college or its crime statistics. However, it’s important to recognize that the decision about where to attend college is ultimately up to them. Emphasize that you’ll respect and support their decision, whatever it may be.
If the University of South Florida is on your child’s short list, we’re happy to answer any questions that can help your family make a college decision or address any concerns. We can also help you arrange a campus visit or register for an Admitted Student Day. Contact us anytime at 813-974-3350 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jen Carlevatti
Jen Carlevatti is the former Associate Director of Communications for USF’s Office of Admissions. Currently, she is a freelance Content Developer for USF’s Office of Innovative Education. She enjoys writing blog articles that empower students and their families to successfully navigate the college admissions and financial aid processes.