How to Help Your Teen Choose a College

Mother hugging teenage son as he packs for college
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Although many teens worry about getting accepted to college, the vast majority of teens are fortunate enough to have several choices about where they want to go to school. Narrowing down the options and choosing a college can seem overwhelming because of the sheer number of colleges out there. Take plenty of time to help your teen make this important decision.

Conduct Plenty of Research

The digital age certainly makes college research easier than ever.

Encourage your teen to conduct online research about potential colleges. In addition to looking at the college’s official website, look for other reviews, forums and posts from current and past students.

Also, look at various college ranking systems. Don’t rely solely on what the organizations have to say about a school, but do take the information into consideration. Find out what each college admissions office wants to see in a teen's transcripts as well.

List Your Teen’s Priorities

Help your teen create a list of priorities from academic programs to athletics. Discuss factors such as class size or faith-based affiliations and rank the factors in order of importance. Then review what each college offers and how each school lines up with the priority list.

Review Your Budget

Your budget and the school’s financial aid package should be one of the most important factors to consider. If your teen wants to attend an expensive school that will result in him financing much of his education, discuss the realities of graduating with high amounts of student loan debt.

Graduating debt-free- as opposed to $20,000 in debt- can make the difference between being able to choose a dream job and having to work two jobs just to pay the bills. Even if you can't afford to pay for college, there are steps you can take to help your teen graduate from college debt free.

Visit Each School

Visit any college your teen is seriously considering at least once. Once you’ve narrowed it down to just a few schools, a second visit can often help be the deciding factor. If you can’t afford to visit the school, it’s likely that your teen won’t be able to afford to attend that school.

Encourage your teen to attend a tour and speak directly with the admissions office. Some schools even offer overnight visits for prospective students or opportunities for teens to speak with current students to get answers to their questions about college life.

Discuss Your Teen’s Long-Term Goals

Help your teen keep his long-term goals in mind. Make it clear that attending the same college as his best friend or going to a school because he’s always been a fan of their football team aren’t good reasons to pick a college. Instead, help him focus on whether or not a college will help him reach his long-term career goals.

Discuss the location of the college as well. Sometimes teens pick a school in a tropical location simply because they like the weather.

What they don’t think about is the high cost of out-of-state tuition or how much travel expenses will really add up over time.

Make it an Ongoing Discussion

Talking about college shouldn’t be a single discussion. Instead, it should be an ongoing conversation that takes place throughout high school. It’s important to offer your input and guidance without demanding your teen go to the school of your choice. Instead, help your teen see the potential risks and benefits and encourage him to keep an open mind as he explores various opportunities.

Make sure your teen has the skills necessary to be successful in college. If your teen is likely to struggle with the freedom associated with college, sending him to an out-of-state school could be disastrous. Make sure your teen is really ready to handle the responsibilities of being away from home.

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