Seven tips to helping your child find the right fit
You feel it, don’t you? The dark collegiate cloud swirling above your head. You know that at any moment, this cloud will unleash a slew of misery and angst that only a box of cream-filled Hostess products can fix.
Yes, your little bouncing bundle of joy is finally in her last years of high school, and it’s time to start thinking about college. Ugh! It’s your new C-word, and it’s a zillion times more horrific than the other. That’s because this tiny little letter is packed full of anxiety-riddled hurdles such as tests (SAT and ACT), tutors, essay writing, grades, extracurriculars, and, of course, the topic at hand: deciding where your kid should apply to college.
Dang right it’s stressful when there are more types to choose from than those cream-filled sweets: there are the Ivy League schools, public universities, state schools, tech schools, liberal arts schools, and so on. Although some kids have known forever where they want to apply, most haven’t got a clue. So how does one find the proverbial needle in the collegiate haystack without going insane? Here are some ideas.
1. Do your research. Get the most current Fiske Guide, which provides a comprehensive look at all major colleges and universities and educates you about each school’s acceptance stats in relation to GPAs and SATs, what majors each school is known for, and class size. Also, sign up for Cappex.com or any other popular website that will give you a personal guide to which colleges might be good for your child and what his chances are of getting in based on his grades and scores.
2. Make an appointment with your child’s high school college counselor. It’s important to make that personal connection and get some broad advice. Depending on your school, the counselor may be able to spend a lot of one-on-one time going over options or, at the very least, give a simple overview of what’s out there and where you should focus your energy. If you have the funds, hire your own college counselor who will not only home in on the right schools but also be on top of essay, testing, and application requirements. In my neighborhood, a private counselor goes for about $4,000, but if you have the funds, want some major hand-holding, and don’t want to be the evil one for nagging your child about writing her essay, it’s a good option.
3. Determine what type of school would be a good fit. Does your child enjoy the hustle and bustle of a big city or the slower pace of rural life? Would he prefer a small campus or a major university? Is a football team important? Does he want to be close to home or far away? (Ouch!) Make an appointment to tour your local schools, even if you know they’re not the perfect fit, just to get a feel for the type of campus that makes sense for your child.
4. Ask your child what she wants. If your child is lucky enough to know what she wants to major in, a big woo-hoo to you! That narrows down the playing field tremendously! Using the college guides and websites, check out the top schools that have programs in her specific field and see what each one has to offer. But keep in mind that, just like choosing a Halloween costume, she can easily change her mind (usually right after you bought the costume she so desperately wanted). Go for schools that are known for her major but have a variety of other schools in mind just in case.
5. Plan a few trips. Once you have a list of schools in mind, visit them, or take a virtual tour if you can’t go to them all. If your child falls in love with a specific school, sign him up for a summer program in which your future freshman can take classes and stay in the dorm. He will not only earn some college credits but also get a true sense of what it’s like to attend that specific school. It’s like renting before buying.
6. Try not to worry about cost. Don’t reject a college simply because it costs too much. Although it may be hard to get financial aid at a public school, private ones offer lots of scholarships based on academic, artistic, or athletic merit. You can also apply for work/study programs so your child can more easily get a job once she’s on campus.
7. Once your child is accepted into specific schools, consider each one more in-depth. Once those glorious acceptance letters start trickling in, go on a tour for accepted freshman. These are the golden tickets of college tours! Many let you sit in on classes, meet advisers, and eat in the dining halls. Some even let you stay overnight with a mentor to get a taste of true dorm and collegiate life.
Now, for those of you whose kids are dead set on applying to only one school, talk some sense into them! Or, better yet, let me do it. Put their faces up to the screen so they can read my words: When it comes to applying to college, you must apply to at least three. One needs to match your accomplishments, one should be a reach or perhaps a dream school, and one should be a safety school so at least you have somewhere to go in the fall. (You can always transfer.)
We’ve all heard stories of valedictorians who get rejected from everywhere they apply—so cast a wide net. And while a gap year is great for kids who don’t want to go to college right away, it’s not the ideal for those who do but were rejected and left without any options.
Joanne Kimes, ESME’s Parenting Resource Guide, is the writer and creator of the best-selling Sucks book series (some titles include Breastfeeding Sucks, Potty Training Sucks, and Teenagers Suck) and coauthor of The Stay-At-Home Martyr. She has contributed to numerous blogs and magazine articles, and has appeared on NBC’s Today show, Life & Style, and KTLA news.
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