May 1 is the deadline for high school seniors to accept an offer for college admission.


Making that ultimate decision on where to go to college may be simple for some kids, but not for most. For the teenagers who didn’t get into any of their top schools, received only a couple of offers or found the financial aid package from their dream school came up short, making or settling on a choice is especially hard. Here’s what you as a parent can do to help your senior in the decision-making process.

Dealing with the Wait List Unfortunately, colleges don’t let anyone know they’re off the Wait List until after May 1, which means your child must make a deposit at one of the schools that accepted them. Or they could choose from a couple of other options: attending community college for a year or taking a year to work or intern, usually called a Gap year, then reapplying to a four-year college.

Revisiting colleges Assuming the above options aren’t what your teen is considering, then it’s essential to visit a few schools, maybe for a second or third time. The best way for any high school senior to know if a college is the right fit is to walk around the campus and try to imagine themselves there. Definitely take an accepted students tour if it’s available, because the focus will be on helping potential students learn as much as they can about the college and answering their most important questions.

Talking about it My husband and I tried to listen to our kids when they explained why they did or didn’t want to go to a particular school. Though it was hard, we did our best to offer advice only when asked. Okay, it was almost impossible for me, but I knew the decision had to be theirs and I didn’t want to be blamed for a wrong choice.

Of course, this doesn’t mean ignoring the facts, like how much you can afford to help out with tuition. My son also says it’s okay to tell your kids if you think they might fit in with the students at one school over another, as long as it’s not about where you like the kids better.

This is one of those moments when you can’t live through your child. If you didn’t like the small school in the middle of nowhere you attended, that’s not a good reason to push for the big school in a major city. It’s also not about how hard it’s going to be for you to have your child living “so far away.” Picking a college is the first step into adulthood for our kids, and an opportunity for them to learn to make their own decisions, based on research and facts, and live with them.

Charting it What you can do is create a chart or spreadsheet. This should include the names of the accepted colleges, their location, size, tuition, financial aid offer (including scholarships/grants, loans and work study), GPA required to keep financial aid, distance from home. You should add any other categories that  factor into the decision, like whether they offer a favorite activity, choice of majors, ranking of a particular program (if rankings matter to your family), research/internship opportunities, etc. Comparing colleges this way should help.

A note about college majors. Up to 80 percent of college students change their major at least once before graduation, according to research by Penn State. Aware of this fact, we suggested to our kids that they pick a school that offered plenty of majors, or the opportunity to create one of their own, in case they changed their mind but didn’t want to transfer schools.

Making a decision Our daughter, now a college sophomore, made her decision right after she finished an accepted student’s day. But our son, a high school senior, waited a few weeks after his follow-up visits to pick a school. It’s hard to know what will influence your student to choose one college over another.

Deciding where to go to college can be scary, but I’m convinced that there’s more than one school that’s right for every child. As a parent, all you can do is make sure yours has the information they need to make a smart choice.

Those of you who’ve been through the process, here’s your chance to share your own advice in the comments below.