I surveyed some admissions experts and here’s their advice.

Many high school seniors are struggling with making their final choice of a college. To help you help yours, I share some sound advice from Christine Mica, Dean of University Admissions at Catholic University and Andy Morris, Associate Director of Admissions at Binghamton University.

Here are the factors they advise you and your student to consider.

The college should have the student’s major or potential major Confirm this before your senior sends in a deposit. Even undecided students have a general idea of the programs they’re interested in.

Andy also recommends that kids who are undecided or have an unusual major in mind should learn from the college whether they can create or design their own major.

Christine suggests finding out about opportunities for research, internships and study abroad, and ensuring that the program is academically challenging.

dollar signAffordability Before the final decision is made, parents need to talk with their teen frankly about what Mom and Dad can realistically contribute to the cost of tuition, and if the student is living on campus, room and board. Avoid any last-minute surprises that force a dramatic change in their college selection.

Christine says students also need to consider how comfortable they are with taking out loans and learn how the family budget will be affected when tuition increases but the scholarship doesn’t.

College graduation and retention rates Andy says these are important. A college with an outstanding retention rate (how many freshman return the following year) means its students are satisfied with the academic, social and campus environment. A lower retention rate may indicate the college isn’t providing the students with the experiences they expected.

Graduation rates are important because “four years and out” is no longer the norm. With most scholarships only guaranteed for four years, a fifth or sixth year could be significantly more expensive. 

This campus will be home for the next few years Can your teen imagine living here? Do they feel they can fit in with the kids they see walking across the quad? Can they be themselves at this college? Is it safe? Do the students appear to have similar interests? As Andy says, “Can they see themselves waking up and walking across the campus each day?”

The choice needs to be the student’s Both admissions experts stress that teens need to feel they’re picking the college that’s right for them, not the one where their parents or their friends want them to go.

Pitt BradfordVisit the campuses again Make sure your student takes another trip to their top choice college(s), keeping in mind the factors mentioned above.

Allow them to experience life on campus from a student perspective. They need to interact with current students, explore the campus without a tour guide for at least a little bit, read the college newspaper to see what students are writing about, and sit somewhere and “people watch” to determine how comfortable these kids look with each other. This may mean they spend some time without you on campus, even taking advantage of a college’s offer to stay overnight with a current student (a popular option).

Parents need to listen Andy and Christine both emphasize the importance of letting your senior do the talking. Parents need to focus on what their teen is thinking about college and this decision.

Some kids have a hard time opening up, but verbalizing their thoughts will help them make an informed choice and feel comfortable with it. Parents, express that you want this to be their choice.

Encourage and support your teen Christine’s advice: “Parents should have the confidence that they have gotten to this point for a reason and now it is time to trust their son or daughter. That’s what parents do!”

Andy’s advice: “Parents should encourage their student to consider their own choices and think for themselves. They should support their student’s choice and help that student to celebrate one of the most important adult-decisions they may have made in their young life up to that point.”

May 1 is National Decision Day. Expect your senior to change their mind once, twice or more as that date gets closer. But follow the suggestions from Christine and Andy above, and your student will likely make the right choice.

Share your advice on deciding among college acceptances in the comments section below.