It’s time to create a list of schools, schedule college visits, pick an SAT/ACT prep program and talk about money.
By Anne Vaccaro Brady
As your junior plows through the most demanding year of high school, she must also find time to plan for her future. If so far she has found excuse after excuse to put it off, you need to step in and find a way to get her on board now. If you don’t, next fall will turn into a stressful mess and believe me, you don’t want to go there.
Read on for a guide on how to get started and the actions you and your student should take in the next few weeks.
Ask the big question You may consider it a foregone conclusion that your son is going to college, but he may not. During a car ride, over dinner or whenever you can harness his attention, ask simply, “Do you want to go to college?” The answer could be, “Uh, yeah,” with a look that asks what is wrong with you. Use this as a starting point to find out if he’s thought about what he wants to study or where.
If he says, “No I don’t want to go to college,” resist the urge to freak out. Instead, ask for an explanation, then listen carefully to see if there’s a real plan in there somewhere. Maybe four years of college doesn’t fit his goals, but a two-year program could provide the skills and education he needs to succeed at what he wants to do. Talk it out and offer guidance, or find someone who can.
If college of any kind is in your child’s future Focus on the importance of planning now. Hopefully your school has already sponsored a College Night for families, or will be very soon, to explore the college admissions process, including information on search sites, like Naviance or College Board, among others.
Begin the process by talking about potential careers and majors, focusing on what areas best suit your child’s interests and skills, not on what sounds impressive. Don’t dismiss an interest in fields like video games, fashion, athletic training, etc.; instead research all the related jobs in these areas. Help make a list of pros and cons for going away to college versus commuting. Use these discussions to gain insight into what your student is thinking about in terms of life after high school.
The enthusiastic planner Let your teenager begin researching by herself, just follow-up that she’s really doing it. By starting on her own, she will input her criteria for the type of college she’s looking for. Remember, this is about her future, not yours. But make time to discuss the results of her search.
The reluctant planner Unfortunately, you will have to find a way to get things moving. That might mean forcing your son or daughter to sit with you and provide answers for the questionnaire on one of the college search sites. The results can serve as a jumping off point for a conversation about what makes a college appealing or to plan a trip during school breaks that includes, but isn’t solely focused on, campus visits. You have to work the give-and-take angle with the resistant teenager.
What to do now:
- Create a list of prospective colleges. In this post by Wendy Nelson on her My Kid’s College Choice blog, she shares her top 10 sites to search for colleges. Also check out my post on how to make the list.
- Plan a college tour schedule. Take advantage of every opportunity your child is out of school, and when you can grab time off, too, to visit colleges. For details on how to make a schedule and set up tours, check out my posts on this topic here, here and here.
- Research and choose a test prep program. Yes, your child must have some and in this earlier post I explain why and review the options. In this post, I cover how to choose the best prep program for your child.
- Talk about money. The sooner your child knows how much help he will have paying his tuition the better. I highly recommend visiting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid site (FAFSA) and clicking on the FAFSA4caster link on the bottom right. In your results, note the EFC (expected family contribution), which gives your out-of-pocket cost. Read my post about paying for college to learn more.
- Figure out how to best approach the above tasks. Attack them in steps. Pick possible dates when you can visit campuses. Next, begin the school search and make a list of prospective colleges, then lay out a tour schedule. Determine the best dates to take the SAT/ACT (read my post on how to pick a test date here), then back into when to begin test prep. Look into college savings plan options (529 anyone?), and visit Studentaid.gov, the federal website that helps parents and students find money for college.
Use social media Take advantage of your teenager’s interest and skillfulness in this area by introducing him to some of the college planning resources you’ve found that are also accessible via Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, Facebook, etc.
Pull rank You are the parent, which means you are in charge. Despite what they may say, kids want their parents to take an interest and guide them in unchartered territories like planning their futures. The key is to guide and not shove because otherwise you’ll get a pushback and more stress.
Approach college planning rationally and logically, and treat your child as the unique kid he is to get to the place you both need to be. Avoid panicking and focus instead on the best way to get through these next several months.
Share your advice on how you helped your son or daughter get onboard with college planning in the comments section below.