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Helping Your Child Choose a College

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Heading off to college is a major milestone in your child's life. Although this decision is ultimately your child's, college admission professionals stress that parents have an important role to play in the decision. Selecting a college is a high stress task for both young adults and their parents. Whether they say so or not, most children desire their parents' guidance and support. Working together as a parent-student team is ideal.

The primary goal: finding a college that matches your student's individual needs and talents

Higher educational institutions in the United States come in all types and sizes, from two-year community colleges to large state universities, from small private liberal arts colleges to elite universities, from technical institutes to professional colleges. Overall, the United States has more than 9,000 institutions of higher learning. Which among them is right for your student?

College admission experts answer that question simply: the institution that best meets the individual students needs and talents. Such a school ought to challenge the student while also making him or her feel comfortable. Finding the best match means that the school that's right for one child in a family is often not right for another. Achieving that also means that mom's or dad's alma mater may not be right for any of their children. Also selecting particular types of schools because they have particular qualities or programs that a parent values (for instance, a respected four-year pre-law, pre-med, or business degree) is probably not the right decision if the student's talents, interests and career goals are different.

The Money Matters College Search Inventory

Answering this inventory's questions can help students and parents determine personal interests and whether or not each school under consideration has the key programs and qualities to meet those needs. It can also be used to help identify potentially good schools from among the many that send information to prospective students.

1. What do you want to study? Are you more interested in developing technical or vocational skills? You don't have to know what you want to major in yet.

2. Does the school offer a course of study in your areas of interest?

3. What type of location is important — small town, large city? Close to home, within the state, a nearby state, or a far away state?

4. Do you want to go to a small school, middle-sized school, large school, or a huge school?

5. Do you want to go to a church-related school?

6. Do you prefer a state or private school? Or have no preference?

7. Do you want to live on campus, live off campus or commute? Does the school require non-day students to live on campus?

8. Do you want to go to a coed or single sex school?

9. What's the total cost of a year's enrollment—tuition, room, board, expenses? What kind of financial aid is available? What types of scholarships does the school offer—academic, athletic, or some other? Have you talked to the admission officer or financial aid office to see what types of financial aid you may qualify for?

10. Is participation in extracurricular activities important? If so, which ones? Does the school offer these?

11. Are you interested in a co-op program that alternates work with school? Does the school offer programs in your areas of interest?

12. Are you interested in an internship? Does the school offer internships? Some schools may require all students to complete an internship in order to graduate.

13. What other qualities are important in a college? What other questions need answers?

Finding Schools That Meet Your Criteria

Once students and parents have the answers to these and any other questions, it's easy to use free online search tools to find schools that match their criteria. Here are two good resources:

  • The Princeton Review helps you both research schools and apply online.
  • College Source Online offers thousands of College Catalogs and a search. You can search for catalogs without registering for the free trial.

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