Choosing a college can be the first real big decisions you and your child make together. Managing expectations, finding the right schools and honing in on the proper academic program are no easy tasks—especially when you’re negotiating the deal with an eighteen year old child. Please keep in mind that you and your child are allies in the search and not on competing teams. Work together, find out what they are looking for in a college and share with them what is important to you during their college experience. There can be a healthy balance for all involved. I would encourage the college dialog to at least begin after your child’s sophomore year. This way they will grow accustomed to hearing the word “college” and believe it or not this will cause them to start thinking about it as well. Set a time-line for your family. Remember that college applications are mostly due by April of their senior year (the prior December if you are interested in early decision.) So, work backwards from this timeline and you’ll be able to keep everyone on track.
Some issues to think about during the process: When should your child approach their guidance counselor for some preliminary information about colleges? Who will research other schools not mentioned by the HS counselor? When will you set aside time to sit down together and discuss the college options. In addition, applications need to be ordered, which takes time and college visits need to be organized. Please remember that writing well-developed essays takes time; generally more time than students typically a lot for. This is where the bulk on the application time will be spent. Not all colleges ask the same essay questions, so the earlier you receive those applications the better. One suggestion that I have is after you have chosen your top 3 schools, go ahead and request their application from the previous year. This way you will have a feel for what their essay questions generally look like and you can get a jump-start on the process before their new application comes available. You never know – they may just use the same questions. Lastly, recommenders need to be approached. Trust me, no one likes being approached in the 11th hour and asked to write a recommendation. If you want a well thought out and thoughtful letter or recommendation, talk to your recommenders early in the process. They will appreciate your respect for their time.
Setting up a structured time-line for you and your child will help everyone involved understand the process more thoroughly as well as reduce burnout. Your child needs to manage their time and energy to have well-developed and competitive applications completed by deadline. Most importantly, listen to your child and their wants when it comes to choosing a college. Remember, it is going to be the next four years of “their” life. This may be one of those times when the old at edge “mother knows best” may not apply. Work with your child, this can be a great experience for both of you.