The process of applying for college starts before the senior year of high school. When you think about it, even little kids talking about what they want to do when they grow up is the very beginning of the process. But, the serious planning needs to start in a student's junior year, if not sooner. Students and parents need to consider the type of school, cost and location when considering where to apply.
Make a List
If you're trying to figure out which colleges to apply to, or are a parent trying to start a conversation about college with your high school student, here is a starting list of factors to consider.
- Where? While some students can't wait to get as far from home as
possible others can't imagine ever leaving. Some students want to live in a big city while others think they'll be happiest in a small college town. Have your child think about the things that are important and make a list.
- Major? Some kids have known what they want to do since before they can remember. If they've always wanted to be an artist an art school might be perfect, if they're more inclined to engineering then a campus specializing in that might be the best fit. However, many high school students change their dream career on an almost weekly basis. While this isn't ideal, it is common. If your child fits into this category a less specialized school or even a community college is a great way for them to continue their education while still keeping their options for the future open.
- Cost? Finances are crucial to consider when applying for college. Private schools tend to be more expensive than public, but if a student really excels in an area they may qualify for a scholarship. Also, private schools sometimes are able to offer students more financial aid than their public counterparts. Pay attention to "net price" rather than "sticker price" when comparing college options. Also, be careful of the pitfalls of student loans. While they're great for helping some people achieve their dreams, not all student loans are equal, and you and your child want to be careful not to borrow outside of your means (current or potential). If you can find a school your child will be happy at and not have to borrow, you are in good shape.
- Miscellaneous Concerns? When applying for college these can be almost anything. Do you want a religious school? Is it ok for your child to leave town but would you still like them to be less than a 3 hour drive? Are there specific programs your child would like to be in or professors he or she would like to study with? Available fraternities or sororities? Local activities? Have an open discussions with your child about these concern.
After the lists are made it's then time for students and parents to have a serious talk about what's most important and what's less so. If your child changes his/her mind about his/her career every month then a specialized school probably isn't the best choice. Give your child two years and see where he or she is. Transferring is always an option but keep in mind this can extend the amount of time it takes to graduate which can cost you more in the long run. If your student has his or her heart set on private school but it's not in your budget, maybe having them spend the first two years at community college before transferring and graduating from the dream school could be the best choice. Just be sure to understand what credits are transferrable between the two schools before making a final decision.
See For Yourself
If possible, schedule visits to the campuses your child is considering applying to. Get a feel for the school, encourage your son or daughter to talk to some students about what it's "really like" to be a student there. Get as much information as you can about the schools your child is considering and how they'll meet your child's needs as a student and young adult.
Applying for college is a critical step towards adulthood, but with proper planning it doesn't have to be a confusing one. Start these lists in your junior year or sooner and you'll be well prepared when it's your turn to apply.