How to Find a College That Ticks All Your Teenager’s Boxes

As graduation looms, the college search becomes a scary undertaking. It’s just another responsibility they have on top of grades, socializing, and work. And how do you, as a parent, know where to start when you haven’t done this since high school? There are so many details to consider from tuition to academic needs, and it’s best to begin considerately. Here are some big components of college life to look into to help streamline your teen’s college search process.

Campus Life and Location

The way that a school is physically designed will define its students’ day-to-day lives within. What kind of campus life is your teenager looking for — a traditional campus experience, a city adventure, or a hybrid? All locales offer vast differences in how students meet people and the experiences they are exposed to. You can always take campus tours to get a feel for this at any particular school.

It’s important to take into account the type of life your teen is used to. If they’re from a small town, a university in a larger city could be overwhelming. At the same time, if you’re adjusted to big-city life, a college in a small town might be too boring. However, it really depends on your student. College is the perfect time to branch out. If your child moves to a big city, far away, this may provide more independence. You’ll both have to decide what distance is too far away.

Tuition and Other Costs

Four-year college tuition these days is severely inflated and is one of the most important factors to look at. It helps give you an idea of whether a school should even be in the running at all. Also, it can tie in to other information like the area’s cost of living and the school’s reputation. For your list you want to find schools that you can realistically pay for and have good financial aid programs.

Remember to think about the school’s location and the area’s cost of living when factoring this in. Tuition is often discounted for students studying within their home state. In-state schools are a great fallback in case money is tight, and your teenager can still get a great education.

School Reputation

Secondary education isn’t just about learning new skills —  having a degree looks good to potential employers. And naturally, you want your teenager’s resume to look as good as possible, so you’ll want a reputable school. Look specifically for schools that have acclaimed programs in the subject matter of your teenager’s choice. A good school always looks good on a resume, but that can be brought down by an unrelated major.

If your child studies English, for example, focus on liberal arts colleges rather than those with prominence in the sciences. You can encourage your teen to discuss this with their guidance counselor to get a different point-of-view on reputation. They do this work every year and therefore know firsthand how different schools measure up in their fields.

Athletic Programs

Any student who enjoys playing or watching school sports will want to find a college that has related athletic programs. Think about your teenager’s relationship with sports in this regard — what level are they usually involved? If your teenager is an all-star softball pitcher, then it makes sense to consider schools known for their softball programs. If they enjoy less mainstream sports or engage with them more casually, you don’t need a Division I school.

College is ultimately more about one’s future than about sports, so the level of dedication is up to your teenager. Some high school athletes avoid college sports altogether while others go to school explicitly for them. But there’s no need to ignore the topic if it’s of interest, even if academics are more important to you. It may be able to pay their way.

Academic Freedom

Different students have different needs in the classroom in order to foster their academic success. Certain people think more analytically and work better with external discipline and structure. This nature can be seen in the scientific or logic-based career paths these people tend to take. Others of a more artistic or intuitive mindset may need more flexibility and freedom in the classes available to them.

Think about these qualities in your child and discuss with them how they act in their daily lives.

Do they need structure in their plan of study or freedom? If it’s the latter, you can use this information to look for schools that provide less rigid programs. Some colleges offer individualized or personalized majors, where students can design their own degree.

Reaches, Targets, and Safeties

Many factors contribute to whether or not a college is the right fit for your teen. Sometimes your student’s academic performance can limit the colleges where they would be accepted. Sometimes the cost is too great for some schools. It’s important to decide which schools are possible. Together with them, and/or their guidance counselor, create a list of schools and separate them into three categories.

The schools that will be easy acceptances are called Safeties and the hard, yet doable ones, are called Reaches. Finally, everything in the middle will be a realistic goal and aptly called a Target school. You should encourage your teen to apply to at least two safe schools, four targets, and two reaches. But you could adjust these numbers. Experts recommend applying at four to eight colleges.

Make these lists in conjunction with the other considerations to narrow down your search considerably. This will help your teenager define realistic goals, so they aren’t going into applications blind. It can also help reduce the uncertainty that makes the college application process as anxiety-inducing as it is.

Preparing for college applications, doing them, and waiting for responses is a long and arduous path. It’s only natural for your teenager to be stressed about all of it. But with your help and direction it doesn’t have to be so bad. Together you’ll find the perfect college, and they’ll get accepted in no time.

Photo by Stanley Morales