Start Planning for College Now
By: MomsandStories Admin | Date: September 25 2018
“You cannot believe how fast these four years will fly by,” cautions every parent of an upper-class high school student. Your child builds momentum toward real life, like a boulder racing down a hill, faster and faster. And soon she’s trying on her high school graduation gown. Like a bride only focused on the wedding and ignoring the marriage, college-bound students and parents often get swept up in the choice of a college, with little regard for life after graduation.
I’m on the other side of this madness, and I wish I knew then what I know now. The time for after-graduation planning is now, as your child begins high school. Because high school is hard. Because the time does go quickly. Because launching to adulthood is challenging for your child, whether college, the military, or gainful employment is next. For the college-bound student, as soon as she takes the PSAT, your mailbox and her e-mail box will be stuffed with come-ons from colleges and universities. How and when do you advise?
One year of college today costs more than you paid for your first car. Data from a non-profit group called Complete College America, notes only 19% of full-time students at public universities complete in four years. Parents want their child to attend a school that meets her needs and offers a decent education that leads to meaningful employment. Beyond the obvious issues of funds, location, roommate, major, students must make a choice linked to after-graduation plans. Of course, “best-laid plans” don’t always work, but “no plan” almost guarantees unwelcome results. Few 18-year-olds have a clue about a future life. It’s your job as a parent to give them opportunities to figure that out.
How can you be supportive of your teen without hovering like a helicopter?
Our son’s parents handled the whole college choice conundrum with different approaches.
- The first parent responded wildly to every colorful flyer from prestigious and exotic colleges, bragged and compared notes with friends, and focused on things that might only matter in the first weeks of school. The first parent concentrated on her own needs and ignored those of her son.
- The second, more reasonable, less hysterical parent, made a chart and assisted our son. Our child had a general idea of his interests. The second parent and the high school student planned weekend visits to schools of interest, the first visit during his sophomore year. The tours jumped into high gear between junior and senior years. The second parent coached our son through the application process.
Sue me, I’m the emotional parent, easily influenced by shiny objects, like a tri-fold viewbook, or Dottie’s cousin, who went to an Ivy.
Over two years, one or both of us visited a dozen schools with our son. Being on campus often gives a potential student a strong feeling, either way. “Is this the place for me?” The building looks different than they do on your phone or computer screen. Websites and shiny magazines don’t always convey the feel of a school. Our son’s list was shortened by two-thirds after campus visits. Talking to both professors and students in his interested majors helped. Seeing the dorms and cafeteria helped. Understanding how students used public transportation helped. Learning about potential internship opportunities helped.
Here’s what we learned from the total process.
- Help your child understand her interests, and balance that with opportunity. High school is the perfect place for exploring, with multiple offerings from lacrosse to debate. Does she want to coach lacrosse or go to law school? Psychologists offer career and interest testing for a fee, but the best assessment is her real life experiences. (A caveat: interest does not fully determine college choice. Learning critical thinking skills is the main reason to go to college. I majored in print journalism. Have you held a newspaper in your hand lately? My husband is a librarian and took one computer class during graduate school. Now computers are ubiquitous in libraries. Critical thinking skills help us go with the flow when the world changes. Even in the STEM world, machines and processes vary. Critical thinking skills are necessary, apart from vocational interests.)
- Don’t count on scholarships. Reckon with the child’s own financial and academic reality. How frequently I hear friends say, “Kayla will have to get a scholarship.” Scholarships exist, but competition is fierce. How many valedictorians and National Merit Scholars does your child’s high school have? Help your children with research and look for scholarships that mirror interest. (High test scores often help fuel the scholarship fire. Invest in a practice class for the ACT or the SAT, depending on what your schools use.) But, be realistic, and don’t rely on that varsity letter.
If your child is a superstar high school athlete, you should know the odds: CBS News reports that only 2 percent of high school athletes will get an NCAA athletic scholarship.
- Open your mind to the college choice. We traveled to an east coast city to visit a highly-ranked university for public policy. Despite our son’s good grades and test scores, the counselors were not optimistic he would get into the school. The location was urban, and the dorms resembled the seedy 1950s motels on “Perry Mason” reruns. Our son was underwhelmed by his welcome and the urban campus. We learned of a nearby smaller, but well-regarded university and made an impromptu visit. The campus was an area with expansive green space, a quad and a traditional ambiance. Like the university we visited that morning, it specialized in our son’s interest. But unlike the morning visit, our son was welcomed with open arms and encouraged about his scholarship prospects. In the end, he was offered significant funds and accepted to both schools. He took the second school’s offer and received an excellent education with relevant internships and now works in the field of his choice.
Not every child should go away to college. Many are limited by finances. The traditional college experiences my son, husband, and I had “away” from home are not available to everyone. Tying the choice of where a student pursues her higher education to goals is still paramount, whether it is a far-flung Ivy, an online school, or the local community college.
Because of my husband’s steady hand, my son received help and guidance to make good choices. Give your kids a great start, by encouraging them to start college planning as soon as high school begins.