As moms, we do a ton of planning as our children grow through the stages. We search for the best childcare, neighborhood, and school district. As our kids enjoy their high school years, the planning does not stop. One of the biggest and most expensive decisions made is where they will go to college.
I don’t believe attending a college or university is a good fit for every child. As a society, we send the wrong message that a college degree is required in order to be successful and earn a lot of money. I know many people without a college degree who are financially stable and successful. There are so many great choices for “life after high school” – career training, military service, vocational trade, and community college. If the university route is right for your child, some serious planning needs to take place to ensure the “right fit.”
The cost of attending a college or university is expensive. It is probably the second most expensive purchase for a family after buying a home. By working with a financial professional, your family can develop a plan for children at any age, keeping in mind your retirement savings, life insurance needs, or disability insurance protection. An easy way to include your children in their savings habits is to save monetary gifts from birthdays and holidays into a College Savings Account, 529 plans, Prepaid College plans, or Education Savings Accounts.
Searching for the “Right Fit”
I have had the pleasure of working with families who took extreme measures to ensure their child(ren) found the best college home. I have also worked with high school students who woke up in June and decided they wanted to go to college. Offering assistance, tips, and advice for those who want to plan for this exciting “next step” is my jam!
Parents should have conversations as early as a student’s 9th-grade year about “life after high school.” By doing this, you begin the dialogue for what they may want to do. Families can start even earlier by attending camps, sporting events, and theater shows on a university campus. These experiences can expand their knowledge.
Encourage Family Search Time
Sit on a comfy sofa with the laptop and start viewing your own college Alma Mater’s website. Ask your son or daughter what colleges they want to know more about. This is a great family activity! Allow them to have some time to do this on their own as well.
Prep for the Tests
NOTE: This is a hot topic among universities. As you move through the college search process, you may discover “test-optional” universities.
Sign up for Mailing Lists
Universities go to great lengths to communicate with your child and your family. There are people on a college campus that specialize in doing just this. Sign up on their website to receive more information. Once you do, please encourage your “pre-college” student to answer their phone, reply to text messages, and return phone calls. We know students do not like talking on the phone, but if a university administrator calls or texts you, it is for a reason. Maybe we are calling to offer you a scholarship!
TIP: Develop a college search specific email used only for the search process. This email can be used on inquiry forms and used for communicating with colleges only. You might want to work with them to develop an appropriate one. Selecting “hottygirl” or “sexybro” may not give the best impression!
THE most important part of the search process. Would you buy a house or car without seeing it first? The campus visit will either keep or drop a university from the list. Many universities have virtual campus visits due to COVID-19. This is an efficient way to “see” several universities without traveling. This is also a good way to get more information about universities you know little about, which expands your college search. Make sure you visit in person your top three choices in your junior or summer before your senior year. A follow-up visit before making a final decision can be made in the fall of your senior year. Get your questions ready!
TIP: Universities have ramped up their virtual events! This is a bonus in the college search process. Google meets, Webex, and Zoom events are free and easy to attend. I recommend searching on a university website for “admissions events“.
Establish a Tracking System or Checklist
Whether it is a file folder for each college or an electronic system, develop a system to keep your family organized. Also, if you get to the application process with a university, you will want to document all of the items you have sent and track what is needed. Documenting who you spoke with and recording a summary of the conversation is also helpful. Try to develop a relationship with one admission counselor/recruiter for the entire search process. That person can also be valuable if you decide to attend that university.
Etiquette is Important
Finally, help your student learn how to represent themselves in writing and on the phone. Learning how to respectfully advocate for themselves and how to problem solve are valuable skills.
These tips will get you started on your college search journey. Searching for a college home is important to do as a family. I recently helped guide a wonderful young woman, two outstanding parents, and two grandparents who provided encouragement and support. Without a doubt, this family found the best-fit university for their student. By starting the search process early and following the tips listed above, a great decision was made!