For parents of high school juniors and seniors, the prospect of sending their proverbial babies out into the real world may seem daunting. Never fear, Thesis sat down with General Academic’s College Admissions Prep Counselor Annekah Hall, former Assistant Director of Admissions for Claremont Graduate University, to answer some of the most important questions parents are asking when helping their children with college preparations.
Q: When should we start planning for college?
- The earlier you start planning, the better. While it’s not necessary to assume each decision you and your child make during their high school years will affect their future college choices, it’s always smart to be considerate of certain factors. You don’t have to have a solid idea of which university or college your child might attend by their freshman year of high school, but try to start narrowing that decision down by the end of their junior year.
- There are also other ways to maximize the benefits of beginning your college search early. If your child is able to take core curriculum courses (English, college-level math, chemistry, etc.) for college credit while still in high school, this may help them get ahead when they start college. Freshman and sophomore year should be a time to gather a baseline for if your child will be ready for college or a technical trade. By junior and senior year, you should start narrowing down those decisions and moving more towards a final idea of where they’ll be headed.
Q: Can we really afford college?
- Determining how much a family can contribute to their child’s education is a very important discussion to have. This affects the types of schools a child should apply to and also where they can afford to live. If paying your child’s education is a concern, it’s recommended that parents encourage their student to apply for scholarships and grants. Also, once the student has determined the schools they are interested in applying to, I would recommend that parents and students schedule meetings with then college and/or financial aid office to discuss options available. I would also encourage students to seek on-campus employment. There are many benefits to working on-campus including priority registration, flexible schedule and building work experience for their resume.
Q: Will my child be eligible for financial aid?
- It’s good to start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Both you and your child need to fill out this form together, entering all pertinent data you’d find on your most recent tax forms. At the end of the application, you’ll be given an Estimated Family Contribution (EFC) number. The EFC number gives colleges a baseline to determine financial need and how much assistance to provide.
- Also, make sure your child is filling out as many scholarship and grant applications as possible. Millions of dollars in private and public scholarship money is unclaimed every year. If your student is worried about filling out essays, sometimes a simple essay and application form is all you need to be considered for eligibility, depending on which scholarships they’re applying for.
- When considering the rising cost of higher education, remind your child to be considerate of what major or program will provide a good return on the financial and personal investment of their studies after graduation.
Q: What if my student doesn’t know what they want to study? What should we do?
- Well, the first thing families need to discuss is what type of career(s) is the student interested in. It is a lot easier to navigate through the college planning process if they know what the end goal is and begin working backwards. For example, if the student does know what they want to do, maybe they should begin by writing down their favorite subjects or tasks and researching careers that include those key words. If they want to go to college, but aren’t sure what they want to do, they can begin by looking at universities that accept undeclared majors or community college options.
- One of the great things about college is that it offers your child their first taste of adulthood. It’s their time to make decisions for themselves and experience both the positive and negative consequences of their choices. As a parent, it’s always good to motivate your child to challenge themselves and pick options that will help them in the long run, but keep this in mind – over half of students change their major at some point in their college career.
Q: Should my child go to community college first?
- It depends. Again, if you’re paying for your child to go to school out of pocket, it may be a more economical option to attend community college first to get all of those pesky core classes out of the way. Then, your student can apply to the four-year university of their choice with a better idea of which major interests them most of all. However, if another major concern is overall experience for your student, it may be in the best interest of you and your child to allow them the opportunity to immerse themselves in a full collegiate environment upon graduation from high school.
Q: Should we send our child to school in-state or out-of-state?
- This depends on what your child’s ultimate goals are and also what you can afford. While staying in-state may be convenient, there may be specific programs or opportunities that your child is interested in that may not offered locally. For instance, if your child is interested in fashion, film or entertainment they may want to attend a university in Los Angeles, New York or Atlanta; where as if they are interested in Oil and Energy they may stay in Texas. This is not to say that there aren’t opportunities in every state for different industries, but to give them the best chance, your child may make a decision to attend a university closer to where an industry is prevalent.
Q: Where will my child live?
- Many schools require first-year students to live on-campus, in order to fully integrate them into collegiate life. Even if this won’t apply to your student, it’s still a good idea to consider letting them live on-campus during their first year, just to be surrounded with peers similar and different from themselves. If your child will be attending school fairly close to home, it may be cheaper to have them live at-home. In the end, it’s best to choose whichever living situation will be most conducive to helping your child succeed academically.
Q: How do we know that the school/program my child has chosen is the right fit?
- There are many ways to determine fit for a student. The number one way is for the student to visit the campus. Students are encouraged to take campus tours, sit in on courses, and meet with possible advisors. I would recommend making taking a day and roaming the campus on your own and even eat lunch on campus during the regular school years so that you can observe the campus / student life on campus. My second would be to conduct extensive on research on the program/school where they will be spending most of their time. For example if your student is a business major its important to know:
- How many of your graduates are employed after graduation?
- Are there internship opportunities?
- Where have graduates attended grad school?
- What are the degree requirements?
- What are the required courses for my child’s major?
- Do they offer courses my child will enjoy?