If you’ve got a junior or senior in high school, autumn is the perfect time to begin the college search. We’re starting this process for the fourth time, as our senior is of age to figure out what’s next. As a school counselor and parent of teens and college students, here are five tips I recommend for discovering the right college and career plan for your child.
1. Start the process early. We usually start college visits in the fall of our child’s junior year in high school. The more colleges a student visits, the better able they are to find the one that best “fits” them. With our other children, we’ve found starting the search in 11th grade allows them to narrow their final college choices by their senior year. This gives them a better opportunity to look into scholarships, potential sports opportunities, and what each college offers in their potential field of study.
2. Consider all post-secondary options. Today’s choices for higher education are diverse. These include on-campus four-year degrees, community colleges, online or hybrid degrees, and dual credit courses in high school. The wide variety meets almost any interest, financial need or obstacle for getting a college degree. The traditional four-year degree isn’t necessary for many careers in the twenty-first century. In fact, the fastest growing careers in the United States are those requiring vocational two year degrees or specialized training in a particular field. If your student doesn’t fit the away-from-home college or a four year program, encourage them to look into a degree in a specialized field. Commuting, taking online courses, or doing an apprenticeship are all viable options for high school graduates.
3. Don’t force a student to go to college if they are unsure about going. There used to be a trend that if a person didn’t go to college right out of high school, they probably wouldn’t finish a degree program. This is untrue today. With more options for college and increasing expenses of higher education, more young adults are working for a while before starting college or they are taking a few classes while they work. In today’s volatile economy, it’s important a high school graduate is sure he or she wants to go to college before they incur a large debt. The flexibility in college choices allows more kids to work while they figure out what career they want to pursue, and more college students aren’t in the traditional 18-22 age group. If your child delays going to college, it might be a better plan for their long-term future.
4. College is your child’s decision – let them lead. It’s important to let your child choose the college they’ll attend, rather than you choosing it for them. Each college is as different as your child, and finding a match for the child to the right university makes a difference in their experience and success. When my firstborn wanted to go to a college eleven hours away from home, I had to step back and let her figure out whether it was the right choice for her. It was.
5. Expose your child to different career choices. It’s hard to figure out what you want to do with your life at eighteen, but it’s important students explore various career options before choosing a major. There are a lot of online surveys that allow a student to identify their personality type and career clusters they may like. In today’s global marketplace, there is probably a market for your child’s interests. As you visit colleges, talk to professors in fields of interest and see what type of job placement the school offers. While you dream with your child, you also need to look realistically at the employability of your student’s interests.
Finding the right college can be overwhelming. Starting early and exploring as many opportunities as possible makes the process more comfortable for both student and parent. What have you found helpful in the college search? What questions do you have about finding a college or field of study?