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The Easy Way for Your Teen to Do a Stress-Free College Search

help your teen do college search

Son will be graduating from high school in 2020, and we started the college search.  When he was a sophomore, I had a serious discussion with him on what he wanted to do when he graduated.  He was not the best student, so I was not sure if going to college right away makes sense.  He wasn’t sure, so we decided that he would do community college for two years, and then he could transfer to a four-year college (I am going to use “college” to be for colleges and universities to make it the post visually easier to read). 

A few months ago, he said that he wanted to try to go to a four-year college right after high school.  I have always been very honest with my kids, so I told him that it will be tough with his GPA.  However, colleges and universities look at a person by more than his GPA so we have to make sure he gets a good SAT score and really has a well-written and thought out essay.  We talked that he still has the option to go to a community college and transfer so he can always make it to college. 

With a plan that we came up with, we started the college search. Here is the College Search strategy we did.

Create a List of Your Ideal College

The first thing that we did is that I asked what he wanted in a college  I asked him three questions:

  1. What do you envision yourself doing in the future? My son said he wanted to study the Earth, and he was very interested in doing that after taking a Geology class in school, as well as getting a merit badge in the subject. We did research on what kind of jobs he could get as a Geology major, and people in that career seem to have a positive future outlook.  It helped us tailor the search to schools that had Geology and Environment Science majors.
  2. What is the area that interests you? I was trying to figure out if he wanted a college that is known to have a strong Science, English, Business, Criminal Justice, etc.  A lot of times, someone will go into college saying that he/she wants to major in A, but when they are in college for a year or two, they realized that they really want to major in B.  He wanted to major in Geology but told him that he should look for schools that had a solid Science department in case he decides in the future that he wants to switch majors.  He might decide to do something in a completely different area, but that is an unknown we can’t really do much about.
  3. Where would you want the college to be located?  My only requirements that it be an in-state school Virginia has wonderful colleges and universities so there is no reason to be pay out-of-state tuition.  I wanted to understand if he wanted to be near a city, body of water, or in a smaller town. 

Do a Search to Find Out 5-6 Colleges That Fit Your Criteria

After creating the list of what he envisioned, we used a few college tools to search for colleges that fit what he wanted.  We used:

  1. US News & World Report (I used to work there as a Help Desk Administrator in my late teens. I remember the Writers and Editors working on the college list)
  2. CollegeBoard (If registering for the SATs and ACTs, this is the web site that you would use)
  3. Petersons
  4. Princeton Review

After we narrowed the list down to five, we went to the individual college sites.

Visit the College Web Sites

Here you can get an idea of their statistics on the students (e.g. GPA, SAT Score, demographics, etc.) who usually apply.  You will also get a sense of the important date what is needed to apply.  The College Search tools do this as well, but sometimes they are not 100% accurate, so it’s better to go to the actual source.

Schedule the College Tours

If you can go to all 5-6 colleges, then that is great.  However, it’s sometimes not doable.  We prioritized the colleges and scheduled college tours with the top three.  This can be done on the college sites.  If you have another teen who will be headed to college in a couple of years, bring him/her along.

Go on the College Tour

The college tours are usually two parts – Informational Session and Actual Tour of the Campus.  The Informational Session is usually a College Advisor who will go over these topics on top of other areas:

  1. College Overview
  2. College Statistics like how many students attend, how many majors, and the extracurricular activities in the college
  3. Student Demographics
  4. Important Dates

You will then go on a walkthrough of the campus with the guide giving you more information about the college, its history, and campus.

Make sure that your teen participates. In the two college tours we have been on, I have seen a few parents who were there on their own asking questions for their kids.  I overheard one of them speaking, and the teen was at a bierthday party and preferred to do that over coming on the college tour.  The other parents could have a valid reason to come on the college tour without their teen.  However, if you can have your teen come, then do it.  They are the ones who will be attending the college so it shouldn’t be the parents going on the college tours and relaying what they learned. 

I hope this helped you support your teen in getting the college search going.  Please share your experiences on going on a college tour.


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