Navigate the College Search with Ease

Student College Search

My son is now a junior in high school. That means it's time to start thinking about postsecondary schooling. I'm overwhelmed, plain and simple. My son even knows what field he wants to study, and I'm still frazzled. It's a daunting task and one I'd love to find reasons to avoid, but my son needs my assistance and support with his search.

I've learned that a good way to start is by talking with other parents and students who have already gone through the process. There is a plethora of information on the Internet, so it's easy to get more confused. Find out the sources others deemed most beneficial.

Put it in perspective

Your teen's college search should be an exciting and gratifying experience, so don't put too much pressure on her.

"When parents cannot control their anxiety, the college search process becomes miserable for everyone," says Bruce G. Hammond, coauthor of Fiske Guide to Getting into the Right College and Fiske What to Do When for College: A Student and Parent's Guide to Deadlines, Planning and the Last 2 Years of High School (Sourcebooks Inc., 2007). "Parents must remember that attending a particular college will not make or break a young person's future. A young person's life trajectory will have much more to do with what happens after they get to college than with which one they attend."

Narrow it down

Many believe that narrowing down choices by location is a necessary first step. Does your teen want to be close to home or does he want to experience life in a different part of the country? Will he want to be part of a large school community or a small one? Does he prefer a serene, rural environment or an urban lifestyle? You'd be surprised how much you can narrow the options just by location alone.

Next, find the right academic fit. Many websites provide various search options, such as searching colleges by specific majors. If your teen is unsure of his course of study, look at schools with a variety of choices in majors instead of colleges that specialize in a few areas. Don't get stuck in cyberspace. Consult a variety of sources — counselors, teachers, alumni and guides.

Financial options

Don't automatically disregard colleges you may deem "unaffordable" at first glance. For instance, you might consider a community college for the first two years. Successful community college graduates are often offered scholarships for their next two years at selective universities.

As you look into financial aid, don't forget to pursue merit scholarships. "Don't believe the hucksters who claim that there is free money for college hiding under a rock," Hammond explains. "The vast majority of money for college comes via the institution where the student chooses to enroll. Colleges use scholarships to offer discounts to students they are particularly interested in. Students should keep in mind their odds of getting a scholarship are best when they are at or near the top of the applicant pool."

Make the most of a visit

Try to narrow down the list to about seven to 10 colleges. Be sure to include colleges where acceptance seems certain. Campus visits are the next step. You might find that your teen just doesn't like the "vibe" at a particular school. This is what the college visit is all about — experiencing those things that you just don't get from text or video. Talk to students on campus and ask them what they like most (and least) about the school.

"Students should take a comparative approach to college visits," advises Hammond. "Identify a few important criteria, and look for the same things at each place. Record your impressions soon after you leave. Try not to be influenced too much by whether you like your tour guide. Focus instead on what the tour guide is telling you."

Myrna Beth Haskell is a feature writer and columnist specializing in parenting issues and children's development. She is the mother of two teenagers.


Parent-Recommended ONLINE Resources for the College Search


For virtual tours: • •

For more information on careers, scholarships, majors and institutions: •

To search colleges by rank or by major:

For information specific to North Carolina, visit: for Carolina Parenting's annual Parents' Guide to N.C. Colleges, an interactive website and one-stop source of basic information on every North Carolina college and university, complete with articles and data specifically tailored for parents.

Categories: College Planning, Education, Parent Support, Parenting, Tweens and Teens