Four Easy Ways to Help in Your Child’s College Search
“How can I help my daughter be successful?”
That question has been at the heart of a lot of decisions I’ve made over the past 18 years, and it was at the center of what I was trying to figure out 18 months ago as my daughter really started her college search.
The goal of this blog is to offer you my best advice based on two decades in college admissions, and the personal journey with my own kids through the college search process. So without further ado, here are four ways to support your child’s college search.
1. Be curious, but not overbearing
Choosing a college is probably the biggest decision most high school seniors have ever made, so being supportive and listening is really important. Even if you don't plan to help make their college decision, it’s important to know what your child is looking for and how you can help them. At the same time, I’ve seen a lot of students shut down emotionally because they feel like they are under pressure in a way they haven’t been before. They’re fielding a lot of questions about what’s next while trying to have a senior year to remember. So help them enjoy the process while giving them your support and life experience along the way. As one of my favorite movie characters, Mr. Miyagi, used to preach– “Balance.”
2. Attend a senior/college night or a college fair
Many high school counseling offices host a senior night or college search night. It's a great way to get some questions answered and understand how the staff can help your family during your college search. You'll be in a low-pressure environment where your student can hang with their friends at the same time.
Whether you’re at a school that has a college night or not, you are probably near a location of a college fair, where a number of colleges (usually 25-50) will be in one place. Fairs in Michigan are hosted across the state, mostly in the fall, and are free for students and their families to attend.
3. Talk about finances
Many families don’t have a conversation about the financial side of going to college – either with the colleges themselves, or among their family members. In college admissions, we fully expect you to ask questions about cost, scholarships, grants, and more. Neither you nor your student should feel embarrassed or self-conscious about that conversation.
I hesitate to say what the exact conversation should be within your family, but I advise you to have some discussion about costs and finances before you or your child feel trapped in a decision. It surprises me how often a student tells everyone where they’re going, arranges roommates, buys their gear, and gets mentally locked into a decision before they and their family have even discovered what that college will cost and what they're willing to invest. Having an open conversation about who is paying, and for how much, is more likely to turn out best if it happens early enough to help shape the college search.
In addition, if you don't yet have a plan to pay for college, now is the time to start.
4. Visit campus
This is a step you can take immediately that will help in a lot of different ways.
First, it’s a chance for your child to begin understanding what they may be looking for. Whether it’s something on a campus that a student sees, a message about that campus that hits home, or just an understanding of what the facilities are like and where it’s located, a campus tour can be a great catalyst to narrow their focus. Second, it’s a great way to help the student who is already focused learn more about that specific campus and what they have to offer. It is also a great way, especially for the student who’s not sure where they belong (there are thousands of colleges in the US), to find out if a campus feels like it suits them.
Here at CMU, we offer a number of different campus visit options, and many other schools do as well. Following are some brief descriptions of our visits to help you see the breadth of opportunities that are out there:
- Campus Visits — Scheduled several times a week, our standard campus visit includes a presentation about admissions and financial aid, a student panel, and a campus tour. Recent visits have played host to about 25 students and their families, so this option allows for more individual questions and a shorter agenda than a large open house event.
- Campus Visits with College Connections – These take our campus visits a step further by connecting you with a faculty/staff member in a specific academic area.
- CMU & You Day — If you’re interested in experiencing a little more of the spirit of CMU, pencil in September 30 on your calendar. CMU & You Day is our largest open house of the year with over 2,000 guests and includes a wide range of opportunities to interact with folks from across campus, eat lunch on campus, and attend a CMU football game for free. Registration is not yet available but will be communicated to you in the near future.
I hope those four points help you figure out your next steps as you support your student. As I prepare to drop my daughter off at school in August, it will be difficult, but it feels good to know that I’ve done what I can to prepare her for her journey. I wish you nothing but the same as you move through the next year.
I hope this information proves helpful to you and your family. Let us know if you have any questions, and…
Fire Up Chips!