A Parent’s Guide to College Planning
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Here at the CollegeVine blog, most of our posts are directed toward college-bound high school students. High school is a time of growth and increasing independence, and we want to make sure that future college applicants are actively and personally engaged with making and achieving their college goals.
However, parents play a major role in the college planning process, too. They help students make decisions, offer encouragement, provide reminders, and support their children throughout the process, in addition to contributing financial and other practical assistance.
Are you the parent of a high school student who hopes to attend college? This post is for you! We’ll go over various elements of the role you can expect to play in the college planning process, as well as advice for how to be a well-informed and well-prepared ally to your child as they plan for college.
The Parent’s Role in Planning for College
There’s no one right way to handle the college planning process as a parent. Your ideal level and type of involvement in preparing your child for college will depend on your child’s individual needs. However, students definitely benefit when their parents play an active role.
Making college plans and eventually filling out applications will inevitably require a great deal of independence from your child. No one but your child can take standardized tests, develop extracurricular interests, prepare academically for college coursework, or write the application essay.
Still, parents have many opportunities to help. Your practical and emotional support can be an essential element in allowing your high school student to successfully navigate the complicated and sometimes difficult process of planning for college.
On a practical level, parents often do a great deal of the legwork that makes it possible for students to pursue academic and extracurricular opportunities. As a parent, you can expect to be asked to provide transportation, financial support, computer and internet access, and other logistical assistance as your child prepares for college.
Students can also benefit from parental assistance that’s more personal in nature. Parents can be their children’s greatest cheerleaders as well as their most thoughtful critics, both of which are important roles. They can also be tremendously helpful when it comes to managing the stress of planning and preparing for college and going through the application process itself.
In the next sections, we’ll go over some typical ways in which parents assist their children with preparing for college.
Important Tasks for College Preparation
Starting the planning process early is a must for college-bound students. As we discuss in the CollegeVine blog post Is Freshman Year Too Early to Start College Planning?, it’s advisable to begin certain college planning tasks as early as ninth grade.
To some extent, students will differ in what exactly they need to do to prepare effectively for college, based on their interests and intended field. However, generally speaking, high school students can prepare for college by building a solid academic record, pursuing extracurricular activities, doing well on standardized tests, and researching the college admissions process. Your involvement as a parent can make these tasks considerably easier.
While you can’t complete your child’s schoolwork for them, you can support your child in fulfilling academic requirements and succeeding in school. Encourage your child to take challenging courses and pursue high levels of academic achievement, but also be prepared to offer assistance promptly if any academic issues arise — for example, hiring a tutor when issues begin to arise rather than after a failing grade.
As a parent, you should encourage your student to get involved with extracurricular activities that match their interests, and also to seek out leadership roles in these activities. Assisting with issues like transportation and activity fees, as well as offering encouragement and prodding if necessary, can allow your child to build a better extracurricular profile for personal benefit as well as future college applications.
Standardized test scores are an application requirement for the majority of colleges, and you can help your child to manage registration dates and procedures as well as providing transportation to testing sites. Tutoring or other preparation can substantially improve your student’s chance of doing well on these exams, so arranging for this type of assistance is one way that you can help your child succeed.
Students should also get an early start on the process of researching college options and trying to figure out which college environment might be the best fit. In your role as parent, you can offer advice about what to look for in a college, help your child to determine personal needs when it comes to a college environment, and make it practically possible for your student to visit college campuses.
Finally, it will help your child if you can remain aware that preparing for college represents a substantial investment of time and energy. Between homework and studying, extracurricular involvement, and the very real need for rest, you’ll likely notice that your student has less free time than they did in the past.
This is not to say that you should have no other expectations of your child during high school! Having chores or other tasks to complete at home is normal and expected. However, recognize that your child will have to balance these tasks with the demands of the college preparation process, which can be challenging.
Applying to, Choosing, and Paying for College
When it comes time for your student to actually apply to college, typically in the fall of senior year of high school, you’ll have many opportunities to help out with practical tasks and provide emotional support.
Briefly, once your student is ready to apply to colleges, they’ll also need to be ready to take on the majority of the application work themselves. What you can do as a parent is to support your child in managing the application workload successfully.
This support could involve helping keep track of and meet deadlines, providing transportation to college events and interviews, offering input on essays and other application materials, or assisting with college research. As long as the application itself remains your student’s own work, you’re welcome to assist in whichever ways work best for you and your child.
Another area in which parental help can be useful is that of choosing a college that’s a good fit for your child. After all, you likely know your child better than almost anyone else. You’re uniquely situated to ask the right questions and encourage your child to consider all the important issues in choosing a college.
In the end, all students will need to make their own decisions about where to attend college. However, your advice and input during the planning stage do matter, and your child may be paying more attention than you think.
A final important way in which parents help students with their college choices is, of course, providing financial support. Except under special circumstances, colleges consider the student’s parents to be the ones who are primarily responsible for meeting college costs. While financial aid, scholarships, and loans can help make college more affordable, cost is a very real factor for most college applicants.
As a parent, you need to be honest with your child about your financial resources and how much you can afford to contribute to college costs. If your student intends to apply for aid, you’ll also need to provide detailed information about your financial situation as part of the aid application. While these can be difficult discussions to have, it’s very important that you and your student be on the same page with regard to money matters.
Resources and Learning More
Your student’s guidance counselor is often a great source of answers about how to manage the college application process. It may be worthwhile to speak to the guidance counselor both with your child and alone — each approach has its own advantages.
Guidance counselors and other school officials may also offer events that are specifically geared towards educating parents about the world of college admissions. From parents-only meetings to college fairs, these events can provide you with useful information and specific steps to take to help your child with applications.
It’s also a good idea to reach out to other parents in your community who have been through the college application process recently. These parents will often have helpful insight into the process and can speak from experience about challenges they encountered or resources they found helpful.
The importance and competitiveness of college admissions today mean that there are a vast range of print and online resources that you can use to supplement what’s available within your own community. Some sources are more reputable or accurate than others, so you’ll need to use your judgment in selecting books and websites.
Ask your student’s guidance counselor for recommendations on where to begin.
The following websites are also good places to start learning about various aspects of the college application process:
- The College Board administers the PSAT, SAT, and AP tests and provides other college planning resources.
- The U.S. News and World Report annual college rankings are popular and well-known reviews of colleges in the United States, which include statistics and data for each college, allowing you to get a quick portrait of that school.
- The CollegeVine blog includes articles on many different admissions-related topics by writers with admissions experience and know-how, many of whom are recent admits to competitive colleges.
Whether from guidance counselors, other parents, or the media, you’ll find yourself bombarded with a lot of different advice about college admissions. Remember that every student is different, and not every piece of advice you hear may be applicable to your child’s particular situation.
The most important thing is to do your research, look up any terms or requirements that are confusing to you, and maintain an open dialogue with your child about how you can most effectively help with the process. Your support and assistance can be hugely influential in helping your child make good choices, navigate the often-stressful admissions process, and find a college that’s a great fit.
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