How to Pick the Right College for Your Kid (and Budget)

By Rebecca Bauer
how to pick the right college - Sneaker shoes and arrows pointing in different directions on asphalt ground, choice concept

Are college application deadlines looming large in your household? As your teen puts their finishing touches on their essays and other items on that long checklist, we know you have other worries on your mind too. Like, What are the odds they get into the schools where they applied? Will the college they go to be a good fit for them? And most of all, how are you going to pay for it?

In a recent episode of Notes from the Backpack: a PTA Podcast, Sekou Biddle, from the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) gave us the answers to the questions that are keeping you up at night. He shared some tips and strategies you can use in your college admissions process.

Tips for Navigating the College Search

If you’re still at the stage of deciding on which colleges to apply to, make sure you…

  • Ask questions to find out what your child is interested in to help them narrow down their options. Do they want an urban downtown campus or suburban or rural one? What aspects of student life are most important to them?
  • Visit schools that will give you a sense of the “type” of school your child is interested in. Then compare the different schools and discuss the pros and cons and key things your teen likes or dislikes about each school to help finalize your decision.
  • Don’t let sticker shock terrify you. While the cost of a college can be a deciding factor, there are a lot of other expenses that go into the final amount you will actually pay, and it’s rarely the price listed.

Q & A with Sekou Biddle

Here’s Biddle’s advice on common questions parents have on the college process…

When should you get started thinking about college for your child?

Sekou: The sooner the better…What I advise most is for parents to keep as many options available for your child as possible. Even just taking algebra in middle school puts students in a much firmer footing to being on a path toward college.

How can I figure out what college will actually cost and how should price factor into our decision?

Sekou: Think about it the same way you think about buying a car. There’s a huge range of price points for buying a car. You need to know what you need to get out of it. You can buy a car for $20,000 or $100,000. But, most of us can’t afford a $100,000 car.

I think budgeting is the challenge a lot of parents run into in the college application process. So have an understanding of what your family can contribute because it differs for each household. There are a variety of ways to get a quality education without breaking the bank.

Consider community college and do your research. Schools are required to have a real price calculator on their websites, which will give you a sense of what you might have to pay to attend an institution.

What is important for families to keep in mind during this process?

Sekou: Investing in the educational and social development of youth is hugely important. Whether that’s a four-year college degree or an associate degree or certificate program, college isn’t going to look the same for everyone, but ensuring that they have an education for life is key.

Listen to our conversation with Sekou Biddle for more college prep tips and financial options, available wherever you listen to podcasts!

Rebecca Bauer is the family engagement specialist with the Center for Family Engagement at National PTA.

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